Why Students Should Advocate for Themselves

Learn how you can help your child become their own best advocate in the classroom.

As a middle school teacher for almost two decades, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it takes to be successful in school because I want that for all of my students. 

The No. 1 skill that I see all successful students share? The ability to advocate for themselves.

I constantly hear myself saying to students on my case load in my current position as a Teacher on Special Assignment: “Have you talked to your teacher?”

You would be surprised how often the answer is no.

With 150-200 students each year (and sometimes more), middle school and high school teachers need students to be able to advocate for themselves. 

But the big question facing parents is how can we help our children become experts in advocating for their needs and interests? 

Students need to know themselves

Students need to recognize and understand their emotions and need strategies to express those emotions.

As parents, we can help our children recognize their feelings by acknowledging them and naming them. Find an emotion chart or feeling-wheel to hang somewhere in your home. It can serve two purposes: It will remind you that children need help naming and navigating their emotions. Plus, it will provide the vocabulary for your family to talk about feelings.

This might sound strange, but a really important way to help your child navigate big feelings is to ask them how their body feels before and during a tantrum, meltdown or outburst. They can use their body’s clues to help them understand when they might need to ask for help. 

I coach my students who have a hard time managing their emotions in school to notice what clues their bodies might be sending them about their emotions and then to think about why they are feeling that way. A lot of times, students have outbursts in the classroom when they don’t understand the content and they don’t know how to ask for help.

A good therapist is a wonderful place to begin to have these conversations.

Once your child can identify their emotions and where they come from, then they can untangle their needs and desires from that emotion. They can then ask for help from a place of calm and certainty. 

For example, “Mrs. Apple, I am feeling frustrated in class, because I need help with (fill in the blank).” Or “Mr. Pear, I’m feeling disappointed in myself, because I allowed myself to get behind on homework. I dug myself into a deep hole and I can’t figure out how to get out. I want to do better. Can you help me?”

The dialogue should start with their feeling and a why, followed by a request for help.

Students need to communicate

Students also need to know how to communicate with various types of people, including coaches and teachers

As we all know, some adults, including adults who work with kids, still need to do the hard work of untangling emotions from their own needs and desires. Make sure to talk to your child about this reality. They may not always get a thoughtful, caring response from their teacher or coach, so your child needs to practice different kinds of responses so that they are ready for whatever they hear.

It also is a good idea to talk to your child about different levels of formality in their communication. Share with them that you talk to family and friends in a more casual way than you talk to bosses, coworkers and clients at work. Maybe even give them some examples. 

This conversation should also include the idea of timing; asking a question that will only benefit one person during a class lecture isn’t respectful of the teacher or the class. A better idea would be to email the teacher about finding time to talk.

Teach your child how to write an email to a teacher or coach. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have seen emails that look something like this to a teacher, “can u grade my test????? my rents r ragin at me bcuz of my grade thx.” 

I have had numerous lessons with my own 13-year-old about how to write an email to an adult. A well-written email can go a long way!

Students need practice and confidence

The struggle is real. It is also where your child’s confidence and ability to advocate for themselves begins. One of the greatest gifts you can give your child is the space to struggle and figure things out on their own. This is the fertile ground where confidence and competence grow!

Your child’s journey to becoming their own best advocate will look messy. And you know what? That is great! It’s through lots of mistakes and stumbles that we grow. A parent’s job is that of a relentlessly encouraging coach or consultant. It’s not easy but your student will be better for those lessons for the rest of their lives.

Follow Chicago Parent on Instagram.

Steffy McCourt
Steffy McCourt
Steffy McCourt brings over 15 years of experience in education, parenting, and travel writing for esteemed publications like We Are Teachers and LA Family Travel. Recognized for her commitment to advancing literacy and writing skills, Steffy is honored to be a Fellow of the National Writing Project. She collaborates with educators nationwide to enhance teaching practices and empower student writers.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

- Advertisement -


What to Buy (and Skip) on Amazon Prime Day 2024

Discover Prime Day tips for snagging the best deals on electronics and more without falling for impulse buys.

These Are The Hardest AP Classes To Pass

Discover the 10 toughest AP exams by pass rate, revealing challenges and surprises for high school students striving for college credit.

11 Nature-Themed Playgrounds to Add to Your Summer Bucket List

Explore the outdoors and connect with nature at these totally cool play spaces.

Find Out Where the Best Teachers in Lake County Public Schools Are

See whether your local school in Lake County has the best-ranked teachers.

- Advertisement -