Build the Foundation for Self-Advocacy in Young Children

Self-Advocacy is the ability to articulate one's needs and make informed decisions about the support necessary to meet those needs

Build the Foundation for Self-Advocacy in Young Children

Self-Advocacy is the ability to articulate one's needs and make informed decisions about the support necessary to meet those needs

At a Glance

  • Younger kids can be taught how to speak up for themselves.
  • Giving responsibility to young children helps build the foundation for self-advocacy.
  • Letting your child do certain things on their own is a good place to start.

When kids have confidence, it makes it easier for them to speak up when they need help. It also helps them explain their challenges to others. But younger kids who are just starting school don’t always have that level of self-awareness or the words to express what they’re struggling with.

You can help your young child start building the foundation of self-advocacy. And the earlier you do, the sooner they’ll be able to speak up on behalf of themselves. Here are some things you can do.

Give them the language for asking.

Your child may literally not know what to say when he/she wants or needs something. But you can help them build that vocabulary by teaching how to ask.

Example- Let’s say she’s on a playdate and there’s a particular building block she needs, to complete her building. But her friend has been keeping it for herself.

Instead of just saying, “Can I have that?” your child can learn to express why she’s asking. “Can I please use that block? I need it for my building.”

By adding that extra layer, you are teaching her to communicate her needs in a situation, not just her desires.

Self-Advocacy in children

Let them do things on their own.

You may be tempted to jump in and help your child any time he/she appears to be struggling with something. But it’s important to step back sometimes so that your child can build his/her skills.

Example- Tell your child, you know he can do it himself, but if he runs into trouble with something, he can let you know what he’s struggling with and ask if you’ll help.

Give them responsibilities.

Having structures in place can help build self-advocacy. When kids are given tasks that they’re able to complete, it builds their self-esteem.

For example, giving a cubby space at home to your child teaches her where to put her things when she walks in the door. You can also ask her to tidy up her room and put her toys away.

Role-play difficult encounters.

What would your child do if he/she was being teased at recess? Kids with learning and attention challenges are often targets for bullying.

Without having strategies to stick up for themself, your child may respond by bursting into tears. Or they may hold it in and not tell anybody that they are being picked on.

Role-playing difficult situations with your child can give them strategies that are empowering. It gives them language that they can use on the spot. It can also show them that speaking up when bad things are happening is another way to get help when they need it.

Young people learn confidence by speaking for themselves

Give them real-world opportunities to practice.

It’s one thing to practice at home with family members. It’s another thing to find your voice out in public. Encourage your child to ask for what they need outside of the house.

For instance, have him order his own food at restaurants, giving him the words to use: “May I please have a hamburger with fries?” Tell him it’s OK to make requests, too: “Can I get my hamburger without any lettuce or tomato, please?”

Learning to self-advocate takes time, especially at a very young age. Be prepared to help your child with the language of asking for what they need, for as long as it takes—until they start doing it on their own. From there, the self-advocacy skills can only grow.

Why is Self-Advocacy important for children:

  • Adolescence is the usual period during which children without disabilities begin to question authority and generally move toward becoming autonomous, self-determined individuals.
  • Rather than breeding dependency, it is important that children with disabilities also be given opportunities to establish personal goals, make choices and become involved with the adults who have usually been making decisions for them.
  • In postsecondary school, it is considered the student’s responsibility to advocate for himself/herself. Therefore, self-advocacy training in previous grades is of paramount importance.
  • Self-advocacy skills are needed before commencing post-secondary education, which is usually a much larger, depersonalized setting.
  • Learning self-advocacy skills also develops self-determination skills, which could foster increased personal satisfaction and happiness.
  • All kids, whether or not they have a disability, must learn through opportunities and experiences to explore, take risks, learn from consequences, become self-motivated, develop positive self-esteem and gradually gain control over their lives. All children would benefit from being directly taught these skills at any age level.

Outcomes after implementing Strategies

  • Children are able to appropriately describe their abilities and needs, and the accommodations and assistance that support their learning.
  • Children are actively involved in setting realistic goals for their learning.
  • As adults, they are successful in their workplace.

Key Takeaways

  • Scripting language for kids helps them build self-advocacy.
  • Giving tasks to younger children boosts their confidence.
  • Role-playing with your child can help prepare her for tough situations.