It was 1997, and I had just settled into my new place a few days prior. Classes hadn’t even started yet. I was having a problem with registration because I was missing some critical piece of information. I called my mum. “Mum, can you call and find out what I need to do to fix my registration?”
She laughed at me.
“You’re a grownup now, sweetie, you’re going to have to make that call yourself. I love you!” *click*
I did of course end up making the call myself — but I was so nervous and incompetent! I had no idea how to speak to another human in order to solve a problem for myself so I stammered and said “um” a lot and generally made the conversation as awkward as possible.
My awesome mum had always done almost everything for me when it came to paperwork and other administrative tasks. I was involved in loads of extracurricular activities and had a job on top of earning straight As, so she must have figured helping me out with paperwork and phone calls was fair. But boy, did I have a steep learning curve to climb that first year on my own.
I think, as adults, we sometimes take for granted that phone calls and other administrative tasks are simple. For a kid facing a big new world, however, almost nothing feels simple. And learning how to speak up for oneself is about so much more than accountability — it’s about developing a sense of autonomy, confidence, and pride in oneself.
So, here are four simple responsibilities we can give our kids now to ensure they are confident when speaking up for themselves later:
Order their own food
Whether at a fast food drive through or a five star restaurant, from the time our kids are able to read a menu, they should order their own food. If they have questions about the menu or how something is cooked, they should ask the server themselves. Every interaction can be an opportunity to reinforce communication skills—and also a great way to teach that we must be kind to our friends in the service industry.
Resolve their own issues with teachers
If our kid is hoping for partial credit on a late homework assignment or needs to apologise for disrupting the class, they should handle this communication on their own.
With my kids, I have them write an email first (I review prior to hitting “send”) and then have them follow up in person the next day. Not only does this teach autonomy, but it shows a kid the benefit of demonstrating initiative, which teachers appreciate.
Describe their health concerns to their doctor
I love that our paediatrician already addresses my kids directly. He knows the value of taking the extra time to wait for a kid to put into words what is going on with their own body. This allows our doctor to better assess their overall well-being, and it also gives my kids an opportunity to practice advocating for their own health. That isn’t something that magically becomes obvious at age 20, so they need to practice.
Fill out their own paperwork
As soon as their handwriting is legible, kids should begin filling out their own paperwork. My son has been helping with his since the year 6, and my daughter started in year 2 (she has neater handwriting). I don’t make them fill out every single registration form for school, but I definitely make them sit with me and help.
Not only is it good for our kids to see just how much paperwork they generate (so much!), but it also accomplishes other life lessons like helping them memorise their address and phone numbers, knowing where Mum and Dad work and what insurance they have and who is on their “safe list” for pickup.
Even if they don’t fully memorise this info, it’s useful for our kids to know that there are hundreds of tiny details that go into making their lives run smoothly. It’s a lesson in gratitude as well as responsibility.
I’m thankful my mum handled so much for me when I was a kid, but I’m even more thankful that she cut me off the moment I stepped out into the real world. I stumbled a bit at first, but being forced to handle my own obligations turned into much more than a lesson in responsibility.
It gave me a sense of independence and newfound self-reliance I hadn’t experienced before. Nervousness turned into confidence, which turned into success. And what more could we ask for our kids?