One of the most important skills we can develop in our children is helping them find their “voices” and become self-advocates. There are many situations where they must decide what they need and be able to voice it. Often, as parents, we plan what our children should learn, control their learning environments, plan their activities and events, and even influence their choices of friends. There are times, however, when we need to allow our children to have a say in what they need and what is important to them.
It is important to teach your children to stand up tall, look people in the eyes and speak clearly. When they learn to do this, they will find that they are heard and more easily listened to when they speak.
Let them place their own order at restaurants and at fast food places. Have them resolve any issues they might have in this environment as practice for when they need to advocate for themselves in other situations. Knowing how to speak up when there is a problem and address the situation in a polite and respectful way is a very important skill.
Start with decisions that don’t matter. Give them choices that you can live with either way. Do they want to study their math facts or spelling words first? Do not ask them questions that will not be acceptable if they say no. “Do you want to study your spelling words?” is not a question you want to ask if they need to study their spelling words! If they say “No,” then you are stuck. Give them options to choose between two acceptable choices.
Assign their schoolwork for the week, and allow your children to determine the order in which they will complete the work. This can be done with children who are becoming more independent in their learning. Once they finish their work for the week, they can use the rest of their time at their discretion within the boundaries you have established. If they finish much sooner than you expected, DO NOT pile on more work. This will just discourage them and show them that they their efficiency does not matter.
Let your children learn what do with their free time. If they get bored, they need to figure out what to do next. Have them create a list of activities they enjoy and post it in a prominent place, such as on the refrigerator. When they are bored, if they come and complain to you, give them chores to do. When they learn to go to the list and choose their next activity, they will learn to cherish their free time.
Teach your children to identify and express their feelings. When they have a problem or are frustrated, encourage your children to talk it out. It is important that they learn to articulate when there are problems. How will they learn how to solve their own problems if they cannot even explain what the problem is? Be an active listener when they are talking about their problems.
Teach them to read and identify other people’s expressions, body language and non-verbal feeling clues. This helps them be aware of and relate to others. It will help them identify the clues that people give when there are issues or problems that need to be addressed.
Show your children know how to discuss different points of view. Help them understand that it is fine to have a different opinion or viewpoint from others. They need to learn how to discuss different points of view and keep the conversation positive. Help them to realize that everyone will not always agree with them about everything, but they can be friends despite differences.
Being able to articulate one’s feelings and points of view and then understanding them in others is a big step in learning how to be able to be a self-advocate.