How to Foster Self-Advocacy in Children

By Afsaneh Moradian, author of Jamie’s Class Has Something to Say 

How to Foster Self-Advocacy in ChildrenFar too often we see the children in our lives as their gender and age group and make decisions accordingly. We put preschoolers in swimming class and sign six-year-olds up for soccer.

As adults, we love the kids in our lives. We know what they need, and it’s our job to keep them healthy and foster their development. But sometimes our ideas and expectations don’t fit the actual individuals we are raising. What can seem like children rebelling might actually be a child screaming—literally and figuratively—to be heard.

My child’s grandmother has an especially challenging time managing her expectations of what my nonbinary child should like and how they should behave. One time when the two of them went out for lunch together, she assumed that she could order anything off the children’s menu and her young grandchild would enjoy it. She could not have been more wrong! My child refused to eat the congealed mac-and-cheese they were served, no matter how “fun” the presentation was.

Asking children about their preferences and encouraging them to make choices is key to establishing and teaching healthy communication. It also teaches a child to have confidence in their ideas and opinions and what it means to respect someone else. The more children are empowered to share, the easier it will be for them to make good decisions and know how to interact with peers in respectful ways.

Giving children the space to speak up is also fundamental to establishing trust between child and adult. When children have an adult in their life who really takes the time to listen, hear them, and respond to what they are saying, they know the door is wide open for them to communicate something serious that is affecting them or someone they know.

Here’s a fun activity that can facilitate children sharing their preferences and opinions.

All About Me Worksheets

  1. Create a worksheet with a list of topics such as favorite food, least favorite food, favorite color, a sound you dislike, favorite toy, favorite movie, biggest fear, etc. Be sure to leave space after each topic.
  2. Give each child a copy of the worksheet and ask them to fill it out. If your age group isn’t reading and writing yet, you can read each line out loud, and they can draw their answers.
  3. The worksheets can be posted in the group space to share everyone’s ideas. Or you can use the responses for the following activity.

Treasure Hunt of Friends

  1. Using the responses you collected from the previous activity, create a treasure hunt of friends.
  2. Give each child a new worksheet to fill out with items such as: find four people whose favorite food is pizza, find someone who loves Toy Story, etc.
  3. Children walk around and talk to one another to complete their sheets.
  4. If the children are too young to read and write, place images instead of words followed by the correct number of apple outlines. The children can still walk around and speak to one another to find the answers, but they only need to write the person’s initials in an apple.
  5. If you feel your group isn’t ready to walk around with their sheets, you can still share the responses as a circle time activity by asking everyone with a specific answer to stand up or do a different type of movement.

The more we can do to really get to know the individual children in our lives and show that we respect their ideas even when we don’t agree, the more self-assured children will become and the better able they’ll be to speak up for themselves and others.

Afsaneh MoradianAfsaneh Moradian has loved writing stories, poetry, and plays since childhood. After receiving her master’s in education, she took her love of writing into the classroom where she began teaching children how to channel their creativity. Her passion for teaching has lasted for over fifteen years. Afsaneh now guides students and teachers (and her young child) in the art of writing. She lives in New York City.

Free Spirit books by Afsaneh Moradian:
Jamie Is Jamie Jamie and Bubbie book cover Jamie's Class Has Something to Say book cover

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2022 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

This entry was posted in Teaching and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to How to Foster Self-Advocacy in Children

  1. Letting each child share something about themselves is so important. I found myself teaching totally online this past year and I needed to find a way to help my third graders feel more connected. I started each morning with a sharing time. They could share not only “things” but they could tell a joke or riddle, play an instrument, share a drawing, etc. I learned more about each student then I had learned in the classroom in my over forty years+ of teaching. I had perfect online attendance throughout most of the year and they were present at 8am sharing time. When I head back to in-person school, I will continue this tradition. By the way, age doesn’t matter. In 2020 when every school in Los Angeles shut down, my middle schoolers shared their talents. One of my students’ comments was, “This was the best class ever.” Why? Because it was “their” class.

Leave a Reply