As parents, we want everything good for our children. We know we have their best interests at heart, but it can be scary to release that responsibility – and trust that others who work with our children feel the same. That fear can lead us to question teachers, coaches, and other professionals who have an influence on our children; which can then make us seem like THAT parent. You know, the crazy helicopter one who teachers see coming from a mile away and opt to run & hide rather than talk to you. But let’s be clear. Advocating for your child does not make you crazy or helicopter-ish. It is your right and it is your duty.
5 Tips for Being an Advocate
1.) Be Informed
Sometimes, we worry without having all of the facts. Take a minute to talk to your child to get their perspective about what’s going on. Be observant and look for patterns. Organize your information and contact log of who you’ve talked to and what you talked about to keep the bigger picture in mind. Know your rights as a parent and know your child’s rights as a student. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand certain terminology or what a professional means when they throw around phrases like “He’s behind” or “She has behavior problems.”
2.) Be specific
Ask lots of questions. But do it because you’re curious, not because you’re being judgmental. Be clear about your concerns. You know your child. Open up about his needs and how you have accommodated him at home to make him successful. Ask your child’s professionals to identify their short and long term goals. What are the next steps for all involved?
3.) Balance the positive with the negative
Be aware of things that are going well and not so well at home. And be prepared to share. Likewise, ask the teachers about your child’s strengths, as well as her areas of need. Children love to be encouraged and hear (often) positive words of affirmation. They eat it up! Capitalize on that!
4.) Build relationships
Establish a rapport with your child’s teachers from the very beginning. “Hi, my name is Natalie and I’m CJ’s mom. I brought you some coffee and doughnuts because I very much appreciate and respect you and the profession you’ve chosen. Thank you for what you do! You’ll be hearing from me periodically as I check in with you on how my son is doing. Here is my contact information.”
5.) Remain calm and focused
Give everyone a fair chance. Relax. Listen. Don’t come off angrily, but instead – be an ally. Don’t let teachers or coaches doubt for one second that you support them! Utilize relaxation techniques or take someone with you if you feel you can’t hold it together and remain poised. You want your child’s team to listen to you! And they will have trouble doing that if you come off defensively.