As a loving parent, you care for your child. You think about her needs. You talk with teachers, family members and others about those needs. And you help your child get support in and out of school.
But as part of taking care of your child, you may want to encourage her to speak up for herself. You may want to teach her a powerful skill called “self-advocacy.”
What Self-Advocacy Is
Self-advocacy is when your child understands her strengths and weaknesses, knows what she needs to succeed and communicates that to other people.
“At its heart, self-advocacy is your child’s ability to speak up for what she needs.”
The skill of self-advocacy can be broken down into a few key elements:
- Your child understands her needs. (This is part of self-awareness.)
- Your child knows what help or support will address those needs, like tutoring or a classroom accommodation.
- Your child can communicate her needs to teachers and others.
For example, let’s say your child has a writing issue like dysgraphia. And she has a history class that requires taking a lot of notes for homework. If she doesn’t get some kind of writing support, she’ll struggle.
Here’s an example of self-advocacy in action. Your child understands that taking notes is going to be a challenge. And she knows that voice-recognition software helps her take notes more easily. So she explains to her teacher that she has trouble writing and asks to use voice-recognition software. If the teacher says yes, your child’s needs are addressed. If the teacher says no, your child understands she can take her concerns to another person.
How Self-Advocacy Helps Kids Learn
Self-advocacy helps kids learn by creating solutions for challenges in school. In the note-taking example above, your child is going to do a lot better in class if she has voice-recognition software to help with writing issues.
Of course, a parent who advocates for that child could also ask for voice-recognition software. But self-advocacy has some extra benefits. A child who exercises self-advocacy can:
- Find solutions to challenges her parents may not be aware of
- Build self-confidence in her ability to learn
- Create a sense of ownership over learning
- Develop independence and self-empowerment
These extra benefits can make a big difference in your child’s long-term success. Instead of feeling powerless and dependent on others, she can feel ready to take on life’s challenges.
The benefits also extend beyond academics. A child who can effectively self-advocate is a child who can communicate in social situations. For instance, she can explain to her friends why she might need extra help at times.
Promoting Self-Advocacy in Kids
Because self-advocacy is so important, you may want to take specific steps to help your child build this skill. Here are some ways to help your child develop self-advocacy:
- Talk with your child about her strengths and weaknesses.
- Remind her that asking for help is a good thing.
- Praise her for speaking up when she needs help.
- Teach your child about her legal rights and how to talk about them in a positive, constructive way.
- Encourage your child to use the classroom accommodations she’s entitled to.
- Consider putting self-advocacy goals into your child’s IEP (if she has one).
- Find a role model, such as a mentor with learning and attention issues, for your child.
- When a problem arises, give your child a chance to solve it before stepping in.
- Let your child have a say in decisions about her education.
- If your child has an IEP, invite her to attend IEP meetings.
Why Learning Self-Advocacy Takes Time and Practice
Self-advocacy isn’t easy for many kids. Children may feel awkward or even guilty about asking for help or for an accommodation. That’s especially true if a child feels embarrassed about her learning or attention issues.
As with any valuable skill, practice can help your child learn self-advocacy. Practice can also help her feel more comfortable about asking for help.
The sooner your child gets started, the more natural it will feel. Parenting Coach has a number of expert-approved tips on how to help your child practice self-advocacy.
Teaching self-advocacy can be an important part of caring for your child. Self-advocacy skills can help your child deal with her current challenges and the ones she’ll face in the future. Explore tips on how to encourage self-advocacy in grade-schoolers, middle-schoolers and high-schoolers. You can also look into ways your child can build a support network.