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How to Teach Kids to be Self-Advocates

Updated: Sep 3, 2021

As an educator, I’m constantly encouraging my students to self-advocate for their interests and needs. With this crazy school year and full classes, it’s hard to know the specific needs of all my students all the time and sure most teachers are facing the same situation or one very similar. With the skill of self-advocacy, kids can learn a valuable skill that will not only benefit them in school but also in life.

Teachers are a great resource for teaching self-advocacy to students, but it can (and should) start at home when kids are little and continue to be taught as kids grow and reach different stages of development. Most people think of self-advocacy as standing up for oneself, which it is, but it’s also much more than that. Below I’ve compiled a list of things to think about as you teach your child to be a self-advocate.

Teach Your Child How and Where to Get Information

Using resources and finding information is such an important life skill and it goes further than just simply Googling it. More than Google it’s important that children know how and where to get the information they need. Should they ask the teacher, the school secretary, counselor or their mom/dad to get the information they need?

Taking it a step further, after the information is received it’s important that we teach our children how to use the information. One of the things that students struggle with the most when asking for help or trying to find information is how to ask. Helping your child with how to word an email to a teacher or rehearsing with them on how to ask their teacher for help is as important as asking the question. The more we are able to help with this step in the process of gaining information, the easier it becomes for our children.

Teach Your Kid to Know Their Rights and Responsibilities

This one is so important as we all have rights and with those rights come responsibilities. It is important because it will allow students to know what to do, how to react on something and how to use that information they receive.

Teach Your Kid About Self-Determination

Instead of standing around and waiting for someone else to take action for us, self-determination is the idea of a person choosing and setting their own goals, being involved in making their own decisions and self-advocating and having grit to work towards their goals. Being mindful of self-determination is important in learning how to be a self-advocate.

Teach Your Child to Problem Solve

I saved the best one for last. Learning to problem solve when things get tough or when something is difficult is a great skill to have and one that I see many students lacking. One of the best gifts you can bestow upon your child is the gift of perseverance through self-advocacy.

Rather than throwing up his hands in defeat, teach your child to ask himself: “What can I do to try to get over this hurdle?” Can your child refer back to the text or his notes? Find online resources? Email the teacher directly with questions? Text a friend? Problem-solving skills are skills that last a lifetime. Rather than giving up, these skills empower students to dig deeper, persevere, and find solutions.

I know the days are long, but we have such a short time to be there and to teach them to be productive and upstanding adults. Our biggest responsibility as both parents and educators is to make sure they are prepared for life when we’re not around. Teaching the skill of self-advocacy to our children when they’re young will set them up for success when they are older.

Please share, what are some things you do in your family to teach self-advocacy?

Britni Jarvis is an Instructional Coach for a virtual K-12 school in the Olathe School District in Olathe, KS. Prior to coaching, she spent many years teaching business and computer classes at Olathe Northwest and Olathe South High School. Britni and her husband, Sean, have three daughters ages 11, 9, and 5. In addition to her teaching gig, Britni spends her evenings as a full-time chauffeur for her three daughters and their friends. In her very spare free time, she helps her husband run their family business, enjoys coaching her daughter's basketball teams, and drinks way too much coffee.

She is the instructor for an awesome self-advocacy course, Teaching Students to Develop GRIT and Growth Mindset through Colorado-State University Pueblo.

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