Lesser Known Facts about Bullying

Bullying and its effects on students are of major concern to parents, educators, counselors, administrators, and even lawmakers. Because of both the prevalence and dire consequences of bullying, communities are taking much-needed strides to overcome this growing problem. While much is known about bullying behaviors, effects, and overall statistics, there are some lesser known details about bullying that are helpful to parents and educators as we work to combat this serious issue.

 

While bullying can and does happen at any grade level, middle schools statistically see the most instances of bullying. There are several theories surrounding this research, including the increased need to fit in and/or follow the crowd, greater likelihood of peer pressure, the onset of puberty and hormones and lack of impulse control. What many middle school teachers are seeing is a combination of these factors, all of which create a pseudo-breeding ground for bullying behaviors.

“Social bullying” is one of the most common types of bullying. This is also sometimes referred to as “relational” or “relationship” bullying. Social bullying involves a group of peers, which can range from a large group, such as an entire classroom of peers, to a small gathering of only a few peers. The key distinction is this type of bullying involves a deliberate “pack mentality.” The bully or bullies will torment their target by means of intentional exclusion, spreading rumors that they know are false or hurtful, plotting to publicly embarrass the target, and manipulating others to turn against and/or join in the harmful behavior. This subcategory of bullying is especially hazardous because it aims to isolate the child, making him or her feel as though they have no one to turn to within their peer group.

 

Some effects of bullying, especially in severe cases, may last into adulthood. These include depression and anxiety, decreased achievement or motivation, and social avoidance or agoraphobia. Research also indicates that children and teens who do the bullying are more likely to suffer consequences of risky behavior later in life, such as alcohol and drug use, vandalism, sexual promiscuity and physical violence.

 

Adults who are not familiar with bullying prevention programs, adolescent behaviors, and school protocols may have a “blind spot” when it comes to instances of bullying. Children and teens often report that bullying has taken place when and where adults are present, but that the adult either did not recognize the behaviors or did not intervene.  Bystanders, especially adults and authority figures, are often looked upon by victims to de-escalate the problem. When adults fail to do this, the victim is often more intimidated and discouraged.

 

While legislation varies from state to state, bullying itself is not illegal. However, in Maryland, cases where bullying includes or results in further harassment, intimidation, hazing, misuse of electronic devices (cyberbullying), or civil rights violations could be in violation of the law. Cyberbullying, although it’s not face-to-face, is not any less harmful to the victim. In actuality, since most cyberbullying occurs via social media platforms, where adult presence is limited, the harm can be even more extensive or relentless.

Parent Conferences

Parent conferences are extremely beneficial for students and their academic success. The constructive feedback and collaborative effort that parent conferences offer provide foundations for growth, no matter the student’s previous track record or measures of ability. Like many school districts, November is the month when Montgomery County Public Schools open their doors to parents and guardians for conferences. While any meeting of the minds is beneficial to students, there are methods to optimize the conference so that both parents and teachers walk away with feedback and strategies to best support the learner at home and at school.

For the parents:
➢ Come prepared with specific questions about your child’s academic progress. Questions like, “How is so-and-so doing?” is broad and somewhat generic, which will likely beget a broad response and leave the teacher with little direction with which to steer the conversation. Instead, review recent grades or classwork at home with your child and prepare to discuss specific areas of weakness on recent tasks. This allows the teacher to focus in on specific areas of need and strategies for growth.

➢ Consider asking questions that span beyond academic success. Ask about participation, where your students sit in the classroom, if they are socializing or pairing up during partner or group work, how frequently they ask questions or come in for extra help during lunch, if they arrive to class on time and with necessary materials? Beyond the academic picture, answers to these questions provide parents with an overall view of their child as a learner.

➢ Be ready to listen to constructive feedback about your child’s behavior. Often times, the child you see at home is a slightly (or sometimes vastly) different person from the student, athlete, peer or  persona that your child displays at school. Teachers are good at navigating precarious conversations about behavior, but they also aim to provide genuine feedback. Therefore, some information may be surprising or difficult to hear, but know that they will follow up their concerns with helpful strategies and new approaches to remedy any issues.

➢ Feel free to take notes. These meetings involve a lot of feedback from several different teachers, especially when your child is at the secondary level. It might be difficult to remember the key pointers from each teacher, particularly when your child’s abilities and behaviors vary from subject to subject. Therefore, a quick jot of each teacher’s talking points will ensure that you can refer back to these observations and suggestions when discussing with children at home.

