By Frank Schofield, superintendent, Logan City School

AS CHILDREN GROW and develop, they invariably encounter challenges. These can be particularly visible and frustrating when they relate to a child’s performance in school. In response to these challenges, caregivers often advocate for their children in order to ensure they receive the assistance they need to be successful. In addition to advocating for students, teaching students self-advocacy is a key to promoting their long-term success.

Understood.org, a website with resources to support parents who are dealing with learning and attention issues with their children, includes the following information regarding how to help children develop self-advocacy:

What is Self-Advocacy?

“Self-advocacy involves understanding our strengths and weaknesses, knowing what we need to succeed, and communicating that to other people.

Self-advocacy can be broken down into three key elements:
• Understanding specific needs, through self-awareness.
• Knowing what help or support will address those needs (like tutoring or classroom accommodations).
• Communicating those needs to teachers and others.”

Once, in my work as a school administrator, I watched a student apply these points in a discussion regarding his class schedule.

This student had ADD and was familiar with organizational challenges it created for him. The student saw his class schedule and noticed that the scheduling was going to create difficulties for him. He visited with the counselor, expressed his concerns, and made a request for a schedule change that would address his needs. The student understood his challenges and needs, knew what he needed to be successful, and communicated those needs to a person who could help him. The student’s self-advocacy led to a discussion that resulted in a better schedule for him and an improved relationship between the student and the counselor.

Benefits of Self-Advocacy

“Self-advocacy helps children learn by creating solutions for challenges they face. Children who exercise self-advocacy can:

• Find solutions to challenges parents may not be aware of.

• Build self-confidence in their ability to learn. • Create a sense of ownership over their learning.

• Develop independence and self-empowerment.

Instead of feeling powerless and dependent on others, individuals with self-advocacy skills are better prepared to effectively face challenges in academics, work, social situations, and beyond.”

How to Develop Self-Advocacy in Children

“Caregivers and teachers can take specific steps to help children build their own self-advocacy skills. Some ways to do so include:

  • Talking with children about strengths and weaknesses.
  • Reminding children that asking for help is a good thing.
  • When a problem comes up, giving children a chance to solve it before stepping in.”

    As with any valuable skill, self-advocacy takes practice and may be challenging for many children. Helping students develop this skill can also be challenging for parents, particularly when we choose to allow children to practice the skill instead of fixing the problem for the child. Although we may be tempted to step in and try to resolve challenges immediately, helping children develop self-advocacy skills can help them deal more effectively with current challenges, as well as those that will arise in the future.