Middle school can be hard for kids. Most kids don’t want to stand out from the crowd. They may hesitate to speak up for themselves, not only with other kids, but with teachers, too. Kids who learn and think differently may be used to watching you advocate for them to help them get the support they need.
When they hit middle school, though, you’re not always going to be there when things get tough. So, it’s more important than ever for kids to learn self-advocacy skills. Kids might not be ready to be their only advocate, but there are ways to start teaching them to speak up for themselves.
1. Talk about the challenges of middle school.
The transition to middle school can be tough. Kids usually have more teachers in middle school than they did in grade school. And the teachers may all have different teaching styles. Speaking up to some of the teachers can be scary, especially when kids are used to having only one or two main teachers.
Remind your child that the teachers are there to help, but that they need to know their students in order to know how to help them. Kids can make a 3×3 card to share with their teachers. This is an easy way to let teachers know more about what kids are good at, what they like, and what is challenging for them.
2. Let kids know you’re on their team.
Kids in middle school are still learning to speak up for themselves. Make sure they know you’re still going to speak up for them and that you’ll jump in when you’re needed. It’s good for kids to know not only that you’re on their team, but that you’re also still learning how to be an effective advocate. It’s something you can work on together.
3. Help kids learn their strengths.
It can be tough to feel different in middle school. But when kids find what they’re good at and what they love to do, it’s a good way to build self-esteem and make friends. They can join sports teams or other extracurricular activities with other kids who have the same interests.
When you help kids identify their strengths and interests, it can help them feel more confident about speaking up for themselves.
4. Talk openly about learning and thinking differences.
Kids who learn and think differently know that some things are more challenging for them. They know it has an effect on how they learn and at home. But they may need to know it’s OK to talk about it. Talk about learning and thinking differences at home. You don’t have to use too many clinical terms. But knowing you’re willing to talk can help reduce stigma and empower kids.
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.
Donna Volpitta, EdD is the founder of Pathways to Empower. Her work draws on the latest research in neuroscience, psychology, and education.