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How to Be an Advocate for Your Child Without Becoming Overly Pushy
Finding the perfect balance between being an advocate and being overly pushy and demanding can be a difficult task for parents of children with special needs. Here are some tips to make it a little easier.
1. Be honest about your child’s skills and needs. If you go into a team meeting demanding that your non-mobile child be the star of the next dance recital, you may not get where you really want to go. In the same light, if they finally start using their words and are never asked to use them in class, it might be a good time to speak up.
2. Be kind. It sounds simple, but it can be extremely difficult when you feel your child grasping the shaft. Sometimes making a less direct statement (I feel… It seems…) can seem less confrontational and help you get the answers you’re looking for.
3. Communicate. Although you may feel that you are clear about your needs for your child, on the other hand it may not be interpreted as such. Logging in, following and chatting with people other than when you need something or have a problem can really make a big difference.
4. Say you’re sorry. A sincere apology can go a long way in advocating when you cross the line in a jerk. The people who work with your child know that you love them and understand that you want the best. Letting them know you’re aware of your own intensity can really help smooth things over (donuts can help, too).
5. Be ready to compromise. Many professionals would give your child the sun, moon and stars if they could afford it. Unfortunately, many are working on incredibly tight budgets. Know your priorities and be ready to give up some things that are less important. Being willing to give a little on your end shows that you’re a team player and can help them work within their own limitations.
6. Stay focused. This can also be listed to keep an eye on the prize. It’s easy to get distracted by every little problem along the way. That doesn’t mean you should ignore other concerns, but if you want more physical therapy, go for it. Don’t get bogged down with so many goals that your real goal gets lost in the mix.
7. Be helpful. Continue to work with your child at home. Some people get so caught up in advocacy that they forget about the day-to-day work that also needs to happen. Showing that you are fully engaged and walking the walk as well as talking the talk can really make an impact on others.
8. Give others the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes what we hear is not what people say. Professionals do their best to present problems and doubts as they see them in the best and most accessible terminology. Sometimes those are not the words a parent wants to hear. This does not mean that the professional wants to “get” their child. It could mean that they don’t have all the information, that they have a bigger agenda that they don’t articulate well, or that they’re just having a day where they can’t say things in a way that makes complete sense to you.
9. Ask questions. Sometimes phrasing your concern in the form of a question takes the edge off what you really want to say. Saying “I don’t think you have the right vision for my child” can come across as aggressive, but “can you tell me where you see this plan going in the next five years” can help clarify what others are saying without coming across as evil.
10. Say thank you. Nothing makes people want to continue doing business with you more than a sincere thank you at the end of the day. A small note to thank someone for listening to your concerns, a casual word for someone who went the extra mile, or a letter to a supervisor can really mean a lot to the people who work with your child. It doesn’t have to be huge. Even if you didn’t get everything you hoped for, letting people know you appreciate their efforts can earn you “points” for the next issue. It shows that you are a team player and that you understand how much others work to achieve your goals.
The balance between a lawyer and something stronger can be very difficult. Being assertive but not aggressive can make others aware of your goals and objectives without making them defensive and resistant to teamwork. In the end, it makes things even better for your child (and in turn, for you)!
©R. Wellman 2011
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