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Why Are We Reluctant to Speak Up?When I was pregnant with my daughter, I read What To Expect When You Are Expecting several times. Then, when she was born, I read the next book in this series What to Expect the First Year. And thus I entered the world of parenting advice. As a new parent, I was seeking reassurance about the "normalcy" of our experiences from "parenting experts". It took me a while to realize that there is very little agreement between "experts" on practically every topic except one: Parents need to follow their advice to grow healthy and happy kids.
Then we sent our daughter to school, and things only got worse. After all, teachers had degrees and took classes in child development. They knew what's "normal" and what's not after being in a classroom for years. Their advice was certainly solid, but... they only saw one side of my child. I learned that if a child does not present a "problem" in a classroom, you will probably not hear from the teacher at all except during parent-teacher conference. After all, my child was "normal".
But what happens when you feel that your child needs something more or something different that what other teachers or coaches have to offer? Do you feel reluctant to speak up? I can almost guarantee that you do. For once, we are taught to trust the experts. We question our own instincts and try to rationalize our concerns away. Then we have to worry about the labels that will be piled on us even by our family or friends. Someone might say that we worry too much. Someone else might joke about you trying to "land our helicopter" at school. We might feel that we are "that Mom", always hovering, not able to letting go.
What Do Our Children See?
Now let's look at our behavior with our children's eyes. Perhaps your daughter is telling you that she is bored in school. You could give her a lecture that school is not supposed to be always fun. Perhaps your son is telling you that his teacher is giving too much homework. You could explain him that he needs to learn hard work and perseverance. But... what if they are right? Instead of validating their feelings and exploring the reasons behind them, we just tell them to suck it up. Not surprisingly, they react by mentally putting us into "Adults Camp" and sharing less with us as time goes on. Some rebel and refuse to cooperate while others learn to question their feelings, to suppress them, and to march on numbly trying to please their parents and their teachers.
How to Speak Up
Our children do not have better advocates than their parents. We know them, their strengths and weaknesses. We can sense their distress. We should set an example asking assertively for what they need. No, we don't need to argue their case in front of them, but they should know that we spoke up for them. No, it does not mean that our kids will always get what they want, but we might reach a compromise that is more acceptable than their current struggle. And, in the long term, what is more important - mental health of your child or "that Mom" label that strangers might put on you?
But What About Teaching Kids to Self Advocate?
I am a strong believer in teaching kids to ask for what they want on their own, but... the art of doing it in a respectful manner comes with age and experience. Young children are rarely successful in their own advocacy efforts unless an adult is really willing to take notice. While we encourage our 9 year old to try and solve her own problems, we also want her to know that we are there for her. If situation allows it, I actually tell her what exactly I did to help her - for once, because she needs to know if any decisions have been made, and, secondly, because I want to be a role model for her in a difficult art of advocating for herself and others. I teach her that she has to speak up to be heard.
Is it difficult for you to speak up for your kids?
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