As a parent, it’s sometimes difficult to walk the line between raising your child to be a polite, respectful student who follows the rules, while also encouraging them to advocate for themselves when necessary. Though those ideas may seem to be competing, it’s sometimes more about style than substance when teaching our kids to speak their minds. An article in the Washington Post quotes Eileen Kennedy-Moore, author of “Kid Confidence: Help Your Child Make Friends, Build Resilience, and Develop Real Self-Esteem,” as saying:
Assertiveness means being able to speak up in a way that is respectful of the self and others. Being passive, or not speaking up at all, is disrespectful of the self. Being aggressive, by being harshly demanding, threatening, entitled or acting obnoxious, is disrespectful of others.
This means that a big part of teaching your child how to successfully advocate for themselves is showing them how to express themselves without being rude or hurtful.
Below are a few tips for how to support your child as they develop their self-advocacy skills.
Encourage your child to speak up in everyday situations, such as ordering food at a restaurant or asking an employee to help you find an item in a store. Model assertive behavior for your child by doing things like making eye contact and speaking clearly. If kids are used to asking for what they need on a regular basis, it can make it easier for them to apply those same skills in more serious situations.
Practice Makes Perfect
Provide opportunities for your child to advocate for themselves right at home. For example, engage your child in conversation about things that they care about–like what's on the dinner menu this week or a rule they think is unfair. Regardless of the topic, it will be beneficial to give your child the chance to practice articulating their ideas.
Make a Plan
When it’s time for your child to apply their skills in a real-life situation, remember that self-advocacy doesn’t mean doing it completely alone. You can help your child prepare for the conversation by practicing with you first, even role-playing the situation with you.
As children grow they will become more independent and will have difficult conversations with friends, teachers, coaches, and others in their lives. When teaching children about the power of self-advocacy, let them know that their voices matter, but also instill in them the value of respecting others even while standing up for themselves.
Skye Rashkind is the Lower School Learning Services Coordinator and Counselor at Sanford School in Hockessin, DE.