One of a parent’s most important jobs is to speak for their children when they can’t speak for themselves. And when your child is struggling, no matter how old he or she is, your advocacy can make the difference between accessing necessary services and continuing to have a difficult time.
However, many parents struggle themselves when it comes to effectively advocating for their children. It’s natural to be overprotective, and go in to meetings with teachers, administrators, and medical professionals ready to fight. It’s easy to get frustrated when you feel like your concerns aren’t being heard, or you are running into roadblocks to getting necessary services or resolutions to problems.
Parents may experience a gamut of emotions, from anger to sadness and even a little fear, as they try to do what’s best for their child. In the end, relationships with educators (and other professionals) become strained and everyone dislikes dealing with other.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You can effectively advocate for your child without causing a wave of dread to pass through the school every time you walk through the door.
Understand What It Means to Advocate
Being an effective advocate requires understanding what being an advocate means. It’s not “fixing” the problem, and demanding the changes you think are necessary — whether it’s a different seat in the classroom or a full-time aide. However, the true definition of advocate is to “speak, argue, or plead in favor of. In other words, you are your child’s voice. Advocating means standing up for your child if there are problems, but also listening to the perspective of the other side, and getting the whole picture before working toward a solution.
By going into meetings with your child’s teacher (or doctor or other provider) with a spirit of teamwork, and a willingness to listen to the other side while still firmly speaking for your child’s interests will create a more effective working relationship. This doesn’t mean you can’t speak up or argue for things that are in your child’s best interests, but just that you aren’t approaching meetings with a set idea of what’s required to “fix” the problem.
It’s difficult to be taken seriously when you are spewing misinformation or basing your demands off of assumptions. Not to mention, if you go into meetings with your child’s team without preparing, you’re likely to get off topic, or not have your questions and concerns addressed.
Before any meeting, gather as much information as you can, including from your child. Make a list of talking points, and questions you want to ask, so nothing is overlooked. Take some time to learn the rules, standards, and laws that may apply to this situation; it might be as simple as reading the school handbook, or as in-depth as reviewing state laws regarding access to services.
The more prepared you are, the more effectively you can advocate for a solution. Be prepared to explore alternative solutions as well, if you cannot get resolution to the issues in the current scenario. For example, if your child has behavioral issues that are exacerbated in your local school, a therapeutic boarding school like Diamond Ranch Academy could be an option. Don’t rule anything out that could be beneficial to your child.
The fastest way to wear out your welcome in any situation is to micromanage. Attempting to control every aspect of the situation, by constantly checking in, questioning why things are happening or not happening, demanding reports, and requesting meetings without a clear idea of what you hope to accomplish takes up time, and can create an antagonistic relationship — or lead to your requests being ignored. Establish a communication plan from the start (the teacher will provide monthly status reports, for example) and unless there is a clear and obvious issue, adhere to that agreement.
Control Your Emotions
When your child is having trouble, it’s natural that you will feel emotional. Getting angry only puts others on the defensive, though. Even if you are justifiably angry, keep your cool and avoid making comments or threats that could backfire on you. Control your feelings, and avoid lashing out at someone who has what you need.
When advocating for your kids, remember that teachers, doctors, and other professionals almost always have the best interests of your child at heart, but often have their own hurdles to clear in order to provide the best possible services. They are bound by processes, laws, budget concerns, and time, which often keep them from doing everything they would like to do for kids. If you find ways to work together, though, you can get your kids what they need.