When children experience some trouble in school, it’s natural for parents to want to step in. Especially when they are little, parents contact teachers or administrators and advocate for them. However, as kids get older, they should self-advocate first.

First of all, what does it mean to self-advocate?

We advocate for ourselves by being respectful and assertive in order to have our needs met. It takes some practice. Teenagers especially must speak up for themselves in a way that also takes responsibility for their actions. This is how they acquire important listening and learning skills.

Why is this important?

We will all be called upon to seek support and positive changes in the world around us. This is especially true when it comes to our own situations. Learning early on to get their point across calmly helps young people develop positive self-esteem.

A healthy regard for themselves means the ability to form more meaningful relationships. This also leads to solid leadership and problem-solving skills.

How to encourage your kids to speak up for themselves:

Praise them.

Throughout childhood, parents should cheer them on when they self-advocate. This is true, even in small ways. How do your children show up to adults, such as coaches and tutors? The interaction can be something as simple as when your kid asks for help. When they’re confused, say, “That’s a good question. Do you feel comfortable asking your teacher?”

Afterwards, tell them you are proud of them.

Encourage more decision-making as they get older.

As early as elementary school, students are capable of making many of their own choices. For example, they can choose what clothes to wear to school. They can pick their own meals at restaurants and make their own sets of friends. By the time they get to their teenage years, let them decide the week’s menu or destination for family vacations. In short, they should trust themselves.

And if their parents trust them, this process is a whole lot easier.

Support autonomy.

Kids who know themselves are more likely to speak up when needed. You can also help get younger kids ready for advocacy by taking part in causes for which you’re concerned. These can be environmental, social or even political causes. Advocating for themselves is similar to advocating for others, and all they need is practice.

At the same time, be there for them. None of us need to face adversity alone. It helps everyone to have a team behind them. Be available to answer questions and provide guidance when your kids need it.

When should parents insert themselves and when should they step back?

How do parents know if this is a problem their kids can solve? Or is it something serious that requires parental involvement?

Talk to your student.

Let them explain, from their point of view, the difficulty at hand. Ask them clarifying questions and try not to jump to conclusions. Remember what it was like when you were a student. You also know your child better than anyone, but you’re not in the classroom. Keep an open mind.

Ask them about possible solutions. What do they believe will help make this situation better? Do they want a conference with the teacher? Would tutoring help? You’d be surprised how many older kids want to be given a chance to solve their own problems.

Keep it positive.

Before talking to the teacher, encourage your child to consider him or her an ally. Most teachers get into their chosen profession because they love kids and enjoy teaching. No one truly knows what is going on behind the scenes. Presume the educator is part of your team and go into any initial meeting with that attitude.

Believe in your student.

Encourage your child to reach out and talk with their teacher. Perhaps having them write an email might be a good start. That way, you can help by looking it over and helping them write one effectively.

They can even CC you when the final draft is sent. This helps the teacher understand the seriousness of the situation and that you are, even peripherally, involved.

If your child wants to meet with the teacher in person, role-play some scenarios with them. Practice possible responses and rehearse so they won’t feel flustered.

Benefits

– Students learn proper grammar and sentence structure when emailing adults about problems. It’s different from communicating with their peers. Your participation ensures they use appropriate language and express themselves in a mature fashion.

– Communicating in person will also help them practice verbal and non-verbal skills.

– Older kids benefit from keeping their emotions in check while trying to solve problems.

When should parents get involved?

Sometimes, no matter how well a student speaks up for themselves, the problem remains a problem. These are some of the hardest situations because adults must work things out around a student’s issue. Parental involvement might be required if the teacher:

  • is inappropriate or offensive.
  • ignores your child’s attempts to meet or discuss the issue.
  • responds to your child inappropriately.
  • isn’t open to change.

Parents should also get involved if the child continues to struggle. Ongoing struggles lead to frustration and other obstacles with lasting consequences.

Students can still self-advocate when parents get involved.

In fact, the best-case scenario would be to schedule a parent-teacher-student meeting. That’s when your child uses their words, their voice, to talk about the situation. You are there strictly to support them and provide some guidance if needed.

Let your experience and wisdom shine through in moments like this. Give your kids an opportunity to grow and show you they can speak for themselves. Yes, you’ve had more experience with these types of confrontations. However, especially teenagers need their own experiences to develop these skills. These unpleasant issues can be a positive in the long run.

With practice and support, kids learn to self-advocate and communicate as independent adults.


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