The three-year-old and the server

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I’m going to let you in on a not-so-guarded, and mildly embarrassing, secret.  I don’t think I ordered for myself in a restaurant until I was about 15 years old.  My parents ordered for me after I told them what I wanted.  I was shy to an extreme and had a soft voice to go along with it, so I was not at all interested in speaking up for myself.  My parents were just trying to help me out by ordering for me. They were trying to make me comfortable.  In the grand scheme of my life, did this hinder me?  Eh, probably not by itself. But, it didn’t help, either.  Guess what our daughter has been doing for herself since she was old enough to articulate her order to servers in restaurants (about age three)?  It’s one of the many subtle ways we are striving to empower her now to prepare her for the future.

I frequently tell college students and parents that the ability and willingness to ask for help is one of the most crucial pieces of the college puzzle.  We parents need to give our kids opportunities to speak up for themselves.  We want them to get comfortable asking for what they want and, most especially, what they need long before they leave us.  Imagine a baby bald eagle brand new in the nest.  Mama eagle knows that baby will likely grow into a majestic, soaring adult eagle one day in the not-too-distant future.  It doesn’t just happen because the baby watches mom be an adult, though.  That helps, but it’s not enough.  Mama has the baby gradually engage in grown-up behaviors over time.  The challenge for human parents is being self-aware enough to recognize when to start taking opportunities to turn more responsibility over to our children.  This is no easy feat in the busyness of life, I know!  As important as this is to me, I know I have failed many times.

Here are just a few things you may consider letting your children start doing (with your support and guidance) that will help them develop self-advocacy skills:

  • Asking questions during doctor appointments
  • Asking teachers when they don’t understand a project or assignment
  • Ordering pizza for delivery (Hey, can we make them pay the bill, too??)
  • Participating in conversations where they get to share their opinions and argue a point
  • Asking for anything! (directions to the bathroom when you’re out, a refill on a drink, help finding something in a store, etc.)

We don’t want our daughter to apologize, or feel selfish or embarrassed, for speaking up and asking for what she needs and wants.  Rather, we hope she becomes more and more comfortable with speaking up for herself as she grows.  Lots of practice will get her (and your kids) there!

About author


Lori Smith and Scott Smith are higher education professionals with a combined 30 years experience working with college students. We also happen to be married to one another and are raising our own potential future college student.

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