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11 ways to advocate for your kid as a young parent

By petra - Posted on 06 January 2014

Whether your kids are born hell-raisers, have special needs or are happy-conformists, or an exhilarating mixture of the three, they will need your advocacy at some point.

And you are, by nature, your child’s advocate. You watch out for & speak up for your kid.

But we aren’t taught advocacy skills, and the places where advocacy is required (schools, hospitals, government ministries) can be intimidating.

Take schools.

As a parent, I’ve experienced a drastic change in how school staff has treated me from the time I was young & poor 20+ years ago, compared to how I am treated now.

Back then, if my kid was misbehaving (& my #2 kid spent more time in the principal’s office than in class), the assumption was that our home life & my sub-standard parenting were probably the cause.

That’s how it felt, anyway.

I didn’t know it was true until I reached my early 40’s and figured out how to dress so I didn’t look poor (even when most of my clothes still come from thrift stores).

Now when I walk into the office of my #3 kid’s high school (I was in there this morning), everyone there acts like what I have to say is important, because I now look like my opinion should matter.

So it’s effortless for me to advocate for her.

Last year she ended up in a class full of zesty behaviour cases. I spoke to the teacher, then the principal and got her switched. Just like that. Even though I know for a fact a number of other parents had tried & failed to get their kids switched out of that class.

Flashback 24 years:

The first time I tried to advocate, I was trying to tell the principal that my #1 kid was terrified of the noise of the leaf blower, and hid inside at recess whenever the leaf blower guys were out.

The principal did not invite me into her office to talk, like she would now.

She just looked me up & down and said: They work 8:30 to 4:30, just like everybody else. And walked away.

The inference being that it was 9am, and I clearly was not working. Yes, what a deadbeat, walking my kid to Kindergarten.

I know that if I made the same request now, I would be invited into her office, we would have a cordial, friendly chat, and the leaf blowers would not plague my child ever again.

So what can you do?

Eventually you will get older.

And older people are usually less poor.

But until that time, all you can do is work on becoming a talented advocate.

Here are my 11 tips for that:

1. Get to know your kid’s teacher & principal before there are problems. Go out of your way to let them know you exist & that you appreciate them. Bring a jam jar & pick a flower on the way to school for their desk, maybe. They’ll be touched & they’ll remember you & they’ll be much less likely assume you’re a lunatic when you get all mama-bear on them about your kid.

2. Don’t assume you have all the information. There are always more sides to the story. If you begin by being curious you will be less likely to provoke defensiveness.

3. Plan what you want to say & write short notes for yourself so you don’t forget what is important when things get stressful.

4. Document. Write down everything, including names & dates. Save e-mails.

5. Bring an ally. You are always allowed to bring someone with you to meetings. Just be sure they will help your cause & not get rowdy & make things worse!

6. Share your child’s strengths. Sometimes everyone gets too focused on the fact that your kid is throwing pop cans at buses during recess or spends his schoolday rolling around on the floor. If this is the case, they may not be seeing his strengths clearly, and may not be able to consider them when making a plan. Be sure to tell them that he is kind to animals, has a great sense of humour, or is fascinated by bugs. Your kid is not just a list of aggravating behaviour problems, no matter how long that list might be.

7. Bring solutions. Have some ideas for how to resolve the issue, so you aren’t just complaining. Bringing solutions also sends the message that you are one of the decision makers.

8. Raise your concern respectfully. Don’t call your kid’s principal a dick. Seriously. Even if she’s acting like one.

9. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You need to understand what is going on so you can advocate for your kid. Remember, you know a lot that the professionals in the room do not. They might be totally lost if you took them out their environment & put them into yours. If you are not sure if you understand, repeat what has been said in your own words and ask if you have it right.

10. Use the ‘P’ word. If you believe that your concern has been ignored because you are young, or poor, or Indigenous, or Latina, or because you have a hard time expressing yourself, then say so. It may not be true, but the professional will know that prejudiced behaviour is unacceptable & may become more accommodating if you respectfully suggest that prejudice may be at play.

11. Think before you act. If we think there is a threat to our kid, it can actually change how our brain functions. We can lose the ability to think clearly, especially if we have a history of trauma. The most ancient part of our brains (called the Amygdala) is what enables us to run from danger or fight off a predator without thinking too much about it. We just do it, because the Amygdala kicks in & handles that for us. When the Amygdala gets activated, the rest of our brain (the thinking part) get in the back seat. Or sometimes even gets out of the car altogether. If you have a history of trauma this probably happens more rapidly than for people who don’t. Try to advocate for your child when your entire brain is available. Sometimes that means sleeping on it.