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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Hills

10 Ways to Encourage Self-Advocacy in Your Children

Updated: Jul 21, 2022

Self-advocacy is a general term thrown around that everyone wants to get their children to do... somehow. Some aren’t even quite sure what it is, but it seems like a good thing and they want it for their children. The problem is how do you communicate something you can’t even quite define to yourself?

What Is Self-Advocacy?

Self-advocacy can be defined a couple of different ways, but one of the most common definitions is the ability to speak up for oneself and one’s own needs. Another good definition is assuming responsibility for one’s own affairs instead of passing that responsibility to someone else. The basic idea centers around “independence.” Can your child manage his or her own life independently? If not, how much help are you giving and is that help supporting them or hijacking responsibilities that should be theirs?

Eventually, all children grow up and have to become independent adults. How can you start that growth process before your children leave the house so they aren’t blindsided by the unexpected in life? Here are ten ways you can begin handing over responsibilities and teaches your children what it means to be capable and responsible.

1. Let Your Child Handle the Directions

If you have a road trip planned, having your child be the one in charge of directions. If the car takes a wrong turn somewhere, even better! Make your child responsible for asking for directions and getting you back on track. Have her plan pit stops and keep an eye on gas stations. Let her decide where to eat lunch along the way. Being responsible for an aspect of a family vacation lets her start to discover what she is capable of.

2. Encourage Your Kids to Talk to Their Doctors

Having the autonomy to talk about your own body and what you are physically feeling to a doctor is a special step in the development of independence. Really, no one knows what is going on inside your child’s body better than your child, not even the doctor. Learning to pay attention to pain and learning to speak about what is going on inside to an expert creates an enormous sense of self-determination and fosters the idea of personal responsibility.

3. Have Your Child Order Food

If takeout is on the menu, take a few minutes to figure out the order then let your child take over. Once you’ve decided on the kind of pizza or burritos everyone wants, let your child take the list, find and dial the number to the restaurant or take out place, and place the order. This is a minor thing you can let your child have control of that teaches self-reliance and confidence in stating what he wants.

4. Have Your Child Put Together A Summer Schedule

Putting together a schedule can be difficult. Often, parents just handle all the details because it’s just easier. What about this time giving your children the opportunity to make their own schedules work? Have them choose which activities they want to do and see how they manage conflicting priorities. Have them make sure their fees are paid on time. Give them the chance to learn from managing their own summers.

5. Let Your Child Choose and Sign Up for Camp

Camps are not only places to learn things, they are places to practice how to behave when parents are not around. See what choices your child makes and what consequences naturally arise. Help your child learn how to handle what comes of those decisions that could have been better. Talk through what was going through her head and what to pay attention to next time.

6. Plan and Host a Summer Party

There’s a lot that goes into planning an event. There are a lot of moving pieces and a lot of things that can go wrong. Perfect! Give your child the responsibility of planning a summer birthday or a summer barbecue. How much food will you need? What about invitations? What about décor? Relegate yourself to an advising role and see what solutions to party problems your child comes up with.

7. Support Your Child in Learning Something New

Pushing boundaries and exploring their limits is something every child does. Finding ways to allow this to happen safely is one of the complexities of parenting. If your child is a daredevil, challenge him to find an activity that will allow him to climb or swim or ride safely. If your child is interested in new ideas, see if she can find an online philosophy class that will expose the assumed premises and the natural conclusions of different thought processes. Help your children find good, safe ways to discover who they are and what they are able to do.

8. Ask Your Child’s Opinion

Sometimes we forget that our children are humans too. They have their own thoughts and feelings about the things that happen to them and around them. Demonstrate the respect that you would show an equal by asking your child’s opinion on something. This may be as simple as “How can we make this dinner better next time?” or as complex as “How do you think we should compromise on this scheduling conflict?” This reminds your children they have something to say and encourages them to say it.

9. Have Your Child Email Teachers

As school gets closer, put your child’s education in his own hands. Normally, you may be the one emailing the school about class schedules or school supplies. The emails may still come to you, but let your child be the one to answer and ask questions. The more your child gets used to interacting with his own teachers, the more confident he will be when issues with projects or grades arise and he has to figure out what is going on.

10. Setting up His or Her Tutoring

Recognizing when you need help and knowing what to do to get yourself back on track is a huge step, even for fully grown adults. Initiate your child into this process by helping her set up her own tutoring sessions. Have her let her tutor know when works in her schedule, and which days she will be traveling. Have her be the one to define and state what she needs to know and what she hopes to accomplish from her tutoring sessions. Being able to ask for what you need is a huge part of self-advocacy.

As far as tutoring, Spark Tutors is pleased to encourage and guide your children in their academics. We realize that doing things for your children will not help them to understand their projects or pass their tests. Learning how to express what you know and what you don’t is critical for successful tutoring, and all our tutors support this skill in their tutees. Teach your child how to self-advocate by having him call us and make an appointment with the tutor of his choice.

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Guiding and nurturing independence in a child is a tough job! We hope these ideas will lead to more creative ways you can support your child in this growth process. We’ll see you at the tutoring table!

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