For the teachers:
➢ Aside from current grade sheets, compile a few work samples with your feedback or comments included. Photo copy these samples so that parents have the option to take them home for further discussion with their child. If possible, provide a range of the student’s written responses or essays and include the rubric so that parents have an idea of what the task entailed and where their child may need help.

➢ Lead with positive comments so that the conversation is balanced. It is difficult for parents to hear criticism of their child; they may become overwhelmed or even defensive during a tough conversation. Talk about the student’s unique strengths first if you know that you will need to venture into a more critical conversation regarding his or her struggles.

➢ Prepare to offer strategies and resources that students can use outside of school to improve their areas of need. There are many online resources and apps that can help students with everything from spelling and typing to geometry and study skills—the problem is, parents often need guidance when finding age-appropriate and ability-specific resources that also align with the Common Core State Standards. A quick reference guide will help ease the stress of finding additional supports to use at home.

➢ Ask about the student’s interests, extracurricular activities, weekend obligations, and study habits. Answers to these questions can provide helpful insight into the student’s after-school schedule and ability to juggle social, academic, and home obligations. This also opens the door to discuss time management skills and how to ensure that academics remain a priority.

Teen Textiquette Part II

As discussed in “Teen Textiquette Pt. I,” texting is the preferable form of communication among today’s generation of teens and preteens. Because of its prevalence, text messaging can become just as detrimental as it is convenient. Knowing this, parents should set expectations for appropriate etiquette and social protocols when it comes to digital platforms.

 

In the previous blog, we discussed broad-strokes approaches to teaching teens how to handle certain conversations in person, instead of opting for text messaging. Part II is meant to address the more serious consequences of text messages—not only do these messages color the receiver’s perception of the sender, but these messages could potentially tarnish a person’s entire reputation. Without getting too political, it is more important now than ever to instruct teens on appropriate messaging and their digital footprint. These aren’t scare tactics—they are simply meant to inform teenagers about the real-life consequences of poor decision making via text messaging.

 

  • Parents must be ready to have the difficult conversations when it comes to sending photos, videos, or “sexts.” As uncomfortable as this conversation will likely be, it is worth having—and the sooner, the better. As a middle school teacher, I can sadly say with confidence that students as young as 11 and 12 are using snapchat and imessenger to send inappropriate photos and/or videos to peers on a consistent basis. This is not to say that every middle schooler is engaging in these types of conversations; however, the “sexting” is much more prevalent than we would like to realize.

 

  • Too often, preteens and teens find comfort or security in the supposed “short-lived” existence that snapchat advertises. They believe that the photo or video, once viewed or expired, is no longer a threat. This is simply not the case. Parents should be sure to demonstrate just how quickly a “private” or “one-time” photo can be screenshot and shared among any number of people. Teens need to know that just because a photo has disappeared from their phone or account, does not mean that it has vanished completely.

 

  • Similarly, teens must be wary of incriminating texts, photos, videos, etc., as these are becoming more and more of a legal issue. A photo, even if it is not geotagged, can serve as an exact pinpoint to a teen’s whereabouts at an exact time. These records are not private and could be subpoenaed in any instance of a criminal investigation. This may sound overly dramatic—just another made for TV crime drama. However, as we see in the news regularly, bullying, harassment, and even more serious violent criminal charges have been brought to court with the use of cell phone evidence. This evidence includes social media posts as well, so parents must explain that privacy settings are not all that private.

 

  • In addition, posts, photos, check-ins, and tags can pose a serious threat to children and teens if left in the wrong hands. Today’s generation of teenagers simply love to keep a running thread of their everyday activities and whereabouts—making them vulnerable to online predators. Scary? Yes. Realistic? Very much so, unfortunately. Parents should be sure to instruct their teens about how to limit their digital footprint, especially where personal information and specific locations are involved.

 

  • Finally, because we all know that words, especially when written (or typed), cannot be taken back, parents must also instruct teens on how to avoid conflict and subsequent cruelty via text. Because text messaging is less personal—more removed or distant than face-to-face conversations—teens need to be reminded that any hateful or cruel texts still have the power to harm, even more so because they are chronicled. A temporary text argument or rude exchange is a running tab of our worst moments. Therefore, long story short, THINK BEFORE YOU SEND/POST/TAG/SNAP/ETC.

