How do we advocate for our children?

When is it best to keep quiet and let them navigate situations on their own?

Below are stories and guidelines to help both you and your child or teen grow confidence and communication skills to advocate effectively. 

I got inspired to share these ideas with you when preparing for an interview about this topic by Boston Globe Correspondent Kara Baskin. ( The article, in Kara’s column and newsletter, Parenting Unfiltered is called “Grades, sport, or friendships gone sour: When to help your kids and when to keep quiet”.)

Here’s what I share with you in this post:

  • Learn my “7-step formula” to help you sort through when and how to advocate for your child.
  • Try a word pattern to remember the steps more easily when you need them.
  • Download a free guide sheet for future reference.
  • Hear stories that show you how to use these steps effectively.
Advocate for Your Kids: male soccer coach with kids

The Seven Steps of Advocacy

Listen to your child and validate their emotions.

Notice your own emotions.

Gather information.

Consider needs.

Discuss next steps.

Prepare to advocate or support your child to advocate for themselves.

Check in to see how it’s going. 

Advocate for Your Kids: mom and daughter talking

Use a word pattern to memorize the steps

Remember memorizing the colors of the rainbow or state names when you were a kid? 

Try this word pattern to help you remember the steps in the moment. You can say these words aloud to yourself in a rhythm. Or, write them down on an index card or a note on your phone. Remembering these words in this order will help you feel and be more effective the next time you need to decide how to advocate for your kid.

Listen – Notice – Gather – Consider – Discuss – Prepare – Check in! 

To create a rhythm you can memorize, I recommend grouping the first three – Listen Notice Gather – and then the last two sets in pairs so it sounds like this:

Listen, Notice, Gather

Consider, Discuss

Prepare, Check in!

Download a free guide sheet for future reference.

If you are a person who likes details and more guidance, download mySeven Steps to Know When and How to Advocate for your Childbelow. This is a printable deeper dive into each of these steps with questions you can use with your child. Keep it handy for future reference.


Two stories to help you imagine using these steps in your own life

Advocate for Your Kids: father and daughter talking

How I recently used this formula with my own teenager: 

Listen / Notice / Gather

My teen has been feeling frustrated with always being put in the back row of dance performances and came home worrying about whether this means the teacher thinks they are not a good dancer or whether it’s just because they are tall. So I listened fully and validated these feelings by stopping what I was doing (cutting vegetables for dinner), giving eye contact, and sharing back what I was hearing. I noticed my own concerns popping up and felt some emotion in my chest as I felt their hurt and confusion. I took a deep breath and stayed focused on gathering information with a few questions about the situation. 

Consider / Discuss / Prepare / Check in

After that, I considered their needs, the needs of the dance teacher, and my own needs as their mom. I asked my teenager to share their needs and to consider the dance teacher’s needs before discussing next steps. I reflected briefly that my own need is for my child to gain understanding and feel inspired and empowered as a dancer. They were pretty clear that they wanted to handle this situation on their own, so my teen added some notes to their phone to prepare what to say. 

Together, we decided that asking how to improve their technique would be an effective starting point with the teacher. In addition, they would observe their classmates to determine whether there was a pattern to height and placement. Then they would see if they got moved forward over time. I made a mental note to check in on how this is going after the next few classes.

My teen walked away from the conversation feeling empowered and more hopeful and ready to accept whatever evolved from these steps. I felt good that we had talked this through, and knew that my teen knew that I was on their side to let them explore and advocate for themselves.

Father and son playing

How to handle a neighborhood situation with a younger child using these 7 steps:

Several of my clients have faced a situation in which a neighborhood child comes over and behaves in a way that makes them uncomfortable. Rudeness, curse words, and rough, exclusive, or entitled behavior seem to be the most common things that happen. Perhaps you can relate to these difficult situations.

What do you do as a parent? Do you let your child handle it? Should you handle it? When is it appropriate to call the other child’s parents? It’s awkward! 

I’ve shared my steps with a number of my clients. Here’s a composite example of how these steps work with a neighborhood situation:

Listen to your child and validate their emotions.

