Self-Advocating: Why Kids Need To Learn This Important Skill Early On

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Taking control of your health is an important responsibility that we all need to prioritize. The more understanding you have of your specific health needs, the better able you are to care for yourself. That is why it is extremely important for kids to learn this at a young age.

According to Jacqueline Metz, D.O., a pediatrician for Henry Ford Health, teaching kids to start advocating for their health is an important step in them having a say in their health and how they are being cared for.

“When kids get involved with their health, they become more willing to ask questions about health conditions as they get older,” says Dr. Metz.

Getting Started With Self Advocating

There is no “right” or “best” time to get your child comfortable with advocating for themselves. Often, these conversations start at home and then translate to your child’s wellness visits. Dr. Metz suggests that by the time your child is a teenager, they should have a good understanding of their overall health.

Dr. Metz offers these strategies for helping parents teach self-advocating:

  1. Don’t overstep. Avoid taking charge or speaking for your child. “Let your child be in control of their appointment and answer the doctor’s questions,” says Dr. Metz. Only step in as needed. If your child doesn’t answer a question truthfully or completely, try to get your child to elaborate before sharing other details on their behalf.
  2. Be honest. Going to the doctor’s might seem like a scary experience to your child. “Helping your child understand what to expect at the visit ensures there are no surprises,” says Dr. Metz. For example, if they need a shot, don’t conceal that. Instead, acknowledge that while shots hurt temporarily, they protect you from getting sick in the long run.
  3. Have patience. It may take some time before your child feels comfortable asking questions about their health, and that’s okay. If your child prefers to come to you with a question or concern about their health, suggest that they bring that question up at their next appointment. It can’t hurt to remind them of that question when the time comes!
  4. Respect their privacy. As a teen, your child has the option to talk with the doctor while a parent or guardian stays in the waiting room during the appointment. This gives them to freedom to have some autonomy and talk about sensitive topics on their own with the doctor. Understand that some conversations can be uncomfortable to talk about around parents and if your child would like to talk with the doctor alone, that is completely acceptable and encouraged.

How Your Child’s Pediatrician Helps Your Child Self-Advocate

The most important thing about taking your child to their doctor’s appointment - making sure they feel safe and in control of the visit.

“As providers, we make sure to get consent for everything,” says Dr. Metz. “Whenever a physical exam is performed, your child’s pediatrician will ask questions like ‘may I look in your ears,’ ‘may I listen to your heart.’ Your child can refuse any part of the visit if they feel uncomfortable.”

Additionally, for patients with MyChart, your child can access their own account starting at age 14. This way, they have the freedom to contact their doctor, ask questions and view test results on their own.

Small practices that support your child in advocating for themselves will not only make them more comfortable about going to the doctor’s office and give them a better understanding of their overall health and wellness, but it will also aid in other aspects of life. Self-advocating can help children develop the confidence and ability to ask questions and seek clarification when faced with any information they might not fully understand.

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To find a doctor or pediatrician at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

Dr. Jacqueline Metz is a pediatrician who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center - Ford Road in Dearborn.

Categories: ParentWell

Tags: Pediatrics