As an educator, I’m constantly encouraging my students to advocate for themselves, for their interests and needs. With this crazy school year and full classes, it’s hard to know the specific needs of all my students all the time, and most teachers are facing the same situation or one very similar. Pandemic aside, self-advocacy is a valuable skill for kids to learn that will not only benefit them in school but also in life.
Teachers are a great resource for teaching self-advocacy to students, but it can (and should) start at home when kids are little and continue to be taught as kids reach different stages of development. Most people think of self-advocacy as standing up for oneself, which it is, but it’s also much more than that.
I’ve compiled a list of things to think about as you teach your child to be a self advocate.
Teach them where and how to get information and help
Using resources and finding information is such an important life skill, and it goes further than just simply Googling it. It’s important that children know how and where to get the information they need. Should they ask the teacher, the school secretary, counselor, or their mom/dad to get the information they need? Sure, but knowing where to find what they need will better serve them down the road.
Students tend to struggle with how to ask for help or clarification from teachers and other figures of authority. Helping your child with how to word an email to a teacher or rehearsing with them on how to ask their coach for help or guidance is as important as asking the question itself. The more we are able to help with this step in the process of gaining information, the easier it becomes for our children to advocate on their own.
Teach them to know their rights and also their responsibilities
This one is so important as we all have rights, and with those rights come responsibilities. It is important because it will allow students to know what to do, how to react to something, and how to use the information they receive. For example, if your child has a 504 Plan or Individualized Education Plan (IEP), he/she needs to know what accommodations the plan allows. With younger kids, much of that knowledge rests with parents, but as kids grow, it helps them to know what assistance they receive and how to react if that assistance isn’t given as directed.
Teach them about self-determination
Instead of standing around and waiting for someone else to take action for us, self-determination is the idea of a person choosing and setting their own goals, being involved in making their own decisions, and having the grit to work toward their goals. Being mindful of self-determination is important in learning how to be a self-advocate.
Teach them to problem-solve
I saved the best one for last. Learning to problem-solve when things get tough or when something is difficult is a great skill to have and one that I see many students lacking. One of the best gifts you can bestow upon your child is the gift of perseverance through self-advocacy.
Rather than throwing up his hands in defeat, teach your child to ask themselves: “What can I do to try to get over this hurdle?” Can your child refer back to the text or their notes? Find online resources? Email the teacher directly with questions? Text a friend?
Problem-solving skills last a lifetime. Rather than giving up, these skills empower students to dig deeper, persevere, and find solutions.
I know the days are long, but we have such a short time to teach our kids to be productive and upstanding adults. Our biggest responsibility as both parents and educators is to make sure they are prepared for life when we’re not around. Teaching the skill of self-advocacy to our children when they’re young will set them up for success when they are older.
Please share, what are some things you do in your family to teach self-advocacy?