A guide to explaining a child’s needs to others and ensuring they are met
For nearly every parent, there comes a time when you will have to advocate for your child. Some parents will need to advocate for their children more often or in different ways than others.
If your child has a food allergy, physical health condition, mental health condition, or particular sensory needs, for example, you may find yourself advocating for your child frequently and in multiple settings. Unfortunately, there may be times when you child’s needs are not well understood or respected. Depending on the needs of your child, this can be dangerous at worst, and harmful at best.
What can you do to advocate for your child effectively? In this article, we will go over what it means to advocate for your child, ten tips parents can use throughout the process, and how to ensure that your child gets the support that they need.
First, what does it mean to advocate for your child? When you speak up, ask questions, or take steps to protect your child’s rights and best interests, you are advocating for your child. So, even if you think you’re new to this – you’re not! That said, some situations can be more challenging than others. Here are three common places parents might need to advocate for their children:
- In medical settings
- In educational settings
- With other family members
In all of these settings, you want to make sure that your child’s needs are met and understood, and you certainly want to ensure that your child is protected along the way. The tips in the next section will help you to feel confident in your ability to accomplish this.
Feeling confident and informed matters when it comes to advocating for your child. The tips below can help you to advocate for your child effectively and care for your family in the process. As you know, advocacy is a broad term, so use the approach that makes the most sense for your child’s goals.
Make sure that you have a specific and definable goal that you are advocating for. That way, you can make a clear request or clearly state a boundary held by your child with less room for misunderstanding. It will also help you to orient your focus on action steps and what you might need from others if you have a specific result in mind. An example of a specific and definable goal is, “get my child referred for ADHD testing.”
Advocating for your child can come with obstacles and frustration along the way. It is a common experience for people to struggle more with effective interpersonal communication when feeling frustrated, stressed, or upset. While it is important to honor your feelings and experiences, it is also important to make sure that you are able to communicate calmly and respectfully as you are working to get your child’s needs met. Try to remain mindful of how your tone, language, and approach may influence how others are perceiving or receiving your requests.
Of course, one of the most foundational things you must do as an advocate for your child is to gain a firm understanding of their rights. What this means may differ depending on your goal. For example, if you are working on getting your child a 504 plan, it is crucial to understand special education laws. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Whenever possible, make a request in writing. You want to make sure that there is documentation of your efforts, as it can help you meet your goals and overcome potential obstacles. It is also helpful to be able to refer back to specific dates, times, and individuals who have been involved in these requests.
In addition to keeping a written record of your own requests, maintain detailed documentation regarding any response to those requests. In the case that a request or accommodation is refused or denied, request a written explanation from the party responsible for making that decision. For example, let’s say that you are advocating for a child so that they can obtain medical testing, and their doctor refuses. In this instance, ask your child’s doctor to document their refusal and provide you with a written copy for your own records. Sometimes, this will encourage a provider to take more careful consideration of your request. In any case, do not let it stop you from pursuing medical testing.
It’s okay to be the squeaky wheel when it comes to advocating for children. Hopefully, it won’t often come to this, but if your child’s rights (including reasonable boundaries) are not honored by other people, make sure that you continue to speak up and stand your ground.
This might look like:
- Standing up to family members
- Reminding professionals of previously made requests
- Filing a complaint (e.g., submitting a complaint to the United States Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, if a teacher is not following your child’s 504 plan)
It is possible to be kind yet firm.
Be a team player. Assuming the other party (for example, a school district representative) is reasonable and doing their best, working together is likely the best way to meet your goal. Use active listening skills when you talk to others about the case, and try to make sure that you have the same end goal in mind. Bring up any concerns or counterpoints respectfully, and be willing to have discussions about the other’s perspective.
If you feel that you aren’t being respected by the person you are working with, or if they aren’t listening to what you know to be true (e.g., educational laws, need for medical evaluations), do not hesitate to seek a second opinion, ask to speak with someone else, or continue pushing.
Again, it’s okay to be the squeaky wheel if you have to, but it is important to be open and reasonable.
In addition to knowing your child’s rights, keeping a written record of anything that will help you get your child’s needs met, and making your own requests in writing, backup and support from other people can be crucial. In many cases, this will look like collaborating with a medical professional or another adult in your child’s life. For example, getting documentation from a child’s doctor so that their needs are met at school, or asking a medical professional to otherwise engage with school professionals to ensure their request is taken seriously. In some instances, it can mean getting legal help. Either way, it is a positive thing to have others on your side.
In many instances, you will need to advocate for your child privately, without your child present. Consider whether there’s information or a conversation your child does not need to hear. For example, if there is a topic you do not want your child’s doctor to discuss in front of them (such as BMI in the case of eating disorders), it is usually best to call your child’s provider without your child in the room or meet one-on-one. It is within your rights to request that a meeting be held without your child present, if you feel that it would be harmful or unproductive to include your child given the nature of the information to be discussed.
10. Make sure that you and your child have support
The process of advocacy can be lengthy and stressful. If a child is waiting on accommodations or supports necessary to address difficulties they are currently facing, it can cause strain on the child, parents, and family unit as a whole until those supports are put in place.
It is normal to find yourself feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or emotional while going through this process with your child. It is critical that you as a parent are able to care for your own well-being during this time, and that you have a space where you can talk about your experiences. Parents can seek help in the form of peer support (e.g., parent support groups), a mental health professional, or someone else. Self-care is vital at this time.
Look for the signs that your child might need extra support if they don’t have it already. For example, an uptick in behavioral problems, feelings of anxiety, or feelings of depression. If you notice these signs, seeking help for your child in the form of mental health therapy can be valuable.
If you are looking for mental health support for your child, you’re in the right place. Behaven Kids offers a range of evidence-based treatment programs and therapies, including Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Child-Parent Psychotherapy. We understand that no two children or families are alike. During the admissions process, we will help you find the right treatment option and professional(s) for your child.
Behaven Kids has multiple locations in Nebraska. If you’re interested in our services, go to our admissions page to learn more or call us at 1-403-926-4373.
You can also contact Behaven Kids or find a location here.