One of the hardest (and most rewarding) things for a parent is watching your child brave new situations alone.
Without you by their side, it can be challenging for them to learn to advocate for themselves. Some children come more naturally to these skills, but many have to learn them slowly and systematically through experience. It can be the difference, however, of sitting and staring blankly at a test with no solution in sight, or raising a hand and asking a teacher to clarify a question.
Self-advocacy can mean that your child writes an assignment down completely and then checks in with the teacher at the end of class to make sure all the assignments are copied correctly. It can help them take control of any struggles they may face, accept their learning challenges, and find ways to navigate their school experience.
Below is a quick list of ways to work on self-advocacy with your child. As I discuss self-advocacy with my students, I always follow up with the benefits of looking out for yourself. That being better organized and on-top of our assignments and tests is a win-win situation. By taking control of our needs and becoming more efficient with our time, we condense the time we have to spend on homework and other tasks, opening up more time for free time and play.
- Work with your child's teacher. Sure, all our teachers are busy, but they want what's best for your child. If your child needs a more structured system, work with them on ways to achieve it.
- Role play. I can't say enough about rehearsing possible situations that may arise in the comfort of your own home, while your child is relaxed. Make it a priority to discuss with them different ways we can ask for help when confused or upset.
- Practice. Self-advocacy at school can be practiced early on, when you are present. Have a question in pre-k or kindergarten about what snack to bring? Encourage your child to ask their teacher for help, with you behind them. Let them be their own advocate.
- Encourage your child to be specific. Requesting additional time on a test to work through problems is more specific and focused (and an easier thing for a teacher to allow) than just saying "I don't know" or leaving answers blank. I've met many children who get test anxiety and draw a blank, leaving answers empty and throwing in the towel. Many children don't do well with timed assignments, and most teachers are willing to work with them for a solution. After all, they'd often rather test knowledge than speed (exceptions might be fluency tests and state-mandated testing). But it's helpful for a teacher to know specifically how to help, with extra time for assignments, more clarification for long division, or a book on tape so a child can listen and read. Your child can practice with their teacher on how to answer parts of questions, skip questions and come back, and maintain a rhythm through testing.After all, a child who self-advocates becomes a college student or young adult who can independently navigate the complexities of adult life. Just this morning I worked on my own self-advocacy (and self-control) skills calling Comcast for the 4th time in two weeks about incorrect billing charges! ;)
Self-advocacy means independence and confidence, and allows your child to feel in control of their academic success. It's that peace of mind that is essential, as self-confidence can make all the difference in school achievement.