Teen Textiquette Pt. I

Today’s teenage generation has pretty much grown up with cell phones, Wi-Fi and social media. With technology and connectivity practically rooted in their upbringing, they are arguably the most tech-savvy group to date. However, the combination of the teenage brain, impulsivity, peer pressure, and hormones with a smartphone always within arm’s reach can be disastrous. With this in mind, a few pointers regarding text etiquette can placate common issues before they erupt.

 

Parents can and should be instructing their teen about responsible smartphone use right from the beginning. Much like standard etiquette, manners, and socially acceptable behaviors, text etiquette will need to be explicitly taught. What we adults would consider common sense is likely not in the forefront of the teenage brain. The parts of the brain that monitor impulse control, decision-making, perspective-taking, and sympathy are not fully developed until the late teenage years and into early adulthood. Because of this, teenagers simply do not have the wherewithal to implicitly know how to handle certain situations. Just like teaching children the reason behind placing the napkin in the lap and holding the door for others, parents must be sure to explicitly state the reasons for certain texting protocols. In other words, kids need to understand that text etiquette does not involve arbitrary guidelines; they are important social skills and unwritten rules for appropriate communication via text.

 

  • Avoid using text messaging as the main platform for carrying out a serious conversation with friends or boyfriends/girlfriends. In the same way that an email doesn’t account for the sender’s tone or full intent, text messages lack these components as well. A simple “K…” response can ignite or amplify a conflict. Instruct your teen to handle serious conversations or mediations in person or at least over the phone.
  • Similarly, instruct teens that there are certain things that absolutely should not be said over text message. For instance, a break-up has to be handled face-to-face. Breaking up via text message shows cowardice and disrespect. Will it be harder to do in person? Yes, but it is the right thing to do when ending a relationship. A face-to-face conversation allows teens to explain their position and reasoning, listen to the other person’s feelings, and provide closure—all of which are crucial skills for social emotional growth.
  • Another conversation that should never be handled over text messaging is when your teen is quitting a job. A text message sends the message (no pun intended) that he/she cannot be bothered to have a genuine conversation about the topic. Professionally speaking, even for part-time or after school jobs, sending a text message to quit a job is unprofessional, disrespectful, and shows a lack of maturity. This is also a surefire way to burn that bridge with the employer. Explain to your teen that impressions and reputations in the workplace matter—that it’s not only about image. They will likely want to uphold a positive reputation to be able to ask that employer for a good recommendation or reference in the future.
  • For the same reasons, backing out of a major obligation, like quitting a sports team or cancelling on a scheduled volunteer opportunity, should not be handled via text either. Again, a text message indicates a lack of concern or disregard for the original commitment and can have negative consequences.

Back to Middle/High School: Combating the Sunday Scaries

For me, the Sunday scaries began about a week ago, when it became suddenly undeniable that my summer was coming to an abrupt end. Painful as this realization was, I can only imagine it to be even more so unpleasant for my students. Yes, I’m a teacher. And yes, my Sunday night scaries can still be just as brutal as the impending doom that accompanied my Sunday evenings throughout adolescence.  Almost 20 years has passed since my own bouts with middle school anxiousness were at an all-time high, and yet, Sunday scaries can still summon that familiar sense of impending doom. So what is a high schooler (or high school teacher) to do when the scaries rear their ugly heads? Asking for a friend…

 

Stop saying “I’ll do it Sunday”

Quite possibly (and most logically), the reason that Sunday scaries are even a thing is due to the fact that adults and adolescents alike choose to postpone or procrastinate during the weekend. For many of us, Sundays are reserved for cleaning, laundering, meal prepping, etc. High schoolers do the same thing—they put off any homework, projects, or essays until Sunday evening. Teens put school work off until the last minute because it is the last possible thing they would like to do during their weekend reprieve.

 

While this makes perfectly logical sense, teens only compound their stress further and muster up Sunday scaries when they choose to save every task for Sunday night. Furthermore, in putting off these tasks, whether it be school work or chores, the item to be completed becomes that much more dreaded purely because of our previous avoidance. Instead, encourage teens to complete at least part of a large assignment or homework item early on in the weekend.

 

This small modification removes the daunting task of simply sitting down and starting. For many, starting an assignment or essay is the most difficult aspect, and thus, the most avoided. Tackling something headon removes the anxiety associated with the very beginning of the task. In chunking an assignment or essay over the weekend, teens also help themselves with their time management, maintaining focus and attention, and prioritizing the most difficult aspects of the assignment, as opposed to all-out cramming in one sitting.

