So often it’s really tricky to know exactly how to Advocate successfully for your child. It’s tricky because you don’t know weather you should go in strong or soft, are you being aggressive or perceived to be too weak? What do you say and how do you say it? How do you get the teacher or the medical staff on board with you?
A lot of the success you have as an Advocate for your child will come from planning, preparation, knowledge and confidence. Sometimes that confidence takes a long time to grow and if you have had some bad experiences and knock backs, you might lack the confidence needed. I wanted to share with you my top 5 Tips to help you advocate successfully for your child.
- Most important. Remember, you are your child’s expert and the CEO of your Special Needs family. I really want you to see yourself in that position in your minds eye. It might sound daft but imagine you are the CEO of a big company. If you watch Suits, imagine you are Jessica Pearson or Harvey Specter or maybe you like Billions with Damian Lewis who plays the Billionaire, Bobby Axelrod. Whoever it is, see yourself with their confidence and knowledge about their subject. You have all the knowledge needed about your child. No-one on this earth knows them better. If it helps to dress in a particular outfit or paint your nails or wear a suit, then do it. Ultimately, my belief is that it shouldn’t matter how you dress, the confidence will come from within and shine out but if it helps, do it. Don’t doubt yourself. You wont know what the person or people you are going to be meeting with will say or what their responses will be but you do know you.
- Having compassion, empathy and understanding doesn’t make you weak. I don’t want you to feel that by speaking nicely and having understanding makes you less of an Advocate. If anything, it makes you better. When you can see all sides, yours, your child’s, the budget constraints and the possibilities or lack of and the fact that the Professionals you are meeting with are also human and have their own stuff to deal with, you can plan your Well Formed Outcomes more effectively. You can check out my tips on planning your Well Formed Outcomes on my website. You can approach the challenge more realistically and pragmatically and less emotionally. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you wont cry in meetings. You probably have and probably will again. I know I have. You are human and we love our children deeply which is why we spend so much time and energy advocating for what they need. We want to help them achieve their potential in spite of their Special Needs.
- Don’t go into a meeting or a phone call in anger. You might feel angry but use that emotion to help propel you, not hinder you. Use it to give you energy. Imagine if you were a bank teller and you called the next person in the line to come to your desk. Immediately they started shouting at you, demanding you sort out the problem with their account. Their tone was aggressive and desperate. Would you want to help them or would you want to call security? Personally, I would be calling security. That person possibly had their account frozen and didn’t know why. They were stressed because they couldn’t take any money out to pay a debt they had so they were worried, upset and angry at the injustice. This is, of course, all just a made up scenario but one that does happen. My Dad used to work in a bank in London in the 1980’s and some of the customers would bang on the glass doors after closing time and shout abuse at the staff because they were desperate and wanted help and money. I know the police used to be called regularly. It was frightening for the staff. Now, I’m not suggesting that you would go this far but at times, the injustice you might feel about your lot in life or the struggles of your child and the lack of support or provision can make you feel angry, hurt and desperate. I have been there on numerous occasions. We don’t want to frighten away the medical or educational professional who potentially has the power to help and support us. We don’t want to put them on the back foot before asking for their help. Think about why you should make ‘friends’ with your child’s Special Needs professionals. You can read more about that on my website, in the link on this blog or go back and listen to episode one of the CEO of My Special Needs Family Podcast.
- Difficult Parents. Being seen as a ‘difficult parent’ by teachers, therapists or medical professionals can feel hurtful. You and I both know that we are not being difficult, we have a really tough, exhausting and overwhelming job to do. You are the parent who has to find the strength on a daily basis to advocate for your child’s needs. You want them to have the most successful and enjoyable life possible, often against huge odds. You want your child to reach their potential at whatever level they can. You carry the burden of finding the money for therapy and equipment or treatment and the fear of who will care for your child if you die or have a long term illness. The pressure can be intoxicating. My advice is let that label go. I think the difficult parent label gets banded about by professionals who are often overworked, overstretched and fearful of any extra work or pressure. If you get your confidence levels up, get prepared and organised and have a strong but open attitude when you go into meetings, you can work towards a good working relationship with your child’s professionals. This will create a situation where they like you, buy into your family story and want to help you. There is a great piece written by a Mum and ex Professional about difficult parents in the sen Magazine. Click here to read.
- Be assertive not aggressive. Be assertive in your approach. I’ve talked about not starting off being angry in your communication style but what’s the difference between being assertive and aggressive? Assertiveness is based on balance. You can be forthright and confident about what you want and need while still considering the abilities and constraints of the other person. Being assertive is about being self assured (remember, you are your child’s expert) and being able to get your point across firmly, fairly and with empathy. Being aggressive is based on winning. When asking for and doing only what is in your best interest, regardless of the feelings and capabilities of the other person/professional, you can be seen as pushy and difficult. Your goal is to build a good working relationship with your child’s Special Needs Professionals so that they can support you in Advocating for your child’s needs. Getting the balance can take practice but in my experience it generates far more success.
You are your child’s expert. The CEO of your Special Needs Family. Having empathy, compassion and understanding does not make you a weak Advocate. Plan, prepare and research before meetings to help increase your confidence levels. Work out your Well Formed Outcomes in advance. Let go of the ‘difficult parent’ label. Don’t worry if you think you have been given it. You know exactly what kind parent you are. Remove the anger from the conversations and build good working relationships with your child’s Special Needs Professionals by being assertive, not aggressive.
You’ve got this!
What to do next…
This topic is part of the Getting Yourself Heard, Become A Velvet Bulldozer Workshop. The next live event is going to be held in Leamington Spa on February 28th. Here is a link to booking your ticket.
If you can’t join me on a live workshop (click here to learn more about, What Is a Live Workshop) you will very soon be able to take part on-line. My on-line learning course – Getting Your Voice Heard, is almost ready for launch. To stay up to date, drop me a line, like my facebook page and sign up for my Mentoring Newsletter
You can also check out my website www.aimeemannmentoring.com for lots more resources and join my Facebook community of SEN Parents for regular mentoring and support. Search for CEO of My Special Needs Family and request to join. If you prefer to listen to your content, click on the Podcast image below and you can subscribe to make sure you don’t miss the weekly edition. xx