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Teaching Kids To Be Their Own Biggest Advocates

Kids be their own advocates

​When children are babies (and right up through their grade school years), parents take a direct role in helping them with everything from potty training to learning how to make friends and organize their time.  After all, they're not ready to be left alone yet, and need plenty of adult involvement to stay safe and healthy.

When kids hit adolescence, it's appropriate for parents to shift gears away from hands-on help towards teaching teens the necessary skills for managing their own lives.  In other words, it's time to get them ready for launch mode!

As they grow to adulthood, teens need to learn self-sufficiency.   Here are two foundational skills to teach and practice with your teens so they can meet life's challenges and be their own biggest advocates.

Start by teaching your teens how to solve problems.  The SODAS method (S=situation; O-options; D=disadvantages; A=advantages; S=solution) is a simple but effective problem-solving strategy.  Sit down with your teen, and ask him to describe a current challenge, big or small, he is facing.  Have him write down a short description of the challenge, and then brainstorm and write down at least three options for addressing it.  Next, ask him to think through and write down all of the disadvantages and advantages to each solution.  Then, ask him to weight his options, name his preferred solution, and tell you his plan for putting that solution into action.  For print outs to use as you work thru these examples take a look at our SODAS tool.

Next, teach your teen how to advocate for herself.  Talk about situations where she wants to promote her point of view or obtain an outcome that's important to her.  Encourage her to write down her thoughts so she knows exactly what she wants to convey.  Have her practice what she'll say in a calm, neutral voice (with body posture and facial expressions to match voice tone), making sure she gives compelling rationales for her perspective.    Remind her to thank the person she's talking to for listening, regardless of the outcome.   Once she's comfortable practicing with you, encourage her to use the skill in "real life". 

You can begin teaching this skill even before the teenage years. When kids get to double-digits and begin the transition to middle school, a lot of changes take place. It's important for kids to understand how to solve a problem and how to take that solution to others when they believe it is important. Arming your children with these skills increases their confidence when the time comes to discuss an unfair grade on a paper with a teacher or to figure out a solution to an issue with a bully at school.  And as the years go on and other issues arise, like addressing tough issues at work, they will have the skills and the practice that will make them more self-reliant individuals.  And—that sets them up for success as they leave the nest and pursue their hopes and dreams.