 

Double check for necessary items beforehand

Again, saving things for the last minute (Sunday night) only allows room for more unforeseeable obstacles and less time to circumvent those obstacles. If middle and high schoolers know that a permission form, essay, or application is due in the early part of the week, Sunday night is NOT the time to realize that they are missing a key component of that form, essay, application, etc. Checking for these essential items during the course of the weekend leaves time for any unexpected emergency to be taken care of so that Sunday scaries are kept at bay.

 

Mark my words: Sunday night is when all printers run out of ink, or paper, or jam, or malfunction, or spontaneously explode. And you better believe that anywhere from two to ten other students will have the same printer “catastrophe” that prohibits them from submitting their essay on Monday morning. High schoolers can avoid this panic attack and their teacher’s subsequent eye-roll by printing ahead of time—it’s much easier to find an open Staples or Office Depot on Saturday afternoon than after 10pm on Sunday.

 

Know your priorities and work accordingly

Organizing tasks appropriately throughout the weekend allows students to identify and prioritize a to-do list. As natural procrastinators can tell you, teens would much prefer to do the easy or fun tasks first. However, this is of no help to them. Parents should encourage teens to get into the habit of completing the more difficult or high-stakes items first.

 

Yes, it may be more enticing to come up with a cheer for the pep rally, but the history research paper should come first. Help middle and high schoolers prioritize their lists by using the “fun” tasks as rewards for completing the difficult items first.

 

Look ahead

Using a small amount of time on Sunday night to look at the week ahead can help to alleviate the Sunday scaries as well. Often times, stress of the unknown or last-minute surprises are what create anxiety for teens. By sitting down and perusing the week’s calendar, families can ensure that a) everyone is on the same page about appointments/events, b) there are no surprises or last-minute to-dos, and c) events and tasks are evenly spaced as to not overbook any member of the family. A combined calendar in a central location also helps to correct the “I didn’t know” or “I forgot” excuse. If everyone is on the same page about the upcoming week, goals are sure to be met.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Background

While oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) was added to the DSM in the 1980s, its existence and diagnosis is still hotly debated and somewhat misunderstood among families and educators. Surprisingly enough, ODD is one of the most common behavioral disorders to be diagnosed in children. Furthermore, researchers have also found that oppositional defiant disorder in both boys and girls is often accompanied by a previous ADHD diagnosis.

 

Symptoms

While ODD is a disorder that affects both boys and girls, symptoms are typically known to vary between the sexes. Though this is in no way absolute, researchers have found that boys with ODD display their opposition and defiance in more physically aggressive manners; their frustrations may escalate quickly and in more overtly explosive ways. While girls, on the other hand, are more likely to display oppositional or defiant behaviors in subtle, sneaky, or manipulative ways. For instance, girls with ODD may be deceitful or cunning and interact with others in intentionally uncooperative ways. Again, these are not hard and fast rules; they are simply some of the known observations experts have made between the genders.

 

It is also important to note that symptoms associated with ODD are typically misbehaviors that most children and teens will display at some point during their development. However, the difference between mere misbehaviors or teenage moodiness and ODD is the prevalence and severity of the behaviors. With regard to a diagnosis, ODD behaviors have likely become so frequent that they are deemed as the “norm” for that child.

 

