As a parent, there may be times when you may need to advocate on behalf of your child. Advocating for your child means that you work with other adults in your child’s life to ensure that they are getting the support they need. Cultivating strong and healthy attachments with your child helps you learn about and understand your child’s personality, strengths, and needs. Therefore, you are probably the best person to advocate for them when needed.
Advocating for your child can take place in different settings and with different people. It can be you letting your child’s doctor know that you are concerned about your child not meeting a developmental milestone, communicating your concerns to a teacher or counselor in your child’s school because your child is struggling with a specific subject, or speaking with your child’s coach or extracurricular advisor to ensure your child is fitting in with their peers. So, how do you actually advocate for your child? There are a few steps you can take to ensure you are ready and able to be there for them, regardless of the situation. Each step, listed below, includes a scenario that illustrates a situation and how you might handle that situation.
Identify the Question or Concern
What questions or concerns do you have? Recognizing and understanding what the question is, or what the issue is, can help you identify the individual, or individuals, you need to talk to. As you think about what the situation is, write down your thoughts and questions.
Let’s look at a scenario:
Your baby is generally happy, but you notice that, after they eat, they seem to be grumpy and cry until they spit up. You aren’t sure if this is developmentally normal for them, but it is a concern for you. The information you see online is conflicting, and, if you look on social media, you encounter horror stories about other babies.
How to identify the question or concern:
You start to write down when this happens and how often it happens. This information will be useful when you speak to your baby’s pediatrician either at their next well visit or when you call the office.
Connect with Your Circle of Support
Your Circle of Support should consist of people with whom you are comfortable and to whom you can turn when you have questions or need support. Your Circle can include family, friends, other parents, coworkers, or health care providers. This circle will change and grow over time!
Once you identify who is in your Circle of Support, consider whom you could talk to about your questions and concerns. Bouncing your ideas off of someone you already trust can help you feel comfortable going forward and speaking up about an issue or concern you have with your child. You may even have people in your life who have gone through similar situations.
Let’s look at a scenario:
When your child has homework from English class, they cry and/or avoid doing their homework. On the other hand, when they have math homework, they are happy and enthusiastic to do it. However, lately, you have noticed that your child’s math homework has expanded, and it includes more word problems. Your child is, now, starting to avoid doing that homework as well.
How to connect with your Circle of Support:
At this point, getting the homework done is becoming a struggle and has created a point of conflict for the entire family. You think about your Circle of Support and see that some of your friends have children around the same age, so you reach out to them and ask how their children are handling their homework. One of your friends had a similar issue with their eldest child, so you begin to chat and connect with them. Knowing that someone else is going through or has gone through the same challenge can provide you with reassurance and possible advice!
Identify and Connect with an Appropriate Contact
The next step is to figure out whom you need to contact, and, then, you need to reach out to this person or persons. You may need to use community resources, contact people in your Circle of Support, or connect with professionals at your child’s school or childcare facility to help you find the person who can best help you and your child. Contacting this person for their help may be uncomfortable for you, especially if you don’t know them. However, remember, it is okay for you to reach out, it is okay for you to ask questions, and it is okay for you to speak up for your child! In fact, it is vitally important that you do so!
Remember, your child is watching you as you speak up and advocate for them, so they are learning how to advocate for themself!
Try to approach the individual, who you feel can help you and your child, with an open and curious point of view. You should be ready to objectively listen to this person and their ideas. In using this approach, you will be able to better create the connection and foster mutual respect between you and the person you are connecting with. Establishing this relationship will help you and your child move forward. Professionals like doctors, teachers, and school support staff are there to help you and your child! By forming a positive connection and working together, everyone can help your child get the support they need.
Let’s look at a scenario:
After talking with some of the other adults in your child’s life, you have decided that you believe your child should have a developmental screening.
How to identify and connect with an appropriate contact:
You aren’t sure whom you should contact, so you speak with your child’s preschool teacher who directs you to a community program that does this type of screening. Although you are nervous, you connect with them, and, once you convey your concerns, they assign you to a case manager who will help you navigate the screening and any services your child may need.
Take Care of Yourself
These situations may create a lot of stress. Remember, take a deep breath, keep calm, know your limits, and make sure you acknowledge how you feel. Continue to use your Circle of Support as you navigate this challenging time.
Let’s look at a scenario:
After meeting with the school counselor about your child, who is having challenges interacting socially with children in their classroom, you feel stressed.
How to take care of yourself:
Before engaging with other adults regarding this challenge, you could take a few minutes to yourself and listen to your favorite music. Take some deep breaths to help you calm down and unwind. Hopefully, you begin to feel more relaxed and better able to process your thoughts and questions as you prepare to meet with the school counselor.
To learn more about mindful strategies to stay calm and take care of yourself, see Breathe to Thrive.
Know Your and Your Child’s Rights
If, for some reason, you aren’t getting the answers you need and still have questions about what rights your child or you may have, there are federal and state regulations and laws that cover you and your child. You can find your state’s Department of Education website here.
If your family is military affiliated, you and your child may have a unique set of circumstances that might be influencing your situation. Information about your rights and available resources can be found here.
If you or your child has a disability, information regarding civil rights and discrimination can be found here. Knowing what rights, you and your child have can help you navigate challenges and concerns, and you can still ensure your child receives the support they need.
You are in a position to be your child’s best and strongest advocate. Speaking up may feel uncomfortable at first; however, you are advocating for your child and showing your child that using your voice is necessary and important, and, consequently, your child will learn to use their voice for themself and those they care about!
Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness at Penn State. (2016). Breathe to thrive. Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness at Penn State. https://thrive.psu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Breathe-to-THRIVE.pdf
Department of Defense Education Activity. (2021, January 05). Parent resources. https://www.dodea.edu/parents/index.cfm
U.S. Department of Education. (2021, August 25). State contacts. https://www2.ed.gov/about/contacts/state/index.html?src=ov
U.S. Department of Education. (2022, January 16). Protecting students overview. https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/frontpage/pro-students/protectingstudents.html