Help Children Advocate for Themselves
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Published on August 17, 2021

students raising hands in class

Help Children Advocate for Themselves

Parents can be their children's best advocates. You can also help your children advocate for themselves in school.

While I’d learned from my own children and the differences in their approach to elementary school, I spoke with a coworker who faced some similar situations with her youngest child who started school during the pandemic.

Different Learning Styles and Personalities

Her daughter’s temperament could be described as “slow adapting” and so in the face of a new place, a new teacher, a new schedule and many new rules, she felt overwhelmed. She would struggle on days when school ended early, or when there was a new teacher due to COVID. Sometimes these changes led her to emotional outbursts.

My coworker visited the teacher, and they talked about her daughter’s unique personality. The teacher said they could work on giving her more warnings about changes in the routine. She also went with her daughter and spoke with a counselor about things she could do to manage her emotions and frustrations. Just a few small changes made huge differences.

Helping Kids Be Their Own Advocates

My coworker encouraged her son, who is 9, to advocate for himself.

His active personality leads him to desire plenty of space so he can move or stand. He asked his teacher if he could sit at the back of the classroom so that he would be able to stand at his desk while working and not disrupt his classmates. She agreed, and in helping him make that small adjustment, he did better with his work.

Whether we teach children to advocate for themselves, or we guide efforts in their early school years, it can really pay off for everyone involved. Some suggestions for supporting your school-aged child include:

  • Make sure they know it’s OK to speak up or ask questions with respect.
  • If you’re not sure how to start addressing an issue, try to speak with someone you trust, hopefully the child’s teacher. If you don’t know the teacher, introduce yourself.
  • Use parent-teacher conferences to maximize communication, and prepare your questions in advance. Aim to collaborate with the school staff to help kids achieve goals. A simple example could be a child who’s easily distracted – perhaps they should not sit by the window.
  • Ask the teacher whether you should call, email or text if concerns do come up. If you find out when is their “best” time to reach them, you can also offer your contact information, so communication is easy, respectful and timely.
  • If talking to the teacher doesn’t feel comfortable you can try contacting the school counselor, an administrator or principal.
  • Explore options or ask if any adaptations can be made, such as the ones we mentioned above.

You are your child’s best advocate, so trust in your abilities and remember to ask questions if you have them. Educators appreciate parents who are engaged in their children’s academic success, so ask as many questions and use resources available. Another source for help is health care professionals like those on my team. We often talk to moms and dads about school, temperament and personality with kids.

Today, my daughter helps kids – as a teacher. Like her teacher did years ago, now she makes adaptations for kids to do well – because she sees recognizes no two students learn in the same way.

Part 1: Advocate for Your Child in School

Twila Perkinson is a Certified Child Life Specialist at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center.

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