Parental Guidance Suggested
By: Patrice Kopas
Students can learn to self-advocate from the time they are in PreK. In fact, learning this skill early in life builds self-confidence, empowers decision-making, and develops a sense of ownership of an outcome, especially if they have had to struggle, and even fail, before succeeding.
How often do you let your child fail? Once a day? Once a week? Never?
I’m not talking about “big” failures like letting him knowingly make a bad decision or take an unnecessary or dangerous risk. I’m talking about “everyday failures” like forgetting homework, leaving a lunchbox in the car, or not returning a library book on time. Do you let your child solve these “small and solvable” problems on his own, or do you solve them before he can come up with a solution for himself?
When PreK students put puzzles together on their own, they are doing much more than refining their fine motor skills. If a piece doesn’t fit, our teachers encourage students to put the piece in another place, turn the piece around, or try a new piece that might fit better. In most cases, guiding the learning process is more important than rushing through a task without thought.
Think about this. When your student has challenging homework, what is your first reaction? Do you look at a math problem and try to solve it for him, or do you ask him questions that might lead him to the answer? Do you ever tell him to leave it blank so he can ask his teacher for help? Allowing your student to advocate for him/herself and approach the teacher about difficult homework helps the student, the teacher, and the entire class. If parents solve homework at home, teachers lose important insight, and children lose the opportunity to struggle and persevere.
Middle school years can be challenging for students and parents alike. It’s a time when parents are learning to “let go” a little more and when students start to test their limits. In a safe environment, especially in school where teachers know your student by name and understand adolescent development, students are more likely to self-advocate, both academically and socially.
Letting our kids self-advocate is equally important in social situations. If a child is having a tough time with a friend, a parent’s role is to let the child talk about the problem, and even let him/her become emotional about it. Being at home with a parent is a safe space for your child, and by allowing the child to break down a bit, he can complete the cycle of emotion that’s necessary to navigate anger, sadness, and loneliness.
Being a sounding board and not being reactive is the most effective strategy to encourage and ensure self-reliance and problem-solving ability. Examples of responses to have ready could be “I hear and understand your frustration.” “I’m confident you’ll find a solution.” “I’m here to help you figure out what to do.”
In much the same way, when there’s an issue between two friends – being excluded from a playdate, not being asked to attend a party – it’s important to listen to your child first. Ask him how he’s feeling, and validate his emotions. Problems between adolescent friends are usually fixed within a few days. So leave your phone on the table, and resist the urge to contact the other parent unless your child requests it on his own. As parents, it’s natural to want to protect our children from anything that hurts them, but we also need to help them to handle emotions and setbacks.
We need to let our kids try, and we need to let them fail. We need to watch them fall, and we need to let them get up on their own. They need to know they can get up. And you need to know that, too.