By Keri Buker, Licensed School Counselor, Hutchinson Middle School
Teaching our kids self-advocacy and responsibility are essential and valuable life skills that extend far beyond the classroom setting. To advocate for oneself is to take the initiative to ask for what you need while being direct and specific. To be responsible is to be accountable for something. How parents help to encourage and promote self-advocacy and responsibility as children get older can become a complicated task. Teaching a few key steps to self-advocacy in the classroom environment can make their lives (and yours) easier when the stakes get higher. As for responsibility, never underestimate the power of modeling responsibility to your children.
When issues in the classroom arise, and inevitably they do, the very first thing you should do is to encourage your child to speak with the teacher. A child’s natural tendency is to go to their parent/guardian when issues come up and rely on them to resolve it. As a parent, we want this kind of interaction with our children, but as much as you want to rush in and save the day, if there is an opportunity to teach your son or daughter to advocate for oneself, take it! A positive result from this will not only make your student gain self confidence, but also empower he/she to continue to do this in the future. If your student still feels as though the issue has not been resolved, that’s when you may want to step in, but only in effort to get the facts. As much as you want to, do not assume you have heard the full story. From there, again put it back on your student to address it with the teacher, but maybe in a different way now that you have all of the facts.
Modeling responsibility from an early age could save countless headaches during the teenage years. Stress to your children the importance of routines and organization. Our most unorganized kids tend to be some of those who also struggle the most. Something as simple as giving your child the task of laying out clothes and preparing their backpack the night before school is an easy way to encourage them to take responsibility. Model this by indirectly talking them through your nightly routine. For example, if you’re checking the calendar to see what tomorrow’s events are, simply talk through your process when your child is present. It would sound something like “I’m going to check the calendar to see what we have going on tomorrow. I see you have show and tell at preschool. Let’s go pick out the item you’d like to bring and stick in it your bag so it’s ready to go for tomorrow.” Although this is subtle, it is demonstrating the process they should follow each night. Positively reinforce this when you see them doing it. A little praise will go a long way, especially for little ones.
While we never want to see our children fail, sometimes there can be valuable learning experiences from those failures. There is an old Native American proverb that says, “prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.” A simple, yet powerful statement to keep in mind when raising children.