Advocating for Your Child

In working with families, including my own, sometimes I encourage parents to advocate for their kids in school or in the community.  At other times, parents also have to be firm with their kids to teach them life lessons.  Much of the time, managing the balance is the hard part.  It’s hard to see your child cry, but as a parent, you can’t always make things better for kids.  They need to feel uncomfortable in order to make changes that they might need to make.  So how to you know when to advocate, and when to allow natural consequences.

Let’s talk about helping your kids in school to start.  During my undergraduate degree, I studied elementary education, and focused on special education.  I understood IEPs (individual education plans), 504 plans, and other options for kids in school.  I helped parents advocate for their kids in school, when the kids needed more help, or testing related to performance and learning disabilities.  I also helped parents set limits with kids who just didn’t want to do the work.  One of the hardest things to determine is whether the child is struggling due to motivation or struggling due to learning issues.  The school has a responsibility to provide support that is appropriate for the child, but if the issues are behavioral, the interventions need to both at home and at school.  Parents need to be able to hold their child accountable, but also to have empathy and balance.

Understanding the difference between learning issues and behavior is important when thinking about advocating for your child.  Learning issues can lead to behavioral issues, so keeping track is important when you try to figure out the difference.  That means parents have to be involved and paying attention, and not just a little, but a lot.  Checking homework, checking for understanding, and keeping in touch with teachers become primary to understanding the issues and helping your child in a way that will be helpful for them.  Parents can’t just ask their kids if they finished their homework, they have to see it.  They can’t just ask their kids how they are doing, they need to be involved.  They can’t just think it’s the teachers fault, they have to work with the school to find the answers.

Whether it’s school, or other community activities, parents need to be involved.  They need to have good communication with their kids, ask questions, and pay attention.   Blaming other’s for your child’s issues isn’t helpful to you kids, and won’t help solve the problem.  You need to be able to support them and help them learn how to navigate the world, not make excuses.  That helps them learn the lessons they need to learn.  Equally as important, you have to be supportive and a cheerleader when they are doing well.  Once again, it’s a delicate balance as you help your child to become the best they can be.

So as you think about when to advocate for your child, get all the information that you need.   Work with them so you can find out more about what they need and the problems that they are facing.  They need you to have that information so you can hold them accountable, but also advocate for what they need.  As a parent, you just want you kids to be happy.  This is a part of helping them, and you, to be happy for life.