How to advocate for your child

When a child isn’t able or prepared to advocate for himself, a parent is often the best person to speak on behalf of her child, no matter what the circumstance. Are you ready to step into those shoes?

The reality of parenting just doesn’t lend itself to a clear-cut job description but one thing is for sure: parents are on the frontline when it comes to advocating for a child. Nobody else is as qualified to speak on behalf of your child or as concerned about her well-being. So, how do you best advocate for the little ones in your life?

Advocacy, defined

Before you became a parent, you probably heard about the long hours you’d spend soothing unidentified ailments, the battle of wills you’d face in the teenage years and the endless amount of crucial decisions you’d have to make regarding their future. But, did anyone prepare you for the role of advocate? Probably not. Still, every parent is their child’s best spokesperson, so it makes sense to brush up on that skill. "Advocacy means to support, defend and/or speak on behalf of someone," says Laurie Gray, J.D., a child advocate and founder of Socratic Parenting. "As parents, our job is to nurture and support our children and empower them to become independent."

Read about 6 ways to advocate for your special needs child >>

Advocating effectively

Children most often need an advocate in the educational environment. "While parents can demand the best of themselves, they can only demand what is required of their children’s schools, and what is required will depend greatly on whether the child has special needs, falls within average intelligence ranges, or has exceptional talent or abilities in one or more subject matters," says Gray. She advises that, generally, there are three rules that will help a parent advocate most effectively:

Be solution oriented

Don’t just show up to criticize or blame. Look for win-win opportunities.

Educate yourself first

What is the issue at hand and how can you best represent your child’s interests.

Ask questions

The more open-ended questions you ask the more information you are likely to receive; better questions produce better answers.

Read: Is your child struggling at school? >>

Overcoming the roadblocks

"Parents who are angry and discourteous are less likely to be listened to than parents who remain calm, reasonable and persistent."

Like anything involved with parenting, advocacy isn’t always easy. In fact, there are a number of roadblocks that can, and probably will, stand in your way. "Intrafamilial division, when the father and mother want what’s best for their child but disagree on what that might be, leads to ineffective advocacy by both," says Gray. Parents also need to pay attention to the manner in which they advocate and the reality of their resources. "Parents who are angry and discourteous are less likely to be listened to than parents who remain calm, reasonable and persistent," she says.

Emotions can run high when a parent is in a situation that requires advocacy. Some situations are best suited for a subtle, more nuanced approach while others need an aggressive approach. Although the process can sometime be difficult, parents can proceed with confidence knowing that they truly know their children better than anyone else. Nobody is more qualified to advocate for a child than a parent.

Read more about your kids and education

7 Signs your child needs help in school
What type of learner is your child?
Are homework expectations realistic for our children?

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