Learning to Speak Up

Girl Raising HandDo you ever get a queasy, squishy feeling in the pit of your stomach when you know something isn’t right but you don’t know what it is? Have you ever wanted to tell someone that you’re worried, sad or mad, but didn’t know what to say? Have you ever seen something happen that you disagree with but don’t know what to do about it?

We all get these feelings at times – even doctors! Learning how to speak up for yourself is an important part of growing up. Letting others know your thoughts and feelings, will help you feel stronger and more confident.

What does it mean to “speak up”?

Here are some examples:

  • Letting others know when you are feeling sad, angry, or depressed
  • Asking a teacher to explain something in a different way if you’re confused
  • Letting a doctor or nurse know when you don’t understand what they’re asking you to do
  • Letting a teacher or parent know when you think a classmate or friend is being bullied or made fun of
  • Talking to a family member or friend about something they did or said that you disagree with
  • Calling 911 in an emergency, or telling a responsible adult when you think someone is in danger

Many teens (and adults) find that speaking up is difficult. Sometimes it may seem easier to keep your feelings inside to avoid becoming embarrassed or having a hard conversation. It can be tricky to know when the best time is to speak up for yourself – for example, should you speak to a teacher privately or raise your hand in front of the classroom?

Steps to speaking up:

  1. First, figure out what the issue is and whether you want to do something about it. Having a clear idea of what you want to say and why, is the first step in speaking up. What are you hoping will happen once you speak up?
  2. Think about what you’d like to say. Sometimes it helps to practice what you are going to say before you say it. This can be as simple as thinking it through or practicing out loud with a friend. Think about how you are going to start the conversation- it’s important to use words that won’t make the other person feel like they are being attacked. For example, say “I want” or “I need” instead of “You should” or “You did.”
  3. Think about the best time to speak up. Speaking up doesn’t necessarily mean raising your hand to talk in class, and sometimes this isn’t always the best time to speak your mind anyway! Decide whether the conversation is best to have with one person or in front of a group. If you get nervous in front of groups, maybe it’s best to make an appointment with a teacher or guidance counselor, or have a private conversation with a friend or parent.
  4. Listen to the response. Sometimes we don’t always get our way when we speak up. It may be that the other person doesn’t see eye to eye with you, but it’s still important to listen to their thoughts, and let them speak without interrupting. Make eye contact with them and let them know that you’re listening.
  5. Most importantly, stay positive! It becomes easier to speak up for yourself with practice, and every time you do, you’ll get better at it. If you don’t get the solution that you were hoping for after speaking up, take a moment to congratulate yourself for taking this big step! Then, think about what you said, how you said it, and what you’d want to say differently the next time.

Speaking up can be hard to do, but don’t give up! You‘ll find that with practice it gets easier. Get tips from friends, siblings, parents, coaches and teachers about how they learned to speak up.

– Doctor Tamara