Two weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend the 2017 Oregon Parenting Educators Conference at Oregon State University. What an amazing experience! Initially, when I walked through the conference doors I had my Parent Blogger hat on. I was ready to network and catch up with colleagues, old and new. However, my lens quickly changed with one quote uttered from the morning keynote speaker, Dena Simmons, Ed.D. Dena’s work comes from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. In her inspiring speech regarding culturally relevant practice she said:
“Help people advocate for themselves.
If you advocate for them, you take their voice away.
They are silenced.”
Mind blown! As I quickly scribbled her words down on my notepad, my thoughts immediately reflected on a past experience with my eldest daughter, Rubie, when she was 6 years old. I took her to her first horseback riding lesson and the trainer looked at Rubie and said, “So kiddo, have you ridden a horse before?” My eagerness jumped the gun and began explaining all the times at the county fair Rubie rode a horse or even one time during a preschool field trip to a farm. Right in the middle of my babbling, the trainer cut me off and said, “Whoa. I didn’t ask you. I asked her.” Oh, was this a humbling moment for me! I put my tail between my legs and zipped my lips for the rest of her 45 minute riding lesson. I could have easily taken offense at her remark, but she was right. She addressed the question to Rubie, not me. In that one moment, I took away Rubie’s voice. I took away the chance for her to explain what she knew about horses and what she was looking forward to during their lesson. I took away the first steps to building a relationship with her new trainer. Ultimately, I stole an important moment for her voice to be heard and valued.
As parents we naturally fall into this “advocate” role for our young kids. Of course, we are their first teachers and we know them best, right? It’s up to us to speak up for their needs, I get it. However, it’s also our job to make sure that we value their words and allow them to be heard. There are special cases where we need to take the lead, such as advocating and being the voice for a child with disabilities who is in need accommodations. What I’m referring to instead, are those everyday moments where children are clearly capable to speak up for themselves yet we easily fall into the habit of speaking for them. Below are a few examples of what I’m talking about:
• Instead of assuming what your children want and placing the order for them, encourage them to be ready to place their own menu order to a server in a restaurant. Let them answer if they want milk or juice with their meal. Let them use their voice to say, “No ketchup” or “Extra napkins, please!”
• Hold them up close to the counter at the butcher market to voice how many pounds of fresh seafood or pork loins to package up.
• Tell them to lightly tap the librarian and then use a confident voice to ask where the Mercer Mayer books are.
• Let them ask the sales associate at Fred Meyer where they can find fidget spinners.
Just because you are the parent, doesn’t necessarily mean that you always have to be the voice of the entire family. Send the message to your children that their voices hold value. Overtime, this kind of daily practice will start to help them feel empowered and confident that their voices matter, too.