It’s back to school season and that means a lot of new experiences for parents and kids! I remember when my three year old needed some extra support, and I felt guilty asking the preschool speech therapist at the time for more than what we were currently getting. I shared this guilt and fear with a wiser, more experienced parent who reminded me, “YOU are the best advocate your child will ever have! No teacher, administrator, or therapist knows your child better than you!” This advice and reminder has stuck with me all these years, and given me the strength to overcome my fears and boldly advocate for my kids, especially when it comes to their education. Here are a few tips and tricks that have helped me in the past, and I hope they’ll be a benefit to your family as well!
1.Your voice matters. Advocating means addressing your concerns. It doesn’t mean you have to have a certain personality, in-depth knowledge of the situation, or a specific degree or background. It means that you, at any time, can speak up, ask questions, and “advocate” for your child. We all have perceptions about what it might mean to “advocate”, so it’s helpful to be reminded that you, today, have the ability to advocate for your child in their school environment.
2. Get support if you need it. It’s easy as a parent to feel overwhelmed, bullied, or even gaslit by those who want to dismiss our concerns and minimize our voice regarding our children. If you know in advance that a situation feels too difficult to manage or you feel out of control, it’s okay to ask for help. Help can be another friend or parent, a caregiver who you trust, or a professional who advocates for others in your situation. For example, there are many education advocates and specialists who assist families through the evaluation process for special education. Sometimes, it can be helpful to get support when you need it, and it’s always okay to ask for help!
3. Write everything down. Remembering who said what, and when, and what the result of a conversation was (especially when emotion might be involved) is difficult for everyone! When you’re advocating for your child, it’s helpful to always ask for something in writing. Even after a conversation is done in person, you can say “thank you for this conversation, could you please email me a summary of what we discussed and what will happen moving forward?” Then you have a chance to review and correct the written record when necessary. You can also take the lead as a parent and follow up any in-person conversation with an email to the teacher, administrator, or service provider as well! The benefit of writing everything down (including any questions you may have) is that you can go back and review it again, and possibly share it with a spouse or partner. Check out this helpful communication log template from Understood.org!
4. Ask for more. When it comes to your child’s education, especially regarding special education, it’s okay to ask for more. More information, more time, more conversation, more therapy… you get the idea. I’ve often heard “my child is still falling behind, but they told me we can only get tutoring an hour a week”. This is a great example of a time when you want to bravely ask for more conversation about how you can get more time and more support for your struggling child. You may want to even ask for an evaluation for learning disabilities!
5. Don’t give up! When it comes to advocating for our children, it’s easy to feel like it’s too much, and you just want to give up. In fact, sometimes it feels like people in authority may want us to give up! I’ve certainly been there. But don’t give up – take a pause! Even in the middle of a stressful conversation, meeting, phone call, or email exchange, it’s okay to pause, collect your thoughts, and return. If you feel yourself getting angry, emotional, or overwhelmed, you can say something like “I’d like to take a moment to collect my thoughts, could you please give me a minute?” or “I’d like to continue this conversation when I’ve had more time to think. I will follow up with an email or phone call”.
Being an Effective Advocate for Your Child