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You Can Teach Your Child to Self-Advocate: Here’s How & Why It’s Important

An often-overlooked skill important for academic success is the ability of students to self-advocate. At first glance, you may wonder, “Why is self-advocacy so important to student success?” Let’s take a look.

What Is Self-Advocacy?

At its most fundamental, self-advocacy is the ability to communicate your needs to others—to speak up for yourself, find the people and resources you need to handle specific tasks or projects, and make decisions or problem solve. When students aren’t good at self-advocating, they can find school (and life in general) more challenging than others do.

While not everyone is born with the ability to self-advocate, the good news is that, for most, it’s a skill that can be learned at virtually any age.

For students, learning how to self-advocate usually starts by identifying what they’re good at, where they struggle, and the things they like or dislike most. Students can then recognize what help they need to improve academically and make requests of their parents, caretakers, adult mentors, teachers, tutors, academic coaches, older siblings, or even friends and other students.

Why Is Self-Advocacy Important?

Spark Tutors works with students and their families to promote self-advocacy as a way to boost confidence, independence, and problem-solving skills, all of which are important for success in school, at work, and in practically all aspects of life.

“Self-advocacy is an important skill, especially for young adults navigating the world for the first time,” says Spark Tutor’s founder and academic coach, Lola Objois. “Whether it’s a high school student asking a teacher for help with an assignment, a college student speaking with a professor about the course syllabus, or a young professional negotiating a first job offer, strong self-advocacy can make a huge difference in achieving a desired outcome.”

For parents, fostering self-advocacy means a shift from the days of doing everything for their youngsters to doing practically nothing for them as they reach adulthood. Granted, such a shift is often easier said than done! Think of it as moving from the role of overseeing the day-to-day needs of your child to a role where you act more like a personal consultant—someone who’s there to lend a helping hand or share some wisdom when needed (or asked).

What Parents Can Do

What are some ways parents and caregivers can grow their child’s ability to self-advocate?

Involve Your Children in Problem Solving. When children face challenges, even if they are very young, encourage them to participate in problem solving. What do they think will help? How would they overcome a particular challenge? If they were the parent, what would they do or recommend?

Encourage Your Children to Ask for Help. Encourage your children to speak up if they do not understand something or if they need assistance. At home, urge them to ask you, a sibling, or other family member. At school, encourage them to ask their teachers for guidance around things like homework, tests, or various assignments.

Urge Children to Speak Up for Themselves. When playing games at home, let your child explain the rules or ask questions about strategy and gameplay. At the doctor’s office, encourage your child, even if he or she is very young, to describe symptoms and ask questions. Similarly, your children should feel comfortable expressing any concerns they have about assignments or homework to their teachers, or asking questions to provide the clarity they need so they can work or study with confidence.

Talk with Your Child About Self-Advocacy and Why It’s Important. Children can feel intimidated when talking with teachers, doctors, and other adults. Speak with your children regularly about their strengths and challenges and why knowing how to speak up for themselves is so important. Practice having them speak up at home so they get a knack for it.

Offer Praise When Your Child Self Advocates. Praising your child for speaking up reinforces the notion that self-advocacy is a good thing (which it is!), so praise your child often—and encourage other adults to do the same.

Involve Children in Decision Making. Involve your children in decision-making as often as you can to grow their confidence and foster greater self-advocacy. Obviously, you’re not looking to forgo responsibility for critical decisions, but you do want your children to participate more actively in decisions that affect them. For example, if your child is struggling in a class, instead of writing and sending an email yourself to his or her teacher asking for extra-credit opportunities, help your child draft the email. Or if your family is going out to dinner, ask your child to pick the restaurant, make a reservation, and figure out what time you should leave to be there on-time.

“When parents help their children practice self-advocacy skills at home and at school, and with family, friends, and strangers, they are planting the seeds for academic success and for growing their children into confident, independent, young adults,” explains Lola. “If your child struggles with self-advocacy, rest assured it’s never too late to start teaching him or her this important skill.”

We Can Help

Spark Tutors can help your child grow into an independent, confident self-advocate better able to prepare for tests, complete assignments, and ask for help when needed. We work regularly with students and their families to boost the self-advocacy skills necessary for success in school and beyond. Contact Spark Tutors today.

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