When your kid(s) are having trouble in school, you might find yourself taking one of two positions:

The mama bear, where you want to storm in and defend your cub

Or feeling like you need to whip your child into shape (not literally, I hope), but you know what I mean. The feeling that we want our kids to represent us well in the world is just an inevitable part of parenting.

Either extreme is a disservice to you and your children. So what’s a good middle ground alternative? Read on to find out!First, I’ll define advocacy. It’s not just standing up for your children blindly; it’s about being their ally. But you also want to get a full picture of what’s happening and make sure that you’re the teacher’s ally, too. You and the school personnel need to be on the same team, so that you’re holding both your children and the school accountable.

Walking that line is not easy. Here are some ideas for how to do it.

1.Know your blind spots and triggers.

We all have sensitivities, both about ourselves as parents and about our children. We don’t want to feel like we’re being insulted or that our children are.

But we do have to be able to take constructive criticism, just like we want our kids to develop that skill. And it is a skill–being able to listen in an open-minded way, to recognize the positive intent even when the delivery is imperfect.

That’s because becoming an ally to your child and the teacher starts with listening.

2. Don’t feel like you need to answer immediately.

Take all the information, write it down, and say, “Let me consider this and let’s talk again soon.”

That means you don’t go with your knee-jerk reaction, or with the most automatic suggestions, maybe the ones that you’ve tried before. Stepping away means that you can step outside the box.

3. Be creative.

Consider what you haven’t considered before. That means considering the suggestions the school is offering, but also thinking about what you can add at home.

Also, in order to be creative, first you need to know your rights. Look up the educational rights in your state, and also try to connect with local advocacy groups. That way, you can be fully informed about all the remedies that a school can provide, and see if they’re in line with what your particular school is recommending.

Sometimes schools take shortcuts for reasons of staffing and/or of economics. Don’t let your kid get short-changed.

Being informed–and not feeling like you need to answer immediately–means you can have a strategy for the next meeting.

4. Be tactful.

Presume the good intentions of whomever you’re speaking to. Talk in terms of “we”: “I know we all want my child to do well. I’m here to do what I can to support you.”

It’s easier to be tactful when you’re prepared. So do your homework, and, if needed, write out a script ahead of time. You won’t follow it exactly, but it gives you some guidance. It’ll enhance your sense of control.

But ultimate control isn’t possible, so remember: Collaboration and cooperation are the words of the day.

 

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