8 steps for helping third and fourth graders become self-advocates

By Amanda Morin

As your third or fourth grader moves into a new phase of learning, it’s a good time to start teaching self-advocacy skills. Understanding and talking about challenges can help kids start to identify and ask for what they need. Here are some steps to begin that process.

Define the issue.

Talk with kids about their learning and thinking differences. Help them find their own words to describe the issues so they can explain them to other people.

Describe the difficulties.

Ask kids to think about how their issues affect them in daily life. Self-awareness — tuning in to what’s working and what’s not — is an important step to .

Pinpoint issues and needs.

Ask kids to try to describe exactly what they’re having trouble with. Are there specific things they can ask for that might help? The more detail they can give, the better they can self-advocate.

Identify learning strengths.

Help kids examine what helps them feel and be successful. Do they learn best by listening or by reading? Or do they do better when there’s a video or demonstration to watch?

Identify effective strategies.

Help kids think about the learning strategies that work for them. Make a list of things that are helpful. Do they need to sit in the front of the class? Do they need to be able to take breaks?

Create a script.

Develop a script that kids can use to talk to teachers and classmates about their learning and thinking differences and the strategies that work for them. Practice it so they’re confident sharing with others: “Noise on the school bus is a problem for me. I wear these earphones to feel better.”

Work through who to talk to.

Once kids can identify a problem and some solutions, help them figure out who is the best person to approach for help.

Discuss where and when to ask for help.

Teach your child when it’s OK to ask for help in the moment — if they feel threatened, for example — and when it’s better to schedule a more private conversation (like if something comes up during class).

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    About the author

    About the author

    Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Donna Volpitta, EdD is the founder of Pathways to Empower. Her work draws on the latest research in neuroscience, psychology, and education.