Self-Advocacy is a fancy term for being able to identify and communicate your needs. As parents, we are the first advocates for our child(ren). However, beginning even with our littlest STM students and running all through our Eighth Graders, teaching your child to identify what they are feeling, knowing or having some ideas about how to make it better, and learning how to communicate that effectively with different types of people (i.e. friends vs. teachers/adults) will greatly impact your child’s life for the better.
What does that look like? Let’s break it down:
Understanding Your Needs
Sometimes, I have a craving for a food, but I just don’t know what exactly it is that I want. It’s not straight sweets, but not really all salty either. I really have to run through the different food groups, snacks in the house, etc. to figure out what will fulfill that craving–or need that my body is communicating to me.
Children have needs in every aspect of their lives–spiritual, social, emotional, and academic. Talk to your child(ren) about what they find easy at school in these regards. These are their strengths. Also talk to them about what is hard at school–these are the challenges you can work through together, providing them with the words they need to appropriately address the situation.
Know What Kind of Support Might Help
First, let’s change the language from problems to challenges. A challenge motivates most children to see it as something that can be solved. Maybe it is a misunderstanding on the playground–can you role-play how to solve it peacefully and with kind words? Can you give your child the ability to know they can say, “I don’t want to play that today, but I still want to be your friend.”?
Your child(ren)’s teachers are experts in this–ask! They often have unique insight due to the fact that they see multiple sides of the story. I used to joke that I believe 80% of what my kiddos say happened, but in actuality, it’s not a joke. There are always multiple perspectives to take into account and consideration when looking at a challenge. Teaching our children that now, before they go to high school, will only help them be more successful later in life.
Ask! Ask your child what they think will help. Children are so insightful by nature and they may surprise you with what they come up with.
Communicate These Needs to Others
How do you help your children communicate to their teacher if they forget a book, do not have their homework, or have a playground issue to talk through? What if someone said something mean to or about them? Do you immediately send an email on their behalf? I know I have!
However, I have learned and continually do my best to take a step back and give them the power and confidence to discuss this with their friends and teachers themselves. Often, this is a practiced conversation at home, not just a “You can take care of that…” because the practice gives them the confidence they need to feel comfortable both having the conversation and setting the appropriate tone so that it remains respectful to all involved.
It is not easy! But giving our children the opportunity to self-advocate is an essential part of growing up.
Interested in learning more? Check out this article; one of many that is geared towards parents regarding the benefits of self-advocacy in children: https://www.understood.org/articles/the-importance-of-self-advocacy