How to be the best advocate for your child

 

HOW TO BE THE BEST ADVOCATE FOR YOUR CHILD

Kristin Lowrey | MSW, LICSW, PIP, REGISTERED PLAY THERAPIST SUPERVISOR

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As a mom of three children, I have found myself having many interactions over the years with various professionals within our school system—teachers, nurses, principals, etc. I have grown to become comfortable in my role as an advocate for my children, though I did not always feel this way.

At the beginning of this journey, I wasn’t sure what my role was. How did my parenting “mom” knowledge fit with the knowledge that the teacher/educator had? What about the times that I disagreed with the teacher or felt that I needed more information in order to be comfortable with decisions? Could I ask questions without questioning their professional knowledge? In my professional and personal life, I have heard many parents echo the same feelings that I had—feelings of uncertainty in their role with the school and how to best handle different issues/situations that arose.

My mom, a retired teacher, gave me some advice that I have continued to carry with me. She said, “No one knows your child or their needs like you do. If you don’t advocate for them, who else will?” Those are very wise words. Our children rely on us to help them in so many facets of their lives. School is just one them. There are times when our children need us to advocate more than other times.

Here are some tips to help in your journey of advocating for your children in their school life:

  1. Talk to your child and ask questions about school. We can’t advocate for our children if we don’t know what is going on. Ask open-ended questions about school such as, “What was a positive or good thing that happened today?”, and, “What is something that you wish was different about today?” Have continuous dialogue with your children about school and other activities they are involved in. Ask about homework and look through the things they bring home. This can give a lot of information about their school experience.

  2. Build relationships with the school. Get to know the teachers. Let them know that you want to be an active participant in your child’s learning and time at school. If you have a concern about your child or school, let that teacher know so they can address it. 

  3. Work together. If there are issues or concerns, the school probably has ideas and plans to implement based on their knowledge and experience. While it is important to listen and be receptive to the school’s suggestions, it is also okay to speak up if you don’t think the suggestions are in the best interest of your child.

  4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s important to understand your child’s experience. If there are behavioral concerns, ask questions to understand the different aspects of the concern, such as the time of day it is occurring and who is involved. If your child is struggling academically in different areas, ask questions to understand ways you can better support your child at home and to understand what the school is doing to help support your child at school.

  5. Stay calm. As parents, it is easy to get upset when we think that our children are being treated unfairly or their needs aren’t being met. Remember that the school professionals are there to help. They may have different thoughts and opinions than you, but it is better to approach differences and concerns with curiosity and kindness rather than anger and threats. 

  6. Trust your gut. If something you hear doesn’t sit well with you, ask questions so you can better understand.