The importance of self-advocacy in children

Now, perhaps more than ever, we must teach our children to stand up for themselves and uphold their boundaries. Self-advocacy equips little ones to do exactly this.

Thankfully the time of children being seen but not heard is behind us. These days, we see children for the individuals they are, with their unique personalities, likes and dislikes. Not everyone sees little ones this way and, as a result, it’s crucial to teach our kids all about self-advocacy. In short, self-advocacy is about speaking up for yourself and what’s important to you. People who are able to self-advocate feel comfortable asking for what they need or want, as well as expressing their thoughts and emotions. Teaching your child about self-advocacy will undoubtedly help them to hold their own and not be silenced by others.

Four steps to self-advocacy

There are several things parents can do to enable their children to stand up for themselves. Let’s check them out.

Listen close

A great first step in teaching your child about self-advocacy is showing them how to listen to themselves to find out what their own needs are. So many kids struggle to express their wants and needs because they don’t quite have a clear enough picture internally. Sit with your child when they’re clearly feeling an emotion and help them to recognise it.

You can extend this to other feelings including hunger, thirst, sleepiness or needing to use the bathroom, as many children struggle to identify these feelings until they’re overwhelmed by them. In time, your little one will become accustomed to each distinct feeling and emotion that they experience. This understanding will act as the foundation for their journey towards self-advocacy.

Open communication

As the saying goes, communication is key. It can be very difficult for your child if they understand how they feel but are unable to express it. The natural next step is to show your little one how to communicate their feelings. While this may take a lot of practice (and overcoming shyness), it will benefit them to no end.

Communication, like any skill, is something that can be learned and improved. Role-playing is one of the best ways to teach your child to communicate. Practice for interactions with other children and adults, and then test it out in the real world. Next time they’re in the playground, they’ll be able to stand up for themselves if someone jumps the line for the swings! Similarly, they’ll develop the confidence to express themselves to adults, such as the cashier in a grocery store.

Making decisions

Developing strong decision-making skills is a big step towards confidence and self-advocacy. Allowing your child to make small, daily decisions will show them that their input is valuable. Lots of kids will be hesitant at first, so some gentle encouragement goes a long way. Start with decisions that don’t really have any possible negative outcome in order to relieve them of any pressure they might be feeling. These can include what clothes to wear today or whether they’d like their cheese sandwich toasted or untoasted, for example.

While these decisions may seem inconsequential to adults, they’re the building blocks of making bigger decisions. Once your child is confidently capable of making this level of choice, feel free to introduce slightly more difficult decisions. Offer two options for weekend activities and explain the opportunity cost (i.e. what they’ll miss out on by choosing one option over the other). Decision-making is a key part of being an adult and gaining experience in making decisions from a young age will help your little one take the fear out of making much bigger decisions in their future.

Creating boundaries

In order for children to stand up for themselves, they’ll need to understand what boundaries are, how to create their own boundaries, and how to uphold them. This is something that lots of adults struggle with, so be patient with your little one as they begin this process. Once they understand their own feelings, are able to communicate openly and are competent at making decisions, they’ll be able to tell people what they are and aren’t comfortable with. This is a fundamental step in setting out boundaries.

From here you can teach your child about saying no to engaging in situations that make them uncomfortable. It’s also a good time to speak about consent – how everyone has the right to say yes or no to situations that affect them. As parents, setting your boundaries and upholding them is a powerful way to show your children this skill in action, and it will certainly have positive effects in your own life!

Anything is possible

Once your child is comfortable at practising self-advocacy, they’ll be in a wonderful position to chase their brightest possible future. Their confidence, ability to communicate and understanding of self will ensure that your little one will stand up for what they believe in. This is a vital component of becoming a balanced and capable adult. They’ll chase their dreams and represent themselves well, while not falling foul of the desires of others. So whatever your little one’s starting point, consider teaching them about self-advocacy and watch them develop into their true selves!

Image Credit: ShutterStock

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