Support in the Classroom

Behavior Support Additional Considerations
Disproportionate anger/frustration/

irritability

  • Provide student with flash pass to the counselor for when tempers flare
  • Allow student to take brief “brain breaks” throughout the day, especially when transitioning between activities or subject areas to alleviate stress
  • Provide student with preferential seating near the door for easy access to the hallway if frustration escalates
  • Provide student with fidget cube or stress ball to channel negative energy
  • Classrooms as a whole can benefit from stress-relieving or meditative practices, but these coping skills are especially beneficial to students with ODD; schools and counselling departments are beginning to focus students’ attention on mental self-care and coping methods to reduce anxiety and stress
Argumentative, uncooperative, defiant towards adults/authority figures
  • Present requests or directives in the form of an “either/or” question. For example, if a student throws paper off the desk, the teacher might say, “Would you like to either pick up the paper now, or pick up all scrap paper at the end of class?”
  • Remind student that his/her defiance is a choice that will result in a consequence; ask him/her if she would like to make a different choice to amend the tone/behavior/attitude
  • Stay calm; you cannot fight fire with fire. As difficult as it may be, teachers and other adults must remember that the ODD behaviors are stemming from a larger issue.
  • Deescalate the tone of the situation by maintaining a calm, understanding, yet firm demeanor. Act with care and be deliberate in your directives toward the student.
  • Remind students that you are there FOR THEM; everything you do is meant to ensure safety and success in the classroom. By reaffirming your desire to help him/her, a defiant student may soften the edge and be more receptive to your requests.
Physical aggression; vindictive, spiteful, or manipulative behavior
  • Physical altercations are never okay; remind students that verbal disagreements should never escalate to physical interactions
  • If something physical does transpire, adults must be sure to document the situation thoroughly. This includes all parties involved, what instigated the issue, and anyone who may have witnessed the altercation. Teachers should also note when and where the event took place so that administration and parents are made aware of the full situation.
  • Teachers can consider activities or brain breaks that either diffuse or expel aggression or anger.
  • Items such as Rubik’s cubes, coloring books, or sudoku challenges help students to come down off of the aggressive moment by occupying the mind
  • Consider creating a small, comfortable, secluded corner of the room where students can take a breath and collect themselves before re-entering the classroom environment
  • Teachers and guidance counselors can help to mediate aggression and manipulative behaviors by helping students to reflect on an incident. Prompt students to think about why they lied, cheated, manipulated, etc. Ask them what they could have done differently that would have resulted in a more positive outcome.

Motivating the Unmotivated

While motivation is often linked to academic achievement, the same is not necessarily true for motivation and intelligence. We are all familiar with the naturally gifted student who fails consistently, not for lack of intelligence, but because of his or her lack of motivation. These seemingly hopeless situations can be difficult for parents, especially when they know that their child has all the potential and wherewithal. But what can be done to boost motivation? How can we inspire and incite action when the foundation is nonexistent?

 

Investigate the root of the problem

Oftentimes, a lack of motivation is the result of a bigger issue. For unmotivated children, there is likely some sort of deterrent or impediment between the child and the task. Sometimes the issue stems from a learning obstacle, such as a disability or cognitive barrier. Other times, unmotivated students have had multiple or severely negative experiences in school that have caused them to be “turned off” or “checked out.” It is also possible that the child simply does not see the value in putting forth effort and exhibiting self-motivation. Whatever the case may be, parents can begin to establish motivation by examining the reason behind its absence. Talk to children about why they truly do not want to try something. Is there a reason that they are so opposed to showing effort or enthusiasm for learning? Pose the questions so that they do not sound interrogative, but instead seek to understand the child’s position.

 

Set longterm and shortterm goals

Even the most unmotivated child has some sort of goal or aspiration. Parents should tap into these interests as a means to foster motivation, both in the immediate and distant future. Ask your child what he or she would like to accomplish tomorrow. Allow that answer to span outside of the academic realm. For instance, if your child is lacking motivation in school, but shows an interest in making the club soccer team, encourage that level of interest first as a springboard. Perhaps tomorrow’s goal is to juggle the soccer ball 30 times without dropping it, but this year’s goal is to make the soccer team. Talk about how these short-term goals are essentially the building blocks towards reaching the long term goal. Hone in on the fact that practicing, strategizing, focusing, and modifying will be key for reaching that short-term goal. And that while failure and outside obstacles are going to occur, resilience and motivation are 100% controllable internal factors. Then, when the topic of academics arises, remind that unmotivated student of the steps and lengths that he went to in order to accomplish the juggling goal. Discuss how you can translate that motivation into effort towards schoolwork.

 

Express excitement and admiration when they do show motivation towards anything

Kids, especially young children, may not fully conceptualize the notion of intrinsic motivation—they don’t necessarily know why they care, they just do. To boost their understanding of building and maintaining motivation, praise their effort when they exhibit it. Acknowledge their focus and drive for whatever it may be that they’re working on—the more you point out this motivation, the more likely they are to internalize this concept of self-motivation and effort.

 

Lead by example

We all know that attitude is contagious; the same can be said for effort and motivation. When children see motivated parents with their own interests and passions, they begin to see that effort comes from a true desire to achieve, create, accomplish, and grow. Passionate people inspire those around them, so parents can certainly boost motivation at home by expressing their own efforts and motivation for their genuine interests.

