Research shows that gifted children and teens can struggle with a multitude of mental health concerns such as perfectionism, low self-esteem, and social isolation (Shenfield, 2022). As a parent, it makes sense to want to protect your child and give them a voice to ensure their access to adequate resources to bolster positive development. While advocating for your child is important, there will be times when you are not available to do so. In order to increase your child’s self-advocacy, and boost their independence, it is essential to help them develop their own voice. Helping your child develop their voice does not mean withdrawing yours altogether. It simply means empowering your child to stand up for themselves when it becomes necessary.
Self-Advocacy: Encouraging and Empowering
Helping your child develop the skills necessary to increase their self-advocacy provides many benefits. Being able to identify realistic solutions for their current issue allows gifted children an outlet for their heightened problem-solving abilities. It also helps them better identify their own concerns and areas for growth, ensuring that their needs are accurately labeled and addressed. Self-advocacy can boost their self-esteem, emotional regulation skills, and creativity. If an experience goes well, and they receive the necessary support they need, they may feel more confident asking for help in the future. If the opposite happens, and it does not go well, they can practice tolerating distress and creating alternative solutions.
How to Help
Here’s what to remember when helping your child develop a sense of self-advocacy:
1) Know the Goals:
Before encouraging your child to stand up for themselves, they must understand what they need. Collaborating with your child to create a set of goals and areas for growth can be an important first step in the self-advocacy process. By helping them label their concerns, and creating suggestions to address these, children can familiarize themselves with their needs and what it means to have them met.
2) Know Who To Ask:
Knowing the system you will be working with is important when helping your child better identify and address their needs. For example, understanding which administrators work alongside gifted programs helps narrow down individuals your child may approach when requesting support. Additionally, being aware of the resources/policies/plans the organization provides allows your child to understand when they are being underserved or accommodated.
3) Know the Nature:
Before children can identify their needs and ask for support, it’s helpful for them to understand where their strengths and weaknesses lie. Exploring when they were labeled as gifted, the genetic/environmental contributions to their giftedness, the strengths/interests/learning profiles associated with their giftedness, and differences from other peers as a result of their giftedness can help them develop a stronger sense of identity. This allows them to better create personalized goals, compensate for weaknesses, and avoid negatively internalizing the differences between their own navigation of the world, and that of their peers.
Everyone can benefit from help from time to time. Learning how to identify what and how to ask for that help is essential. By teaching your child how to self-advocate you are setting them up for success and putting them in the driver’s seat of their life rather than teaching them to just be along for the ride.