How To Help Your Children Advocate For Themselves

This post was written by Kristin Berry, (adoptive mom), with insight from S. Berry (adoptee.)

As parents, we spend a lot of time advocating for our children, and ensuring their needs are understood, and met. That’s a big part of our job. But we also must begin to teach our children to speak for themselves. How do we successfully do that?

Hello, my name is ~. I have an FASD, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. 

Some things are harder for me like focusing, sitting still and remembering things. 

I’m very good at some things like drawing, problem solving and building things. 

I feel anxious when things are loud or when things are change. 

If I’m anxious I feel like my body is out of control, my head and my neck feel cold. 

You will know that I’m feeling anxious when I’m wiggling, when my voice gets loud or when I sound angry, sometimes I hang my head or look away. 

I can get regulated by wearing my hoodie, wearing my headphones, taking a walk with Mrs. C or going to Miss R’s room. Sometimes I can carry heavy things, or jump on the trampoline to make my body feel better. 

If I need help getting regulated I can raise my hand and ask my teacher. 

–  ~ Berry, age 9 (from a presentation he gave to his principal, special education team and teachers.)

We noticed our son was struggling with school a few weeks into the year. He had a lot of positive things to say about his friends and his teacher but he still showed signs of anxiety each morning before getting out of the car. We talked with his teacher and came up with some great solutions for him to use throughout the day to address his anxiety. Even so, he still had a number of bad days mixed in with the good. One night as we tucked him into bed, we asked him what was going on. He balled his fists up, narrowed his eyes and said, “It doesn’t matter, I’m just a bad kid, I’m a piece of crap. I’m never going to do the right thing. I just clip down and clip down and clip down. I don’t care what they take away from me. I can’t sit still. I’m not allowed to go to the resource room and the sub didn’t even let me walk to the bathroom by myself.” We waited till he was done and then circled back to the substitute teacher. Our son told us that his teacher had been sick a lot and they were having substitutes every week. We suddenly understood that if new teachers were coming into the class that it would be nearly impossible for them to get to know all the students, much less read, understand and implement each IEP (individualized educational plan). 

The next day we began by contacting the special education department and the principal. Within the next few days we had formulated a plan. We would meet with the principal, special education teacher, counselor, aid and the most frequently used substitutes. We couldn’t make his teacher get better any faster but we could help Sam to use his voice to meet his own needs. We met before school and Sam was excited to get to talk to everyone. He dictated what he wanted to say the night before and then used the notecards I copied to practice his presentation with everyone in the house. He was prepared. 

We walked into the conference room that morning and Sam was met with a group of caring adults who wanted to hear what he had to say and ultimately wanted to support him. The meeting was amazing. Each adult listened intently and then the team welcomed Sam to help make some changes to his classroom experience. He practiced telling them that he was feeling anxious and they practiced giving him coping options. I nearly cried. (I do that a lot)

So how can we move from advocating for our children to teaching the self-advocacy they will need for the rest of their lives? 

  1. Encourage– Highlight your child’s strengths. Help your child to unlock his or her learning style and love language. Encourage your child to use his or her gifts and talents whenever possible. 
  2. Use positive language– Things may be difficult for your child but they are not impossible.
  3. No Shame– Your child’s diagnosis isn’t all that they are, it is a small part. Do not shame your child for his or her anxiety, diagnosis, behavior or struggles.
  4. Empower– your child is the only one who knows what it feels like inside his or her body. Empower them to know and use language to describe how they are feeling and what they need.
  5. Practice with your child– Your child will begin self-advocacy at home. Allow them to practice perfecting the language and accommodations they will need to use outside of the home.
  6. Prepare your audience– Your child will need to advocate for him or herself throughout life. To the best of your ability, create positive opportunities for your child to communicate with the people around them. Call the school and set up a meeting, make arrangements with caring family members or neighbors in which they are prepared to hear your child and respond in a loving supportive way.

Question: What questions do you have about teaching your children to advocate for themselves? Leave your question in the comment section below this post. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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