Advocacy: The Value In Teaching It, And A How-To Guide

Why is important to teach your child to advocate for themselves? Why is there value in teaching a child how to stand up, speak up, and grow up? What benefits are provided, and how do you as a parent go about teaching such a skill?

For a variety of reasons. But the main point? Teaching your child to advocate for themselves means they are set up for success in life, no matter where their journey takes them.

 I've listed some practical ways you can teach your child advocacy, and provided a road map of sorts, regardless of where your child is in their learning stages.

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Every child is different, and no two adults are the same, either. But there are a few key traits and skills that successful people have - true success, by the way, is not measured in only financial terms. Self-advocacy, which by definition is the action of representing oneself or one's interests, is one such trait found in successful people. This is potentially the most important quality separating those who are and those who aren't. Individuals who can clearly state their own interests and thoughts, and explain exactly what they need, are typically much better at getting what they want, when and how they want it.

Of course, self-advocacy is not the only factor - one must be driven to succeed as well. But without self-advocacy, nothing moves forward. You can have all the motivation in the world, but if you can't clarify your thoughts or express yourself, it is much like a hamster on a wheel.

A Note About Self-Advocacy

In the world today, we are often told that we should focus on others, that we should put the needs of the collective above the needs of the individual. We are told that self-advocacy is, in a way, selfish. Nothing could be further from the truth. While the value of people as a whole, integrated community is absolutely necessary for communal strength and life, and it is definitely important to build a society of thoughtful and considerate human beings, it is more important by far to have disciplined self-advocates. And here's the catch! If you have intellectually strong and capable people, the rest falls into place. People who practice self-advocacy are also generally driven, confident, logical folks - people who get things done, not people who fail to take action because they are afraid to.

Teach Your Child To Communicate - No Holds Barred

It sounds easy, doesn't it? It's much harder to put into practice. Communication is a skill that has changed over the years. Perhaps it's the rise of technology, or the increasing distance that's put between parents and children. Maybe it's within the educational space itself, because everything now must have a proper label - many people have become afraid to say something for fear that it is not politically correct. This fear is an integral part of what is driving a lack of communication.

Helping your children to grow into self-advocating individuals means you must teach them the importance of communication. The value of teaching your children how to have open, honest, and respectful conversations about the tough-to-talk-about things in life is fundamental to raising independent, logical, and mannerly human beings. Far too often, people (even fully-grown adults) shy away from uncomfortable conversations. While there are always things we don't seem to want to talk about, the list of taboo topics should be fairly short.

In no way is this suggestion meant to imply that you should teach children to be self-absorbed or arrogant, and that it is only their ideas and thoughts that matter. Not at all. Think of teaching self-advocacy to your child as the difference between a child saying "It doesn't matter to me; I don't care that much/at all," versus saying "I would like to do this, and this is what would make me happy," when presented with a choice.

Have Your Child Make Decisions

A very large part of self-advocacy is having the ability to make decisions - everything from personal lifestyle preferences, to choices for learning, to a future career choices. The world is a large and potentially dangerous place; if you do not teach your child how to advocate for themselves, there are numerous individuals - be they bosses, strangers, colleagues, associates, friends, or family - who will be ready and willing to take advantage of that. Whether it is consciously or unconsciously is irrelevant. Your job is to prepare your child to live up to their full potential, not to create a doormat for future individuals to walk on.

Practice giving your child the reins to make their own decisions. As a (hopefully) responsible adult, that might be harder than it sounds. After all, you just want the best for them, and they don't yet know any better. How do you make sure they make good decisions for themselves, and let them do it on their own?

You can, of course, help to guide their decisions in a more moderate way. For example, your 5 year old says she would like to wear shorts and a t-shirt, with sandals. One look out the window tells you it's raining - what do you do?

 Instead of, "No, you can't wear that," try "Okay, let's think about why we might want to wear those clothes. We'd wear those when it's hot outside, right? Is it hot outside today?" Taking an inquiry-driven approach to problems, and helping your child to think about why they feel they need to make the decision one way or another, often results in working with your child rather than against them. Tone is one of the most important aspects of communication, regardless of who you're talking to, so make sure you say things in a friendly, non-committal way, rather than condescending or patronizing.

Keep in mind that you can not control everything. Sometimes, regardless of how well you lay things out, and help your child to think about the potential ramifications of their actions, children will still make the decision to do something that you as an adult know is not the best one. Perhaps, even after you've helped your teen to map out the benefits and consequences of going to that party on a Monday evening, when they've got class at 8 am the next morning, they make the decision to go anyway. This is the hardest thing to do - but let them make it. Seriously! If they are not physically hurting themselves or others, and there's no danger involved in it, let them make that decision. This is, hands-down, the most effective way to teach them how to make decisions - let them make their decisions with the understanding that they will have to deal with the consequences.

The most valuable feedback a child can get is not from you as the parent - it's from the decision itself.

Provide Constructive Criticism And Feedback

The best teacher in life is experience.

While it is true that the most valuable feedback is the feedback resulting from the decision in question, it is also important that you help your child to reflect upon the decision they made, regardless of the outcome. It is in this way that you can provide a guide for your child to follow in future, without making them defensive. Did things work out well, or badly? Was this a good decision for them and for others that may have been involved or affected? How did they think things would turn out, and how did they actually turn out? What have they learned from this decision and its' consequences or ramifications? Would they change anything about the decision they made, if they had to do it over again? The most important part of these questions is allowing your child to speak, not imposing your own thoughts upon them. If you give children the chance, you might be surprised at how responsibly they view things. If you must provide some guidance, do so in the form of questions. Keeping it open-ended, and allowing a child the freedom to work through their own boundaries, is the key to providing a solid base for developing and nurturing a confident self-advocate.

  Do you have tips or tricks you use, to nurture your child's decision-making abilities? Did I miss something you feel is important?

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