Self-Advocacy, in its simplest form, is the ability to communicate what you need. As mothers, we have the unique opportunity to create an environment where this life skill can be identified and nourished so that our children learn to self-advocate from an early age and long into adulthood. 

Identifying age-appropriate ways for our children to advocate for themselves is just as important as potty training, reading, sharing and even driving safely later in life. As we consider and teach these skills, self-advocacy should not be overlooked. Below are 3 tips for raising children that can self-advocate.

Be open

Encourage children to be open—not only to what they know, but also to what might be possible. A child’s vision is generally more finite than that of an adult. The child knows what they know but oftentimes, they are unaware of what they do not know. Helping our children to be open to instruction, correction and learning also opens them up to be teachable. 

Cheering them on to try that new position on the soccer team, audition for the play at school or join the debate team may reveal talents they were unaware of. Children who are open to new ideas and experiences learn to take risks and also learn from the ideas and opinions of others. Peers with different views can help your child find their own voice in the crowd.

Be mindful

Being self-aware is a gateway to self-advocacy. Identifying both strengths and weaknesses reveal where help may be needed and where independence can flourish. Support your child by allowing them to make age-appropriate choices and decisions for themselves. Doing so, helps them to discover what they like and don’t like and what they want and don’t want. For example, instead of deciding for them what they will wear to school, allow your child to pick out a few outfits on their own. Practicing this independence will give them a voice in what they wear and practice decisiveness. Children who are self-advocates know what they want and how to go after it. 

Be solution-oriented

Here’s where we give them the space to problem solve. When our children come home with a dilemma or a problem, too often our knee-jerk reaction is to fix it. Something happened at school, we send an email. Something happened at soccer practice, we text the coach. Something happened with one of their friends, we call the other parent. Perhaps you are about to do one of those things right now. Please don’t hit send just yet. 

Ask more questions than provide them with quick answers. Create an environment that naturally breeds problem solving. Questions create an environment that invite our children to explore options. Consider suggesting they write down what the options for this dilemma might look like. 

Related: 6 ways to raise emotionally intelligent kids, according to a clinical psychologist

Or, even consider role playing with your child. If the issue they are experiencing is focused on a school assignment, you be the teacher and let your child be themselves. Then, switch roles. This exercise does several things: it allows your child to develop their voice and the skill of self-advocacy with the one they know loves them best. It gives them a safe place to make mistakes, feel nervous or vulnerable and practice speaking with an adult about a concern. 

How to know if you are not promoting self-advocacy

Overlooking self-advocacy may include: sending emails to teachers/coaches before helping your child problem-solve for themselves, minimizing or removing difficult situations when they arise or instructing our children on what to do instead of helping them discover and think through what to do. 

Our children are finding their way and we have to let them.

There’s so much we want to teach our children before they successfully launch into their future: how to wash their own laundry, how to cook a basic meal, how to change a tire. Be sure self-advocacy is on the list, too.