Did you like superheroes when you were young? Do you still like them? Do your children like them? They can do amazing things. They have special powers. They save the day!
Do you wish you could be a superhero? Would you like to have special powers? Would you like to save the day? Would you like to be a superhero for your children?
Young children might already think you are a superhero. They might think you have special powers. They might think you can do special things. They might think you can save the day. Or they might wish you could.
You can do things to be a superhero for your children–and for all children! You can be an advocate. An advocate is someone who stands with someone else. That person speaks for and with other people and tries to get things done.
Being an advocate is an important job for parents. Parents should stand up and speak for the rights of children. Many children cannot speak for themselves yet. Children have small voices. Parents can help. Parents can be advocates. Parents can be children’s superheroes.
Studies show that…
There are times when parents might notice they should be an advocate.
- A child needs special health care. Doctors and nurses might take the child away and do things that make the child very upset. The parent might know some things that would make it easier for the child.
- The school changes some rules about lunchtime. Many children are not eating lunch well. Some parents have some suggestions to fix the problem.
- Some parents get a letter that says their child will start in a special education class. The parents think a different class would be better.
Children have many needs. It takes a team to meet those needs. The team might include teachers, doctors, therapists, grandparents, ministers, friends, principals,… and the parents and the child. Of course, parents are an important part of any team. Some team members are experts.
- Experts have a special viewpoint.
- They have training and background.
- They know about children’s special needs.
- They know about rules and laws.
- Parents have a special viewpoint.
- They know about the children’s history.
- They care about the children’s feelings.
- They know what is important to the family.
- They will be with these children for a long time — after the experts are gone.
Sometimes experts just want to get things done. They think they are doing what is best for the children. But they might not think about the children’s feelings or needs. Each member of the team has a different viewpoint. Parents need to advocate for the children’s needs and feelings. They have a special viewpoint.
Parents can be good advocates. Any good advocates…
- Have good information.
- Care about the topic. They have “been there.” They know from their own lives.
- Can be believed. They know what they are talking about.
- Really care. Their hearts are in it.
- Are brave.
- Are responsible. They do things the right way.
- Hang in there. They don’t give up.
- Can be counted on. They will follow through.
Some parents are more likely to be advocates. They are more likely to get involved in their children’s programs if…
- They have time. Parents who work fewer hours outside the home get more involved.
- Parents feel their own needs are met.
- There is a family history. Parents’ own parents got involved. It was the thing to do in their family.
- Parents can see how to help the children. It is clear how parents can step in.
- Parents have some training. Programs like Head Start expect parents to get involved. Parents learn how to work for their children.
- Parents feel they can talk with teachers and other experts.
- Going to parent meetings can be a good way to start.
- Studies show that these parents are more likely to advocate for their children. But studies also show that any parents can be advocates. Any parents can learn to do it. They just need to be brave and get started.
Next steps for parents…
A good advocate will take several steps. These steps will help to make change. Advocates might change people’s minds. Or they might change the way things are done.
- The first step is to build a base. Get to know the teacher or doctor or nurse. Or get to know the principal or other person who makes decisions. Get to know the school or hospital. Let them get to know you. Learn names.
- Find out what is happening. Get information. What are the rules? What are you supposed to do? What are children supposed to do? Find out if there is a book of rules you should have. Keep notes. Write what happens. Keep track of what you do.
- Make a list of your concerns. Write down what you want to change. Know what the problems are. What makes you unhappy? Why are you unhappy? How do the children feel? How do you know?
- Gather information. Learn more about the topic. Talk to people. Talk with the children. Gather other people who care. Figure out who makes the decisions. Look things up. Find people who know about this issue. What are the choices? What have other people done? What has worked? What would be better?
- Prepare a proposal. Think about the choices. What are the children’s ideas? Pick a choice that would be best for your child. Or pick what is best for all children. Write it up. Or get ready to talk about it. Be ready to explain why this idea will be good.
- Take a stand and present your suggestion. Maybe take people along to help present the idea. Maybe let the children speak. Greet people first and be kind. Present your ideas to people who can make a difference. Discuss ways to make the idea work.
- Stick with it. Maybe change will not happen the first time. Keep talking with people. Talk together to find answers that work for children.
Goals for parents…
Get ready to be an advocate.
You can be a superhero for your children! But your children will get older. Their voices will get louder. You can then support them as they speak for themselves. They still want you to stand beside them. That is being a different kind of advocate. Together, you can make the world a better place for all children!
- Build a base. Get to know your children’s teachers and caregivers. Get to know the doctors and therapists who work with your child. Visit the school. Go along to programs. Get to know people. Learn their names.
- Find out what is happening. Is there a place where your children’s voices are not being heard? Could it help for you to speak up for them? Or could you help them speak up for themselves?
- Do a small advocacy project. Maybe you want to start small. Maybe there is a small issue. You want to talk with one person about a concern. You might take several steps at once.
- Think about what is happening. Make sure the person you talk with can make a decision to fix the problem. Make sure you build a base with the person.
- Think about your concerns. Think about what makes you unhappy. Talk with your child about it (if your child is old enough). Gather some information about your child and your family.
- Prepare a proposal. Choose a solution that would work for you and your family. Explain why you think it would best for you and your child. Be ready to listen to ideas from the other person.
- Present the suggestion to the other person. Decide whether to take the child along or not. Be ready to talk about other ideas with the other person.
- Do a large advocacy project. Maybe there is an issue that includes a lot of children. Maybe it includes a big change for the school or hospital or program. You will need to take more steps. It will take more people.
- Build a base with several people. Talk with other parents. Talk with other experts. Get to know people.
- Think about what is going on. Get together with other parents. Collect information. Find out what is happening. Talk with children. Find out all the rules.
- Gather information. Go to the library. Use the internet. Make lots of notes. Get ready to tell people what you find out. Learn what experts say. Find out what other people have done. Talk with children. Maybe let the children take the lead.
- Make a proposal. Use the information you gather to make a proposal. What would be good for your situation? What might work best? What would the children like? Why would it work? How would it work? What would the parents do to help?
- Take a stand and present the proposal. Decide whether the parents or the children will present the proposal. Be friendly. Be ready to work with the people who will make the decision.
- Stick with it! Be willing to try again. Try a new proposal if it doesn’t work the first time!
Bishop, L. (2016). Parents as advocates. Journal of Paediatrics and Public Health, 52(7), 777-778.
Daube, M. (2013). Advocating for children. Journal of Paediatrics and Public Health, 49(1), 9-12.
Jarrett, R. Coba-Rodriguez, S. (2015). “My mother didn’t play about education”: Low-income African-American mothers’ early school experiences and their impact on school involvement for preschoolers transitioning to kindergarten. Journal of Negro Education, 84(3), 457-472. DOI: 10.7709/jnegroeducation.84.3.0457
Learning Disabilities Association of America. (2019). What is advocacy? Retrieved from: https://ldaamerica.org/advocacy/what-is-advocacy/