 

Instruct with positive and negative consequences

Different from bribery, positive and negative consequences ensure that children learn how to take ownership for their actions and level of effort (or lack thereof). Of course, no child will be intrinsically motivated to make his bed. Instead, parents should remind children that failure to complete their chores will result in a consequence—essentially, children will recognize that they’re actually punishing themselves by choosing to neglect their tasks. Thus, they become motivated by the desire to avoid the negative consequence. Consequently, a positive outcome from doing one’s chores can boost motivation and the desire to accomplish tasks in the sense that the child connects his or her effort to the reward or positive result.

Back-to-School Health and Safety Tips for Parents


Heading back to school is an exciting time for families of elementary schoolers. Oftentimes, the excitement and anticipation take center stage, but going back to school can also mean stress for children and parents. Once the obligatory first day photos, school shopping, new sneakers, packed lunch boxes, and orientations are handled, the anticipation dwindles, replaced with questions like, “What now?” or “What have we forgotten?” Below are the nuts and bolts of ensuring a healthy and safe start for heading back to elementary school.

1. Avoid skipping breakfast at all costs. Like many kids, your child may not experience hunger immediately upon waking. This can turn breakfast into an afterthought, which can quickly become a major pitfall if children begin skipping breakfast regularly. If your children are not keen on eating right away, see about waking them a little earlier to allow for more time in the morning before school. Even a measly 15 minutes could be enough time to spur a desire for breakfast. The longer he or she is awake before heading off to school, the more likely it is that he/she will want something to eat. If all else fails, consider stashing breakfast bars, fruit, or drinkable yogurts for the car ride so that your child has an option for last-minute nibbling before heading into school.

2. Those back-to-school shoes may be super cute; however, the blisters that accompany their first wear will not be. Encourage your child to put comfort first when picking out school outfits. We all know that even the tiniest blister can produce excruciating pain. This can make recess, walking around the cafeteria, P.E., etc. unbearable. Consider breaking those new shoes in over the weekend and packing a few bandaids in the lunchbox just in case. Similarly, depending on the school, or even from one classroom to another, temperature can vary drastically. With air conditioning, or the lack thereof, children can become uncomfortable and distracted if they are sweating or shivering all day. Encourage layers to ensure comfort throughout the day and from room to room. However, because of the likelihood that that sweater or long sleeve will come off at any given time in the school day, personalized clothing labels or even Sharpie initials can ensure that lost items become found and clothing makes it home.

3. If your child has a food allergy, no matter how severe, be sure that the school knows about the dietary restrictions. Beyond the school nurse, teachers, paraeducators, building staff and cafeteria aids should be aware of any severe food allergies. Anything from treats shared at school, arts and crafts materials, cleaning products, air fresheners, etc., can contain allergens or may be processed and packaged alongside allergens. To avoid the possibility of a reaction, consider sending a “just in case” email to school to ensure that health records are updated and all staff are aware of the food allergy. Some parents find it helpful to send their child to school with fun “about me” cards with their child’s photo and dietary restrictions listed. These “business cards” are especially helpful for young elementary schoolers. They can also contain any information about epipen use, emergency contacts, and the pediatrician or allergist’s phone number.

4. For children who are extremely sensitive to the sun and prone to sunburn, ask the school if it is okay for your child to pack and apply travel sunscreen for recess, physical education, soccer practice, or any other outdoor activities. Outdoor time can amount to an hour or more, depending on the child’s school; this leaves plenty of time for sun exposure and subsequent burn. School policy will likely prohibit teachers or other school staff from applying sunscreen, so consider purchasing an easy-to-apply option for your child to apply it himself. The roll-on, deodorant-looking sticks work great for quick-drying, easy application.

5. Remind your child to drink water throughout the day. This is an obvious tidbit; however, school nurses report dehydration as one of the major catalysts to most school illnesses and nurse visits. Obviously, water fountains are aplenty in schools, but also ask if water bottles are allowed in class. Having water at hand provides a constant reminder to sip throughout the day to stay hydrated, alert, and focused.

Teaching Self-Advocacy at Home Pt. II

In part I, we discussed how parents can introduce the concept of self-advocacy with the use of sentence frames, conversation pointers, and self-reflection. Once children begin to understand their needs at home and school, self-advocating becomes much easier.

