A co-educational private school for Preschool–Grade Eight

Teaching Self-Advocacy to Our Children

A Far Hills graduate personifies the School’s mission: Through academic excellence and character development, Far Hills Country Day School provides each child brilliant beginnings for success in the modern world. The Far Hills experience is characterized by joyful learning, healthy balance, and lifelong relationships. 

In our Preschool–Grade 8 program, you will see a balance in the curriculum between academic challenges and social-emotional learning. Throughout each pivotal moment and milestone of their educational career here at Far Hills, students learn to strengthen their self-advocacy skills, giving them the ability and confidence to have a voice and become natural-born leaders. Why are self-advocacy skills essential? Let me tell you a little story from my time as a teacher here at Far Hills.

For over twenty years, I taught History at Far Hills. As a history major in college, nothing made me happier than passing down my passion to students. Through lecture, research, public speaking, and project-based learning, we honed the skills of self-advocacy. Over the years, some students were adept at speaking out and asking for help or clarification on an assignment, while some didn’t know how to ask for help.

Primarily, it was because others always advocated for them and didn’t give them the chance to speak up or problem solve on their own. The intervention of adults stunted their ability to develop this life skill. This skill, like resilience, is ever so important as children grow. When students are in Upper School, we challenge them to develop these skills so that they leave Far Hills feeling prepared for high school and beyond. The more we can let our children “fly,” the more they will be set for success.

I will take you back to the late 1990s. One student comes to mind vividly as he lacked strength in this area. I noticed a concerning pattern that his mother would email questions almost every evening. Mom told me that the email was usually prefaced by stress, tears, and confusion. What mom didn’t realize was that her swooping in was thwarting a teachable moment for her son. I know it came from a good place (I have been guilty of doing this, too), but it is absolutely crucial to allow a child to learn to advocate for themself as they mature and grow. 

By the time Parent-Teacher Conferences rolled around, I had to be direct with mom. While the idea of this conversation was anxiety-inducing, my goal was to prepare this child for high school, so I forged ahead with some courageous communication. After what seemed like an eternal pause in the conversation, the mom broke down in tears. She didn’t know how to help her child and just intervened to solve FOR the child, not WITH the child. It was evident that this intervention by mom came from a place filled with anxiety. Mom needed some tangible steps to support her child to become more independent. So, I shared with her, and now I will share with you, some simple tips that, with practice, will help set a child up for success. 

  • Start early: It is never too early to empower your child to speak up. 
  • Strategize: Walk them through and role model how to speak up appropriately and effectively. 
  • Help them find their voice: What does this look like? Role-play conversations and guide them through steps to problem solve. 
  • What ifs?: Take them through various scenarios and play out their concerns and the possible solutions. 
  • Be the backup quarterback: Let them know you are there if they need, but encourage them to take the first pass to speak to a teacher about an issue. 
  • Allow your child to make mistakes. There are teachable moments that bring great value and confidence to your child during their educational journey. 

We’ll discuss these tips and more during our upcoming GROW Speaker Series Presentation. On Thursday, April 7, 2022, at 6:30 p.m. on campus in the Performing Arts Center, Madeline Baulig MSW, LCSW, and I will present: Our Children’s Academic, Emotional, and Social Well-Being and How to Empower Your Child through Self Advocacy. We hope you’ll register to join us.

Now, back to my former student. You will be happy to know that this child became a successful engineer! It took time and practice for him to become accustomed to advocating for himself. The more he was left alone with productive struggle, the stronger he became. I challenge you to reflect on how you handle this with your child. Take time to think before you step in. Trust me; it will be worth the effort for the long haul.

 

 

Georgia S. Zaiser

Head of School