Monthly Tips

Encourage & Practice Self-Advocacy

Brainstorm Strategies: Elementary School

Self-advocacy starts in elementary school! When talking with your young children, parents can more directly help develop self-advocacy skills by getting the conversation started with saying something like, “I know talking to your teacher is hard, but it’s important to be able to tell her or him what you need.” Some simple ways that younger children can self-advocate are:

* Raising their hand when they have a question.

* Staying behind to speak with the teacher for a minute or two at recess or lunch.

* Writing a note and giving it to the teacher.

Don’t forget that you can role-pay these scenarios to help your children gain confidence in approaching their teachers. Teach your children that they can self-advocate about things that are not school related.Students could attempt to advocate for themselves across a range of topics such as why they should eat ice cream for dessert or why they should be able to go to bed later. The more that your children can experience being their own self-advocates, in any environment, the more comfortable they will feel in actually doing it!

Brainstorm Strategies: Middle School

In sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, parents can talk with their children about
why self-advocating is important. Teachers need to know that students care about
their schoolwork, value the teacher’s opinion, and want to succeed. Some ways that
middle school students can self-advocate are:

* Obtaining a copy of the class notes from a friend or the teacher when information is confusing.

* Asking the teacher if s/he has an extra copy of the textbook that s/he would be willing to lend so there is a copy at home and at school.

* Raising their hand to ask questions when they don’t understand.

* Sending e-mails to teachers with questions or concerns.

* Setting up meetings with teachers before or after school.


Just as you did with your elementary school children, middle school students need to role-play. Children will gain many benefits from developing the language necessary to communicate effectively.

For instance, perhaps your students have made it a habit of continuing on through a lesson even though they don’t understand what the teacher is saying. You could pretend to be the student while your child is the teacher, raise your hand, and say something like, “I am not sure what you meant when you said ____. Could you please explain it further?” You could also practice composing an email to a teacher as an alternative to speaking in person in order to break the ice. You might even try giving your child a scenario that you know she has difficulty with or is unsure about and practice problem solving together.

For example, “You are in class trying to complete independent work given to you by the teacher, but other students around you keep talking and you can’t focus on the assignment. What could you do?” A possible solution might be having the student go up to the teacher and explain that she is having trouble focusing because of the noise level and asking to move to a quieter space. Remind your children that they may not always get the results they want, but it is important to try.

Final Thoughts

By encouraging and practicing self-advocacy skills with your children, you are setting them up for success not only in school, but also in life. Giving students as young as elementary school age the knowledge and tools they need to create an environment in which their true potential shines is extremely beneficial for everyone involved in the learning process.

Once students see the value in believing in themselves and being their own best supporter, the positive cycle should continue from there!

Check out next month’s tip, which focuses on self-advocacy for high school and college students!

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Erica MechlinskiEncourage & Practice Self-Advocacy