If your child seems bothered by the neighbor child’s behavior, listen and empathize. If they seem unfazed, you might ask questions to see if perhaps they do have some feelings about the other child’s behavior underneath their apparent nonchalance. Many children know the other kid is behaving in ways that you would not allow. And yet, they don’t want to make a big deal about it and risk hurting the friendship, especially with a neighbor who you will see often. 

Notice your own emotions.

Before or during the conversation, figure out what values of yours are being bothered by the neighbor’s behavior. How do you feel about it? What do you want? You might feel angry, worried, and protective of your child and any other children involved. Are earlier experiences of your own being triggered? Notice these observations, and then refocus on the situation at hand.

Gather information.

You might ask your child how they play at the neighbor’s house, if the kids ever complain or resist the negative behavior, and what they wish was happening instead. Keep your face neutral and just nod and show listening. You can say, “Ok, so …” to reflect or rephrase what your child is telling you for clarity. Sometimes the behaviors might be fine (such as getting messy in a project), but the timing is off (before a class or another event). Listening will help you understand what’s happening.

Mom comforting her son

Consider needs.

After you have gained some information, think about what your child needs. Then, help them figure out what they need for themselves, too. For example, you might say something like, “So when your friend is yelling and throwing things, what do you wish he would do instead? What would make it feel like it’s safe enough to keep playing together?” Or “So when your friend comes over and announces that you are going to make slime in the kitchen, how do you feel? How can you remember to make sure that’s ok with me or the babysitter?” And then, “Why do you think your friend is acting this way? What do you think they need when they yell like that / try to control your plans?” 

After listening to your child’s needs and possibilities, you can share your own needs. “When your friends are here, I need to know that everyone is playing safely and being respectful to one another. Then I’m happy to let you all play freely.” Or “When your friend comes over, I need to know that you are respecting each other’s ideas and house rules. I need to know that you are thinking about our home and what needs to happen before you two get into a big project.”  

Slime Play

Discuss next steps.

Now is the time to figure out a game plan with your child. To ensure understanding, you can restate each person’s needs. Then, ask your child what seems like a good step to take to honor those needs. As you listen, you can adjust the plan, depending on how old and how mature your child is.

Here’s how you could lead this conversation: “So it sounds like your friend needs a place to blow off steam after a hard day of school. You need him to be respectful of everyone who is playing together, but you’re concerned about making him mad. What is a simple request/thing you could ask him to do to let him know he can let off steam, but not act rudely to people? Do you want me to support you by saying this or do you want to say it yourself? How about if I see you trying, and he’s still being rough, I will come outside. I can remind everyone of the rules of our house. That way, it’s my responsibility and not yours.” 

Prepare to advocate or support your child to advocate for themselves.

If your child is going to advocate for themselves, you can role play with them to get them ready for the conversation. It can help to take turns playing each role or to use stuffed animals or pillows or puppets. This way you keep it light and your child gets to practice. If you are the one advocating, you can practice with a friend or partner, or even with your child if appropriate. Need more help? You can always schedule a Clarity Call or a Parent Coaching Call (if you’re already a client) to gain more confidence.

Develop some ‘house rules” to help yourself and your child be clear about what is and isn’t ok. You can make a poster together to reinforce those rules and deepen understanding. This can be posted or just taken out for review before playdates. Be sure to state the rules in positive terms like, “We use indoor voices when we are indoors” or “We keep our hands to ourselves.” Or, “Ask an adult about using the kitchen before starting a project.” 

Know the rules

Check in to see how it’s going. 

Set a time or date to check back in about how things are going. If needed, adjust how you have decided to advocate for your child or how your child is advocating for themselves. Sometimes you need to let your child take a few steps first, and then you might need to help them advocate.

Celebrate with your child or teen any successes along the way and take time to reflect on what has worked well and what has been hard. This practice will grow your child’s confidence and self-advocacy skills!

Want to share how your situation went or have any questions? Email me at or add a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

Who I serve:
I coach parents from coast to coast in the US and internationally.  Thanks to Zoom, I am currently coaching parents from Boston to Seattle, Connecticut to California, as well as New York, Ohio, and Colorado. I’ve worked with parents in Bermuda, Japan, Portugal, and Canada as well. I’m grateful for these global and domestic connections!