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Posted at 1:00 PM ET, 09/ 8/2009

Teach Your Child to Be Their Own Advocate

By Valerie Strauss

There are many things that experts tell parents they ought to do for their child at the start of the school year:

*Help kids create a schedule to do homework and outside activities.
*Create a quiet work space for them to do homework.
*Make sure they get enough sleep each night.
*Insist they eat a healthy breakfast—even if they don’t want to-- because they won’t do their best work without it.

But one stands out as having especially far-reaching consequences: Teach your child how to advocate for themselves--starting with their teachers.

This may sound painfully obvious (the right thing to do often is but we still don’t do it).

But ask yourself how you talk to your children about their relationships with their teachers.

I confess that I have reminded my own kids to talk to their teacher about a lesson they didn’t understand, a grade they thought was unfair or a kid who was bothering them.

“Don’t forget to talk to” so and so, I’d say. And then I wouldn’t say anything else.

That’s not the same thing as helping them figure out how to respectfully approach the teacher and what to say to be sure they leave the meeting with what they need. It’s not the same as helping them practice with the right approach and appropriate responses.

And you can start as early as kindergarten. If, for example, a child gets a note home for poor behavior, ask him/her to explain/apologize to the teacher. Role play beforehand.

Teaching your child how to advocate for themselves from a very young age is a gift that will help them learn independence—something that by many accounts is less developed in young people today than in earlier generations.

With parents scheduling their children’s every waking minute, officials at colleges and universities everywhere have been bemoaning for years the immaturity of their freshmen.
A dean at Harvard University told me once that the cellphone had become the longest umbilical cord in the world.

It’s past time that we let our kids do more for themselves, and learning to negotiate their own relationship with their teachers is a great place to start.

Email me with suggestions to add to the above must-do list.

By Valerie Strauss  | September 8, 2009; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Parents, Teachers  | Tags:  Parenting, Teaching Kids to Advocate  
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Excellent advice. This is a long-term thing that can build as the student moves through school from grade to grade. My daughter's IEP actually has a goal of learningg to advocate for herself. While we do form something of a backstop to ensure that things are done - stumbling forward is one thing, failure is another - she has learned to deal with teachers and other adults for herself. And that is one life lesson that very much transcends the classroom.

Posted by: LoveIB | September 8, 2009 2:09 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the good advice. We all should know how to advocate, for ourselves, close family members, and others.

I've learned with great pleasure that my daughters have learned to do so, and have done so in some useful and surprising situations, to their benefit and to the benefit of others. And although their father and I are attorneys, they have no intention of following in our footsteps!

Posted by: EllenBedlington | September 8, 2009 4:54 PM | Report abuse

". . . helping them figure out how to respectfully approach the teacher . . . "
This is VITAL. My husband (a college professor) regularly encounters rude, demanding, disrespectful students who seem to believe that they deserve a high grade because they are "A-students", or for some other equally shallow reason. They have never been taught, or never learned, how to respectfully present a reasonable request to an adult - in this case an adult in a position of authority. Teaching students to do this from an early age will serve them well, not only in college, but also in their careers and family relationships.

Posted by: LMA1 | September 8, 2009 10:11 PM | Report abuse

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