  • Self-advocacy is all about speaking up; however, listening is also a primary part of getting the information that you need. Therefore, when instructing children on how to voice their needs, parents should be sure to stress the fact that listening is a key component of self-advocacy. Whenever children ask a question, voice a concern, or seek a response, they must be prepared to listen and absorb the information that they receive. Parents can discuss how eye contact allows other people to recognize that they have your attention. Additionally, body position and nodding are obvious cues that you are engaged and listening. All of these practices demonstrate active listening skills and help children fully absorb or comprehend the response or information that they are getting. When children ask a question, they should be able to paraphrase the response and formulate a follow-up or clarifying question if necessary. This demonstrates whether or not they were actively listening.

  • As young learners, children are just beginning to understand themselves as students, which means that their learning needs are somewhat unknown to them. Parents can ask questions like, “What are you good at?” “What do you often need help doing?” “How do you feel that you learn best?” and “When do you think that learning is the most difficult?” Answers to these questions will vary and change as children develop skills for managing their academic progress, but the ability to self-reflect is an essential component of self-advocacy.

  • Again, practicing sentence frames and hypothetical scenarios can help put children at ease when it comes time for them to advocate for themselves when their parents are not there to speak for them. Remind children that they can and should ask questions when they are confused about something, especially at school. Parents can also coach children on how to ask direct and specific questions. As opposed to, “Is this good?” or “Is this right?” Children should practice zoning in on concepts that are true roadblocks. In narrowing in on the specific question or need, children will obtain a more specific and helpful response.

  • Parents should encourage children to vocalize their confusion, stress, worries, or desire for help readily. The whole purpose of school is to seek and gain knowledge and experiences that propel them forward. In this sense, the more children ask, the more they will know. Explain to them that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. For exceptionally shy children, encourage them to speak to the teacher or adult off to the side or one-on-one, instead of in front of the whole class. This will ease them into the concept of self-advocacy by removing the peer attention and anxiety that speaking up in a full classroom may bring.

  • For children with IEP or 504 accommodations, parents should be especially clear with children about requesting their accommodations and supplementary aides. Of course, this comes with practice and familiarity with their own educational plan, however children with specific learning needs benefit greatly from their ability to take an active role in vocalizing these needs.

Teaching Self-Advocacy at Home Pt. I

Self-advocacy is an essential skill for children to master, not only for their education, but for basic functioning and socialization throughout life. Parents can help children foster this necessary life skill by providing them with specific tools and practices to ensure that their voices are heard and understood—and the earlier children begin advocating, the better.

Self-advocacy is all about vocalizing one’s needs. However, the key to teaching children how to advocate for themselves starts with helping them to recognize their own needs. It is difficult to ask for help when you don’t know what exactly you need help doing. For the major part of many children’s lives, parents accommodate a child’s every need. Often times, parents are there to swoop in to the rescue before their children even know that they need something. To begin teaching self-advocacy, parents will want to introduce the concept in small steps by encouraging children to first recognize then vocalize their needs.

Ask your child if he or she knows or recognizes the sensation of hunger or thirst. What does it feel like if you are starting to get hungry or thirsty? Do you hear your grumbling tummy? Do you feel agitated or restless? If you’re hungry, but I haven’t offered you a snack, what can you do to make sure that you get what you need? Similarly, ask your child to describe what it feels like when they are too hot, too cold, or need to go to the bathroom. Do you see goosebumps? Do you start to feel clammy or sweaty? Does your skin pigment, fingertips, lips change color? Does your tummy hurt or feel funny? Do you get jumpy or distracted?

These questions may seem overly simplistic; however, the idea behind such basic conversations is that your child begins to actively recognize what his or her body needs and when. These types of questions are especially important for children with autism because of the tendency to struggle to make observations. Children on the spectrum may find it difficult to sense time or communicate frustration or other emotions. They may also experience an inability to perceive unsafe or harmful situations, which makes it difficult for them to distinguish their wants from their needs. Therefore, when children are aware of their needs, they can begin to vocalize them. This is especially important when children head to school and no longer have a parent to accommodate their every need at the drop of a hat.

Parents can then begin to instruct children on how to appropriately ask for what they need. Practice using sentence frames for different scenarios and discuss the difference between “I want” and “I need.”  Talk about how to distinguish between an emergency or an immediate need and something that can be met or accomplished later or eventually. Discuss instances in which your child should politely say “no thank you” versus vehemently saying “no!” Instruct your child about the appropriate occasions and means of getting someone’s attention, interrupting a conversation, or asking a personal question. By role-playing certain scenarios or conversations, parents can begin to prepare their children with positive communication skills and self-advocacy tools.