As class sizes continue to grow and teachers have more and more students to attend to, self-advocacy is more important than ever. While self-advocacy is something discussed often in special education, it is a topic that needs to be addressed in the general education classroom as well.
According to Wrightslaw, self-advocacy is defined as:
“[L]earning how to speak up for yourself, making your own decisions about your own life, learning how to get information so that you can understand things that are of interest to you, finding out who will support you in your journey, knowing your rights and responsibilities, problem-solving, listening and learning, reaching out to others when you need help and friendship, and learning about self-determination.”
Teaching your child to be a self-advocate starts from a young age, so here are some tips to develop confident kids from day one.
Before a child can become a self-advocate, they must be self-aware. If a child knows and recognizes how they feel, they will be much more capable of putting these feelings into words to ask for help. According to a study published by Cambridge University Press, first graders who were able to identify and name their emotions experienced less anxiety and loneliness as fifth graders. Additionally, a study from 2007 shows that children who labeled the emotions they experienced had less intense physical reactions to these emotions. The children were better able to self-regulate despite extreme emotions.
Helping your child to be aware of their emotions can be difficult and frustrating as a parent. But if you make time to talk about feelings with your child on a regular basis, they will be more likely to recognize their emotions and discuss them with you. Here are some ways you can develop a self-aware child:
- Monitor your child’s reactions to different situations, then talk about them: Children often have visible reactions to how they are feeling, watch the way your child reacts then say things like, “You seem happy that Cameron is coming over! Do you feel happy when you get to see your friends?” Prompt them to identify their emotion and tell you why they feel this way.
- Hang an emotions chart on the fridge or wall: Whenever you are near the chart ask your child how they feel and why using the pictures and emotions from the chart.
- At bedtime, ask your child to describe how they felt throughout the day and why: Sometimes children have a hard time talking about how they feel in a moment. If you ask this question at the end of the day they may have had more time to reflect and think on the situation. This helps with self-reflection as well.
- Have your child draw or paint how they feel, then have them explain their artwork to you: Give your child art supplies and ask them to create an image that shows how they feel. As they draw, ask them questions about what they are drawing and why. Once they have finished their artwork, have them describe it and then hang it up for everyone to see.
Not only does your child need to know how they feel, but they also need to understand what steps need to be taken for them to succeed. Teach your child from a young age that actions have consequences, and good habits can lead to success. If your child never learns that studying can lead to higher test scores, they may not see the need to take action in order to invoke change.
Here are some way you can teach your child they have some control over their success:
- React to your child’s success: Whenever your child achieves something, bring attention to it and ask them how they succeeded. For example, if your child had a great soccer game and made an amazing pass, praise them for their success, then ask them, “You have been practicing really hard! Did you learn how to make passes like that in practice?” Or if your child made 100% proficiency for Subtracting With Models on LoonyLearn, say, “Great job getting 100%! I noticed you spent a lot of time learning how to subtract in order to get such a high score.” This will make your child feel proud of the work they put in to achieve the result.
- Help your child with a problem with which they are struggling: Maybe your child is having trouble with history class at school; sit down and develop a plan for success with your child. Outline what your child is currently doing to make progress, then write out five ideas for what to do to improve. You could help your child study by reviewing flashcards, inventing a song to help them remember, or even making a game with the concepts they need to learn. This will help your child realize that they can take concrete actions to change their situation.
- Ask your child hypothetical situations about what you should do: It is important to model for your child that you also have problems and need to ask for help. When you are outside playing with your child, ask them questions that lead them to solve a problem for you. For example, you could ask your child, “I am having trouble getting all of my chores done on Saturday, and I can’t do them during the week because of work. What do you think I can do to solve this issue?” Have them give you advice and develop a plan for you. This will teach them that it is ok to ask for help and that even adults have questions.
Finally, once a student can identify how they feel and what they need to succeed, they have to be able to communicate this need to others. Many of the aforementioned strategies are useful when teaching your child to communicate their needs to others, but here are some additional tips:
- Teach your child that it is ok to feel confused and to ask for help by talking about times they have been confused by something at school. Ask them what they did to clarify the situation. Praise your child if they tell you they asked a question or asked for help.
- Teach your child that their feelings are valid by asking them to talk about how they felt at school that day. If your child says they were sad because they didn’t get to sit by their friend at lunch, ask them what they did to feel happy again. Prompt them to write a list of things they can do when they feel different emotions at school. Remind them that it is ok to feel sad or angry, but also that they can take steps to feel happy too.
- Teach your child that they are important, just like everyone else. Ask your child what they feel confident about or proud of each day, and ask them to tell you about it. When an adult takes interest in something a child is proud of, they are telling the child they are interested in them and what they do. Also ask them what other people in the class did well, to encourage your child to see everyone’s strengths.
Having open communication with your child about these things builds their confidence and helps them process emotions. This leads to your child becoming a self-advocate.
I hope this blog has helped you understand how to teach your child to be a self-advocate. If you have questions about anything presented above, or you would like to suggest a topic for my next blog, feel free to email me at email@example.com.