Advocate for Your Children to Advocate for Themselves

Brought to you by CHYP’s Parenting Blog

April 5th, 2021

By: Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.

I know.  I’ve done it, too.  We all have.  Our child faces some difficulty, and we jump in right away to rescue them. To stand up for them. To make things right.  We talk to a teacher.  We handle things with their friend.  We call their coach.

We need to resist this temptation to handle things for our kids.

Of course there are times we need to stand up for and defend our children.  At times, we need to be absolutely fierce in doing so.  When our kids deal with more than their fair share of adversity, like living with chronic pain, it is necessary at times to step in and support and do things for them, but that means we’re even more at risk to keep doing it or doing it even when it’s not necessary. But there are likely times we advocate for our kids when they should be advocating for themselves.

It reminds me of that old saying:  “Give a man fish and he’ll eat for a day.  Teach him how to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”  That makes so much sense, but when it comes to our kids, it’s hard not to spring into immediate action when we see them being treated unfairly or struggling in some way.

But here are four main reasons to allow our kids to advocate for themselves:

1. Self-advocacy is a crucial skill.

When we step in and handle a child’s problem, we short-circuit her opportunity to learn how to address a difficult issue.  Having to visit with a teacher or address a problem with a friend can be a powerful learning opportunity.  Give your child the benefit of getting practice using her voice, and her logic.  Teach her to assert herself, and to understand that she can be both respectful and strong.  (And of course, you can always go with your child for support if she needs it.)

2. Discomfort can be a good thing. 

Even as you teach your children to assert themselves, remind them that it’s actually a good thing to have to do things that are difficult and that make them feel uncomfortable.  To have to deal with a challenging situation, and to come out successful on the other side, is a great way to build resilience and confidence.  Plus, it makes them more capable of dealing with other problems that come up in the future.  You might even tell them a story about a time you had to handle something uncomfortable but how you triumphed.

3. We show our faith in them.

Stepping in and addressing our child’s problem communicates that we don’t believe he can handle that particular situation, and that he needs us to handle things for him.  Instead, let him discover how much he can do on his own.  Again, every time he takes on a tough problem and handles it on his own, he’ll build competence, confidence, and resilience. And you can demonstrate that you’ll be there to cheer him on!

4. It lets you save your voice for the really big problems.

You really don’t want to become “that mom.”  It’s not that you need to worry about what people think about you; it’s just that if you’re the parent who’s consistently heading to school to discuss every little problem, then when a bigger problem arises you may not be taken as seriously.  You will have lost your voice, so to speak.

Again, there are definitely times we need to step in and advocate for our children.  You should be ready to do so, and your kids should know that you’re on their side and ready to do what you have to do on their behalf.

But more often than not, when problems arise for our kids, we need to take a step back and allow them to handle things on their own.  They can do it.  They really can a lot of the time.  And when we let them, we arm them with all kinds of skills that will make them that much better able to handle difficult situations down the road, and we communicate that we trust that they can navigate their world successfully.


Dr. Tina Payne Bryson is the co-author (with Dan Siegel) of two New York Times Best Sellers—The Whole-Brain Child and No-Drama Discipline—each of which has been translated into over forty languages, as well as The Yes Brain and two upcoming titles, The Power of Showing Up and Bottom Line for Baby. She is the Founder and Executive Director of The Center for Connection, a multidisciplinary clinical practice, and of The Play Strong Institute, a center devoted to the study, research, and practice of play therapy through a neurodevelopmental lens. Dr. Bryson keynotes conferences and conducts workshops for parents, educators, and clinicians all over the world, and she frequently consults with schools, businesses, and other organizations. An LCSW, Tina is a graduate of Baylor University with a Ph.D. from USC. The most important part of her bio, she says, is that she’s a mom to her three boys. You can learn more about Dr. Bryson at