Age appropriate tips
Parents can encourage children at different ages to learn — and practice — advoacting for themselves in social situations and in school. The following tips were provided by Beckman, Bomba, Stanzione and Arthera M. Shell, president of AMS Educational Consultation Services in Bowie.
- Make sure your child can ask to use the bathroom. Many wet pants are caused by anxiety about seeking permission.
- Encourage your child to tell a teacher about a problem with a classmate. Fight the urge to call a teacher or another parent when you hear about a playground conflict.
- Don’t request a drink or snack for your child. Preschoolers should be able to ask a family friend or teacher politely for what they need.
- Encourage your child to suggest a different activity during a playdate with a friend. Kids should be able to compromise, but also propose their favorite activities.
- Make sure your child is able to tell friends and other adults when he or she doesn’t like something.
- Reassure your child if he or she is anxious about approaching an adult. “Sometimes it’s helpful to ask, ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen?'” Bomba says.
- Role play various scenarios for school and social situations. Discuss with your young children things like being lost, not having a friend to play with at recess, not being able to find a lunch box or what to do if their tummy hurts in school.
- Have your child order his meal in a restaurant. This teaches manners and builds confidence.
- Urge your child to ask for directions/help from a librarian, store clerk or museum guide. It’s an opportunity to politely seek information from a stranger in a safe environment.
- Give your child a chance to tell a coach or Scout leader about a preference. For example, does your daughter want to play a particular position or take part in a particular activity? Have her approach the adult herself.
- Allow your child to arrange a playdate by calling a friend’s house, which also teaches phone etiquette.
- Teach the difference between reporting and tattling. Discuss ways to handle situations that may be brewing on the playground. But some circumstances — being hit, for example — require a child to immediately go to a teacher or school official.
- Check to see if your child is raising his hand to ask questions or make suggestions in class.
- Encourage your child to tell a teacher about a problem with a classmate. It takes bravery to report bad behavior or something that could get a friend in trouble or be perceived as unpopular.
Middle and high school
- Don’t rush to rescue tweens and teens. If they forget their lunch or notebook, let them experience the consequences and problem-solve a solution.
- Encourage them to ask a teacher for extra help or make-up work when they are absent. If they are worried about being perceived as “different,” or calling attention to a perceived weakness, suggest writing the teacher a note instead of raising a hand in class, or finding a few minutes during a transition time. “You might help them come up with a game plan,” Bomba says, suggesting an approach such as saying, “Let’s identify the problem and look at your options.”
- Support them if they need to confront a friend. Having difficult conversations with friends, colleagues and relatives is a life skill. Now is a great time to begin that process.
- Urge teens to apply and interview for a job, try out for a team or audition for the school play. It’s important they learn how to accept rejection gracefully.
Advocating for special needs
It’s especially important for children with learning and emotional difficulties to learn to advocate for themselves.
Many IEP and 504 plans call for students to request certain accommodations, says Arthera M. Shell, president of AMS Educational Consultation Services in Bowie. For example, a student may have extra time on tests, but may need to tell a teacher he or she needs the time.
“I recommend having the student carry of list of accommodations available to them,” Shell says. “The child must know their role. … They need to be able say, ‘I read a little slower,’ or ‘I need some extra help in math.'”
Shelli Stanley of Grambrills knew it would be important for her son, who has Asperger’s syndrome, to learn to advocate for himself.
“We wanted [our son] to understand his diagnosis and not be ashamed of who he is,” Stanley says. “We also talked about his IEP and what that meant.”
In his case, Stanley’s son could leave class before the bell rang to avoid some of the hallway crowds and could go the guidance office if he felt overwhelmed.
“I’d periodically check with teachers to see if he was advocating for himself,” she says.
By Laura Barnhardt Cech