The June 2019 newsletter focuses on things that ECE professionals can do to become strong advocates for issues that impact children and families. Let’s take a bit of time to explore how we can help children become advocates – not for government policies or safe communities – but for themselves.
Self-advocacy is the ability to identify our own needs, communicate those needs, and seek the support necessary to address those needs. When children are able to advocate for themselves effectively they build confidence in their own skills and a positive attitude about problem solving and learning.
One of the earliest tools we can give children to promote self-advocacy is sign language. Imagine an infant who needs to communicate their desire for food or drink – but they do not yet have the words to do so. Having a tool (sign language) to communicate needs is empowering and can reduce stress in children and the adults in their lives.
Elementary school children will likely be ready to take on true self-advocacy. They will have the maturity and self-awareness to be effective at identifying and addressing needs. In early childhood, we can help prepare children to be self-advocates by engaging in the following interactions:
- Help children identify their emotions in a variety of situations. Use empathetic statements to help children recognize their feelings. For example, “It looks like you are sad that Mommy went to work this morning. Sometimes feeling sad makes us cry. Are you feeling sad?” Once the child confirms your observation you could say, “When I am sad I ask my friends for a hug. If you want I could give you a hug.” If the child accepts, hug the child and say, “Anytime you are feeling sad, I am happy to give you a hug.”
- Acknowledge children for expressing needs, even if those needs are communicated non-verbally. For example, if a child points to a desired toy, you could say, “I see that you are pointing to the truck. That tells me that you might want to play with the truck. Do you want to play with the truck?” Once the child confirms your observation you might say, “Thanks for letting me know that you want to play with the truck. You could also say ‘Truck, please.’ to let me know that.”
- Teach children easy ways to ask for help. When you notice a child who seems frustrated, acknowledge his/her efforts and remind them that you are someone who can assist them if they need it. Attempt to identify words and actions children can take to communicate they need help. Be sure to model these actions with other adults (and the children) in the learning environment.
- Talk to children about their personal space and encourage them to talk to other children about maintaining personal space. Encourage children to tell peers to step back if they stand too close.
- Empower children to speak up about the actions of their peers that they do not like. For example, if a child is throwing sand, encourage the other children to talk about how they feel about it.
- Help children discover strengths and areas of need. Remind children that they were not always good at the strengths that they have now. You might say, “I know you are a fast runner, but when you were younger, you were not as fast. You practiced hard to be a fast runner. What do you think you could do to improve your handwriting?” Let children know there are tools or strategies they can use to address the needs they have, but most things take time to develop or strengthen.
By learning to communicate needs and identify solutions to problems at a young age, children will have the tools necessary to become effective self-advocates as they age.
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