Modeling and action: How to teach your child to stand up for their rights

It is never too early or too late to start teaching your child self-advocacy.

It is never too early or too late to start teaching your child self-advocacy.

What you need to know:

  • Self-advocacy is an essential, life-long process that your child will begin to learn by watching you act as a good advocate for yourself
  • Begin by empowering your child so that he or she understands and identifies their strengths, needs, and responsibilities

Does your child know their rights and how to speak up for themselves?

This is not a question that many parents would answer in the affirmative because the majority have never taught their kids how to speak out for their rights, especially in public.

While it's natural for a parent to defend and advocate for the rights of their child, many parents inadvertently leave their children unaware of where, when, and how they can stand up and speak out for themselves. “Knowing when to stand up for your child and when to let the child speak out for himself is a balancing act that many parents fail. Most of us want to be in control. This hampers the child’s mental capacity to stand up for what they want in the absence of their parents,” says child therapist Damaris Kamau.

According to Damaris, self-advocacy does not only involve asking for help, it entails negotiations such as asking for more time to complete an assignment, and expressing fears and anxieties. “Children who are taught self-advocacy tend to do well in school, work and life. They are more confident in what they’re learning. They also understand their needs, what kind of help or support they need, and are vocal about them,” says Damaris.

It is never too early or too late to start teaching your child self-advocacy. Bear in mind that self-advocacy is a critical skill that your child will need for them to attain their goals, increase self-sufficiency, and have the courage and skill to speak out, even in the event of abuse. “Self-advocacy is an essential, life-long process that your child will begin to learn by watching you act as a good advocate for yourself,” she says.

When starting to train your child, you will need to list their strengths and weaknesses. This will help you know what areas your child should be more outspoken about. Ask your child what they wish their teacher, friends, or parents understood about them or how they learn or study best, and what would make learning at home or at school easier. This will help your child open up to you while helping them to develop the ability to speak out for themselves. “Begin by empowering your child so that he or she understands and identifies their strengths, needs, and responsibilities. Follow this up with teaching them to communicate their needs with other people,” says Damaris. Apart from knowing what they want, they must be bold enough to communicate it to the relevant authorities such as their class teacher, or the parent. It is important that you give your child opportunities to make decisions on his own.

When your child runs into a challenge, Damaris says that you can ask them to propose what they think would help. “If they make a suggestion that they can implement, allow them to attempt to implement it before stepping in,” she says.

When teaching self-advocacy to your kids, you should not do it in a manner that suggests you are abdicating your parental roles. Let them know that you are on their side and you are available to defend them should they feel worn out. This will go a long way in giving them a sense of courage.

However, when they are wrong, firmly explain why you do not support what they are claiming. “Be careful to ensure that they feel their opinions, feelings, or ideas are appreciated and they matter,” says Damaris. In addition, be patient with them. “For instance, it is likely that a child who is not used to self-advocacy will feel embarrassed about asking for support. They may also feel ashamed for appearing to struggle with certain challenges that other kids have no problem with,” says Damaris.

According to child therapist Damaris Kamau, here’s what you can do to teach your child to be a good self-advocate.

  • Communication: Teach your child how to communicate effectively, clearly, and in an assertive manner. Let them know that asking for, and accepting help is not a weakness. This will encourage them to have a voice of their own.
  • Respect: When communicating their needs or rights, teach your child to be respectful and act within limits. Teach them to respect the preferences and needs of others. You can do this by role-playing.
  • Independence: Help foster a sense of independence in your child by allowing them to initiate or make self-discoveries. Offer them praise even when they are not as successful as they would have wished to be in their quest. “This will demonstrate your faith in their abilities, which will nurture self-confidence, competence, and an independent, stable thought system,” says Damaris.
  • Support: Ensure your child is aware of their support system early enough. By having a reliable support system, your child will feel supported enough to navigate through his development as well as embrace responsibility from an early age. “Children need to identify people they can trust and feel comfortable talking to, especially when they leave home,” says Damaris.
  • Challenges: Teach your child how to deal with criticism, rejection, and setbacks. This will inculcate a sense of resilience in them. Let your child know that there are situations and challenges that they cannot overcome simply by being assertive or outspoken. Be cautious when explaining this, so that you don't water down the gains the child may have made.