04 Dec The Role Of Self-Advocacy In Child Development
I recently spoke with a recruiter for a local university who shared a common (and alarming) trend that many young people are applying without the ability to advocate for themselves as they are used to their parents advocating for them.
Without the life skill of self-advocacy, they lack the ability to be self-reliant and resilient in the face of challenges and disappointments. Some are hearing NO for the first time.
There will be times when a parent needs to advocate on behalf of their child (for example when they are too young or the issue is about their safety and their mental and emotional well-being.)
However, when this occurs, it’s important to use it as a teachable moment so that the child understands what happened and how they might solve it for themselves in the future. Then, if and when appropriate, they will be able to advocate on their own behalf.
Self-advocacy in young people needs to be developed to ensure their success in relationships, at school and beyond.
A young person who can self advocate:
- Recognizes their needs, responsibilities, weaknesses and strengths.
- Looks for a solution and understands what actions are necessary to overcome challenges.
- Bounces back more easily from disappointments, setbacks and mistakes.
- Asks for help when necessary and can articulate what they need from others to get their desired end result.
For example, if a child is struggling with math, instead of classifying themselves as a failure, or expecting to have someone else solve the problem, they ask their teacher for extra support or advice on what resources they can access to get the help they need.
How To Teach Children Self-advocacy
Both parents and teachers can help children to develop self-advocacy by:
1. Praising Effort, Not Outcomes
Regardless of whether a child reaches their desired outcome, they learn that what’s important is the strategy they tried, the choices they made and the effort they put in. These are in their control and can be changed to get a better result.
2. Developing Problem Solving Skills
As adults, we can often not only see the reason a child struggles, but also a solution to help them overcome that challenge. It can be tempting to help them by telling them what they need to do. However, the only way a child can learn to self-advocate is knowing how to be self-reliant.
They learn this when you coach them to reflect on why things worked and didn’t work, what strategies they used, what choices they made and how they might do things differently the next time. Unless they are in danger, resist the urge to step in and do things for them.
3. Allowing Them To Speak For Themselves
Young people learn confidence by having their own voice. Here are 4 important ways they can learn to speak for themselves:
- Give them a say in decisions about their lives. This doesn’t always mean they get what they want. It means they can participate in the discussion, voice their opinions and be heard.
- Encourage them to make eye contact and speak to adults on their own behalf. This could begin with ordering food at a restaurant or paying for an item at the store or calling when they can’t make an appointment.
- Let them face appropriate consequences at school, or during extra-curricular activities. This teaches them to be responsible for their actions and to deal with emotions.
- Allow them to solve their own disputes with others, only stepping in when necessary.
4. Helping Them To Identify And Release Their Emotions
Children who can identify, feel, and release emotions in a healthy way are happier and have richer relationships. This is an ongoing process and takes effort to strengthen.
Listen to them when they share what is bothering them without trying to make it better. Then ask them the emotion they are experiencing. If they don’t have the words, they can use the Elephant Poster to assist them. Once they have identified their emotion, ask them how they can release it in a healthy way. One of my favourite ways to release my emotions is journaling. Here are some other suggestions.
As parents and teachers it’s important to understand the line between interfering and advocating. We don’t want to see children struggle. We want to make life easier for them but by strengthening their self-advocacy voice, we arm them with the skill of standing up for themselves instead of sheltering them from the necessary steps needed to get their desired result. They will also learn the importance of knowing they won’t always get their own way and that life is full of challenges, disappointments, and mistakes.
Self-Advocacy Starts With Parents And Teachers
When parents and teachers work together as collaborators in the development of self-advocacy, children learn the importance of discussion, problem solving and asking for help.
As adults, they will be able to step into the world confident in their ability to be successful along with the resilience they will need to bounce back from their challenges, setbacks, disappointments, and mistakes.
Until next time….