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Teaching Your Child How to Advocate for Themselves

What does it mean to be a self-advocate? A self-advocate knows who they are and what they need and has the self-confidence to communicate those needs to others. How do we instill these beliefs in our children, and why is it essential to begin teaching them now?

Kids who know how to speak up for themselves possess a powerful skill that fosters lifelong success and self-worth. This trait translates into choosing a career path they love, surrounding themselves with loving, respectful, supportive partners, friends, and peers, and having their voices heard. Inspiring courage in children begins by teaching them how to understand and communicate their feelings. 

Often, children are not equipped with the emotional intelligence to acknowledge their feelings and reflect on how they affect their overall well-being. Without this awareness, it’s difficult for them to advocate for themselves in situations that require clear communication. When adults are more transparent and vulnerable in front of their children, kids will naturally emulate them and express what’s on their minds. 

Children also need the conviction to say something when a situation is uncomfortable. Assuredness is an essential attribute that impacts every facet of a child’s upbringing. Your child may have many skills necessary to go out into the world, but if they are not confident with who they are as a person, they may have trouble being resilient or not know how to bounce back from setbacks. Let your child know that their voice and talents matter and they have what it takes to do anything they set their mind to. 

Strategies to Help Your Child Acquire Self-Advocacy Skills

Let them explore solutions to their problems.

According to psychologists at Foothills Academy, children who troubleshoot their issues build self-worth. If you jump in and save them all the time, your child won’t know how to solve a problem. Instead, offer them scenarios to consider, which gives them the autonomy to figure out solutions. Owning their decision-making builds self-esteem and confidence and enables them to weigh the pros and cons of a situation.

Give them the space to own how they feel.

To be a self-advocate, children need to be in touch with their emotions. According to infant researcher Daniel Stern, children begin to show self-awareness at around 18 months old. For example, they start recognizing themselves in the mirror and use the pronouns “I” and “me.” 

Introduce your child to naming feelings beyond mad or sad, such as confusion, jealousy, hurt, and confusion. When your child can identify these words and match them to their emotions, they become more self-aware. Avoid defining their emotions by your standards. 

For example, if they fall and tell you their knee hurts, don’t minimize their reaction by telling them it isn’t so bad. Negating their feelings will confuse their sense of self-awareness. Instead, try affirming them by saying, “It sounds like you hurt your knee. I understand how that feels. What things can you do to make it feel better?” 

Let your child be independent.

Understood.org notes that letting children do things on their own is key to building self-advocacy skills. We order our kids’ meals at restaurants, don’t include them in teacher conferences, and ask questions on their behalf in public.

The best way to become a self-advocate is through practice. Let them choose their meals from a menu or ask the store clerk where the toy aisle is. Then, create opportunities for your child to speak up, voice their opinion and share their thoughts inside and outside the house. 

Lead by example.

Sometimes, even as adults, we are afraid to stand up for ourselves because we don’t want to inconvenience someone else or bother them with our thoughts. If you want your child to lead confidently, you must show them how it is done. Tell them that you have stood up for yourself when they are with you, and share examples of other times when you’ve expressed yourself. Highlight the positive outcomes that resulted from self-advocacy. Make it a daily practice to communicate why self-awareness, confidence, and advocacy are essential now and in the future. 

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