Sprouting Seeds Bring Benefits to Last a Lifetime

I've been planting seeds of self-advocacy for over 45 years. At an early age, my own children learned how to speak to their teachers when they were confused.

It was through my oldest daughter that I learned how important it was to teach our children how to respectfully speak to authority figures.

It may sound odd, but she was in kindergarten when I discovered that parenting was much more challenging than teaching. When I taught my students how to do addition, they didn't argue with me. So the first time I encountered homework with my daughter, I realized I wasn't cut our for teaching my own child how to do the skills I had easily taught other children for years before she was born.

"That's not right," was her response to me when I tried to help her with a simple addition worksheet. "The teacher didn't do it that way," was the first indicator I was not going to enjoy this aspect of parenting. The tension was building and the next thing I knew she was stamping her feet. It was clear she was frustrated with me trying to help. 

I could have gone to the teacher and explained how my daughter had no clue about her homework. As a teacher myself, I did what I wanted my students to do. 

Self-preservation resulted in me saying, "It's clear I don't know how to do this, so you will have to go ask the teacher." 

"She will get mad at me for not listening to her."

"Were you listening?"


"If you were listening and can't remember how she wants it done, I am sure she will understand."

She had many reasons why she couldn't ask the teacher for help. I had a counter for everyone of them. What she needed was a way to talk to her teacher that felt comfortable. 

As a teacher, I knew how I would want a child to talk to me about assignments that weren't clear to them. We spent the next forty-five minutes rehearsing what she could say to her teacher and how to say it. 

I stood on a chair and played the role of a giant teacher. I didn't play the role of the sweet loving type of teacher. I embraced my role of a rude judgmental teacher. I knew if she could talk to someone who was getting in her face about forgetting how to do a simple little assignment, she could face anyone. 

I taught her the first skill in approaching someone with a concern; ask for a good time to talk to them. 

I prepped her to consider the feelings of the teacher. "How would you feel if you thought you did a good job at teaching and then you discover no one understood? Well, teachers have feelings too. It's not how she taught the concept. It's just that you thought you understood what she wanted you to do, so make sure you let her know. Tell her, "Mrs. H. I thought I understood how to do this worksheet in class, but when I got home, I couldn't remember how you wanted us to do it. My mom didn't know how to help me. Could you go over it with me again?" (I have found not being too smart was very helpful in getting my children to talk to their teachers. As they matriculated, that was truly the case. I couldn't do their work past fifth grade. By then, they were powerful self-advocates).

As we role played, I responded with statements she might hear from future teachers and provided her with respectful responses. One such comment was, "If you had been listening, you would know what to do." We practiced responding, "It may have looked like I wasn't listening, but I thought I knew how to do it. I really want to do a good job, could you go over it with me one more time?" 

With all the armor I offered her to go into battle, she was still reluctant. It's aways hard the first time, but I had confidence that she would deliver. 

Because this was her first time approaching a teacher, I called the teacher before school to alert her that my daughter needed to speak to her. I shared my daughter's fear over talking to a teacher for the first time. 

I waited anxiously all day, wondering how it went. I got my answer when my daughter came bounding through the door after school. "Mom, you were right. (A mom always like to hear that). "Mrs. H was so nice." Then she went right upstairs to do the worksheet.

From that day forward, she knew that ask clarifying questions before she left the class, would make her homework much easier. 

Fast forward 38 years. My daughter is at the hospital with a family member. "We are waiting for orders from your doctor," she was told by an orderly. 

I suggested she call the doctor's exchange and tell them him they urgently needed the orders for the hospital. 

Her response validated, that with time and practice, the seeds of self-advocacy grow into a strong supportive trees. "Yes, I already left the message. You know I learned from the best, right? You taught me how to be a strong self-advocate!" 

I offer students the language of self-advocacy in my book, Homework Solutions For Weary Students and Their Parents. If students know what to say, they feel empowered to get their needs met from any teacher they may encounter.  Click here to get your special discounted on a copy today. 

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