The Polite Way to Advocate for Your Kids at School

By the end of September, summer vacation already feels like a distant memory.

As the kids settle down at night with a little homework and the sun goes down earlier and earlier, something begins to niggle at your brain, and you think….”should I?”

Nobody wants to be a whiny parent, but if you see a problem, your natural reaction is to jump in, and defend your child. If you feel the need to address a problem at school, make sure you go in informed and prepared to get the best possible outcome.

Identify the Problem

Talking to your child should always be the first step. If she isn’t a big talker, you may have to initiate a conversation if you pick up on any red flags. If your child says she hates school, or if she constantly comes home miserable, figure out why.

There are a number of reasons you may need to speak up. For instance, you feel that your student isn’t getting enough academic support in school. On the other hand, you may feel that your student needs a greater challenge or a different approach to her learning.

If your child is having considerable social issues and feels alienated by peers, you may want to open up the lines of communication with your child’s school. Provide feedback regarding behavioral concerns or the school’s response to a problem.

When it comes down to it, you know your child best, but you’re also on the same team as her teacher. You have valuable information about your child that the teacher can use to make the school day smoother and more productive for your child. Together, you both can help her see through a difficult situation and turn it to success.

If your student is frequently getting discipline referrals or behavioral complaints from the teacher, you should consider this another form of communication and dig deeper. Even young kids can engage in an important conversation like this, and help you understand what exactly is happening.

Help Her Speak for Herself

Before you pick up the phone, remember that helping your child advocate for herself is one of the greatest things a parent can pass on. The ability to see a problem, gather information, think of solutions, and execute them is a skill that will benefit her long after graduation day. Practicing now builds confidence, executive functioning, and independence, even in smaller children. Your child may need your assistance for the process, but all children can participate in problem-solving.

If you have coached your child on standing up for herself and you don’t see any improvement over a couple of weeks, you may consider stepping in. Make sure you are informed on the issue. Talk to your child and ask other parents about similar issues they have dealt with, or do some research online.

Outline Goals for Your Child

What do you expect and hope for your child? Does this align with the school’s goals? How much can these two reasonably overlap?

Unfortunately, schools are one-size-fits-all out of necessity, and are restricted in terms of time and money. However most teachers will accommodate different needs to their greatest capability. If your child has special needs but doesn’t qualify for special education services, they can still receive accommodations like alternate modes of presentation or scribing with a 504 plan, which gives her more flexibility to learn and demonstrate learning in the way that suits her best.

For more information about helping your child with special needs, check out our articles about Learning Disabilities.

Finally, Speak Up Yourself

The teacher is usually your first contact in the school. If this ends up not working out, go to the principal. Be polite, but assertive. Work as a team, and understand the school’s perspective. Patience and understanding can go a long way, and you need the school staff on your side to get all the resources your child needs. Work with them, not against them. Be careful about micromanaging — you can exhaust your resources with too much contact. But the school also needs to know what’s on your mind and how they can help.

Throughout the process of advocating for your child (it can take a while to solve a problem!) stay informed by taking notes and keeping all records and data in one location.

In the end, trust what you know about your child. The professionals may have some wonderful insight, but you know your child best. As parent, you have the final say about your child’s educational needs. Once you’ve heard the input from the team, you can make a decision about what will best suit her. After all, the goal is to keep your child safe, happy, and productive at school.

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