What experienced parents know
You’ll meet many professionals whose job is to assist your child. These include school staff, therapists, doctors, nurses, specialists and other medical service providers, and probably others. Experienced parents have found that in the long run, a team approach will lead to better results for your child. You can learn skills that help you get these professionals on your side, and on your team.
Finding the right balance
As a dedicated parent, you know that sometimes it feels like you have to fight to meet your child’s needs. Team building means you have to balance your willingness to fight for your child with your need to build a team that will work with you to meet your child’s needs over the long run. Here are some ideas that can help:
- Show through your words, tone and behavior that you respect the professionals you are dealing with.
- Think about how you want to be seen by the professionals you work with and then behave that way.
- Learn the rules of the game. It is especially important to understand the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal law that covers special education services. Check out IDEA—the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for an overview and links to more information.
- Sooner or later, you are bound to get upset with a professional who is assisting your child. When this happens, talk about it with that person as soon as possible. Often a conflict can be cleared up right away. If it gets more complicated, work your way up the hierarchy, starting with the person most closely involved, then that person’s boss, and so on. But be sure you understand the issues first.
It’s about more than words
How do you think the professionals who work with your child see you? What do you think their first thought is when you walk through the door?
Now think about how you want them to see you. Do you want them to see you as aggressive or assertive? As a team player or a loner? As a strong advocate who is reasonable and open to input from others?
Your tone of voice, your facial expressions, and your actions often have more to do with how you are perceived than what you actually say. To be perceived the way you want to be, you need to also manage these aspects of your non-verbal communication. Also see 3 Tips for Partnering with Your Child's School.
Things to practice
- As a parent you are the expert on your child, but you also need input from the professionals who work with your child. Learn to listen and learn from those professionals, then create plans for progress together.
- Consider making a video to share your vision of your child, his present abilities and where you hope he’s headed. Your video can show what your child does at home that he’s not doing at school. This can help your team members see your child as you do. Also see Use Facts to Advocate for Your Child and Speak Up for Your Child.
- Make it easy for professionals to tell you the truth, whether it’s good or bad. How you respond will either encourage or discourage them in being honest with you about what they observe of your child. Remember, “don’t punish the messenger.”
- In their book From Emotions to Advocacy, authors Pete and Pam Wright encourage parents to treat their interactions with special education professionals as if they were business encounters. You might try to see if this approach works for you.
By Rosemary Alexander, PhD, Texas Parent to Parent (www.txp2p.org)