4 Strategies for Self-Advocacy

I have an 18-year-old son who is a senior in high school. We spend a lot of time talking about the future. Each day he gets further into his senior year, he gets more excited about the possibility of moving out of mom and dad’s house and into the world of independence. He can hardly wait to start his new life as an adult, but he still needs to learn a few skills. Along with learning how to do laundry and boil water, self-advocacy is a skill he will be required to exercise daily next year. It’s a skill that is developed over time, needs practice, and is often strengthened with failure, disappointment, and frustration. Parents can start teaching their children the skill of advocating for themselves from the moment they can talk.

4 Strategies for Self-Advocacy

  1. Teach Your Child to Speak Up

It’s tempting to choose to swoop in and try to rescue our children, and there are times when that is what we need to do. But first, ask yourself if they could speak up first. We can teach them to find their voice as they grow and develop. Each year brings more opportunities to practice speaking up. As small children, help your child ask for what they want when playing with other children. School-aged children can talk to their teacher about a grade they feel is unwarranted or speak to a coach and ask for instruction. Middle school students can exercise their voices when speaking up for a friend or classmate who is being mistreated. High school students can almost exclusively be expected to advocate for themselves.

2. Role Play

Moving your child along this continuum of advocating for themselves takes practice. One of the best ways to practice is to developed through role play. As a parent, teach them how to think and process a problem and speak up about it through role play. Take turns being the student or the teacher, or coach. Brainstorm what questions might be asked and offer instruction on how to voice their opinion with respect and clarity. Encourage them to be courageous and make the first move. Monitor the situation by asking your student questions about how their encounter went and if they need more help. When you think a problem is beyond their capability or if an adult is acting unjustly, feel free to step in but ask your student for their permission to intervene. By asking them for permission, you are giving them some control and allowing them to process the situation.

3. Ask, “Do you see how brave you are?”

It takes tremendous courage for a student to speak up for themselves. Especially when it’s clear to them that they do not hold the power for change, affirm their bravery. When things don’t go the way they would like, allow them to be angry, sad, frustrated, or discouraged; these feelings are valid. But just because a situation does not play out the way we would like does not negate the courage it took to tackle the problem. Be sure you recognize the bravery it took for them to speak up.

4. Believe in Them

Our children need to know that we believe they are capable of tackling this complex challenge. As they develop, it’s important for us to continue to show them that we believe in their ability to grow, develop and be successful. This lesson is vital in grammar school, middle school, high school, and after beyond.

Written By: Christine B., Masters Level Intern

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