We hear a lot of talk about advocating for ourselves or others. But what exactly does that look like? Simply put, to advocate is to speak up for your own or someone else's needs. I do this all the time with this blog and when I help my kids speak to each other. I am working on teaching my kids how to advocate for themselves and others. They have had some opportunity to practice this in the last few years. They know they are free to come to me and their father with anything, but we are safe. They know that. They know they can tell each other (most of the time) what's bothering them. Sometimes, even with their siblings, they struggle to find the words to use that will best describe their needs. So we mediate. Through our teaching, they have begun to advocate for themselves, each other, and others. A few years ago, Rory was in an orchestra class that included a rather boisterous group of prepubescent gentlemen. She struggled with paying attention to the instructor and her music due to the distractions presented by these boys. We decided that an email to the teacher expressing her frustrations and asking for help would be pertinent. The letter was well received and the teacher responded. While there was little she was going to be able to do to address the subject, she encouraged Rory to continue and use different techniques to drown out the disruptions and achieve better focus. Rory is also my social activist. She makes a habit of getting into good trouble by standing up for marginalized groups. On at least two occasions, Rory has voiced love and support for the LGBTQ+ community in youth group settings. She is a fierce advocate for equitable rights for all people and she doesn't let her youth limit her voice. Will is reluctant to speak to those he doesn't know. He is more reserved and quiet. We have to work toward him speaking up for himself. He is sometimes able to tell me what he needs, but struggles in telling those outside his comfort zone. Recently, his amazing percussion instructor accidentally made Will feel a great deal of pressure regarding his practice and lesson times. Will was able to figure out those feelings after a full week of avoiding practice and communicate with me what happened. I explained to him what his teacher actually meant, then offered to contact the teacher and explain to him what Will was feeling. In this instance, I advocated for Will because I know he struggles with speaking to those outside his circle, but also because phone calls are even harder. This was not a situation wherein I felt Will would successfully advocate for his needs because of the circumstances around it. But he was able to tell me his needs and I could model for him how to address it. Mack is also embarking on a time to have the opportunity to advocate for himself in a realm other than food allergy struggles. He also happens to need to speak up to someone regarding his music lessons. His guitar teaching is simply amazing, but at his last lesson, he thought she was playing her on guitar while he was showing her what he'd been practicing. While I am certain she was paying close attention to his progress, he was distracted and made mistakes. This is partly a Mack problem that he needs to work to overcome, but in a 30 minute music lesson with a relatively new instrument and a new skill, we can set him up for success. Mack spoke to his teacher at the beginning of the following lesson. I was there for support, but didn't speak for him. He can learn and practice this skill. He told his instructor his concern, and she assured him she was always paying close attention to him alone. She also apologized for potentially distracting him. Ultimately, Mack likely misunderstood what was going on. As a nine-year-old with ADHD, it is more than likely he was distracted by something entirely unrelated. His instructor does a wonderful job of keeping him on task, but his mind wanders. I sat in his lesson this week which I don't normally do. I observed undivided attention from his his teacher, and Mack strumming while she was talking. While he was definitely in the wrong, it was important for him to feel he had the ability to speak up and practice learning what he needs and communicating it. His guitar instructor was the perfect person to be wrong with as she is gentle and kind. He is also comfortable with her because we have had a relationship of working together for several years. Mack needed this experience. And, he probably needs me to sit in his lessons and help him stay on track a bit better. Giving our kids the space to speak up, and listen to correction when they're wrong is crucial to their development into adults who can identify and communicate their needs. And receive feedback in that communication. We can model these skills and gradually let them do it themselves. They can learn to be their own advocates.