When our middle school students face challenges, it’s our job to give them the tools they need. Through their years in school, they will probably come up against demanding friends, difficult teachers, and too much to do with not enough time to do it. All of these situations are opportunities for them to learn how to self-advocate.
Self-advocacy helps our middle schoolers:
- Communicate their interests
- Stand up for themselves
- Work with others to resolve issues.
Here are 5 tips to help your middle schooler advocate for themselves.
1. Listen to them.
When we listen, we model that their voice matters. It’s encouraging that something so seemingly simple works though I can find this challenging. Why do our children often choose to talk when we’re attempting to cook dinner, check in on Grandma, and finish a priority email?! I’m learning that I can stop and be present in the moment. Welcome the perceived “interruption” and respond to it. Embracing that being interrupted is part of being Mom! Listening builds confidence which our children take with them into their interactions out in the world.
2. Don’t jump in.
When I see my son stressing over an issue, everything in me wants to fix it, ideas come thick and fast, and sometimes I can’t stop myself from sharing them. However, it would be better to hold back and let him sit in the struggle for a while. That space helps to develop problem-solving skills. We can return later and gently ask questions. Letting our children use us as a sounding board while they equip themselves to talk to that friend or teacher the following day.
3. Give them opportunities.
A friend once shared with me the idea of having our children do errands with us. Visit the post office to mail a package, pick up the dry cleaning, and return an item to a store. I loved this. As we provide opportunities to interact with others, our middle schoolers can work that muscle of asking for what they need. Self-advocacy can be particularly hard for our more introverted children. Having them successfully ask for a food order at their favorite restaurant or buy a train ticket can be encouraging.
4. Role play.
I’ve known parents who use role play to help prepare their child for a tricky interaction. They brainstorm ideas together on what the child could say. Then they practice with the parent taking on the role of the teacher or friend. This is a great way to help our middle schoolers advocate. Sometimes our children don’t know how to ask for what they need, and through role play, we can help them develop phrases.
5. Model it for them.
It was a little terrifying for me to realize that my children closely watch what I do and say! But this can be great for modeling self-advocacy. As they watch us interacting with others in our communities, they will learn the behavior, especially if we reinforce this by reviewing interactions afterward. Our children will see that advocating for themselves is a skill they need now and later in life.
The goal is for our children to be confident and comfortable looking out for themselves when we’re not with them.
Do you have any hints or tips on how to help middle schoolers advocate for themselves? I’d love you to share them, and we can navigate this together!
Charlotte lives in Greenwich, CT, with her husband and three children. Born and raised in the UK, she moved to the US sixteen years ago and loves living in Fairfield County. You’ll find her walking her two dogs down tree-filled lanes, helping out the student ministries at her local church, following her passion for writing, and being a mom.