Talking Back or Advocating for Themselves?

Posted by Heidi Walker on March 11, 2014 

When we moved to North Carolina I was really worried that my children might be entering a school system where "Yes Ma'am and Yes Sir" were still the expected responses to many situations regardless of what you might actually be feeling inside.  Luckily my concerns were quickly removed when I realized that some areas of the South have moved on.  My problem with "Yes Ma'am and Yes Sir" is that I feel it doesn't allow children to learn how to advocate for themselves.  How do you learn to advocate for yourself as an adult if you don't start learning this as a child?

This has been on my mind as I have needed to advocate for myself ahead of my upcoming mastectomy.  I had concerns that my surgeon and my oncologist were giving me different information, different timelines, and different advice about when to start the reconstruction process.  I am a confident adult who normally has no problem speaking my mind but when sitting in a surgeons office and being handed some news you weren't expecting it is amazing how you can become a different person.  I found that it would be after an appointment when I finally had my wits about me and could actually think of the questions I needed to ask, to make the phone calls to question contradictions.   Thanks to the fact that I could advocate for myself my chemo finished a cycle earlier than planned.  Thanks to the fact that I could advocate for myself my oncologist reviewed all of my ultrasounds and is having a conference with my surgeon to ensure everyone is on the same page before my upcoming surgery.  Thank God I didn't just blindly accept what they were telling me.  Thank God I didn't just answer "Yes Ma'am, Yes Sir".  

How do we learn this?  I believe that it starts in being able to question your parents, debate with them, argue with them if you feel strongly about something and know that you will be heard, know that your position will be respected.  For some parents this may be labeled 'talking back' but I see it as learning how to advocate for yourself and welcome it in our family. 

The other day my nine year old son had to have one of his baby teeth removed.  I sat with him as he went through the process.  The dentist asked him if he felt pain when she started to tug at the tooth and I was so glad that he had the confidence to advocate for himself because it turned out he was feeling pain and that he needed more pain killer.  Thank God he has not been taught to simply say "Yes Ma'am or Yes Sir" when dealing with adults.

Look for signs that your child is advocating for themselves when they disagree with you or point something out that perhaps you would prefer them not to.  What difference does it make if you think about this as them developing the skills to advocate for themselves instead of labeling it as 'talking back'?

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