Fighting the good fight
Parents' top tips for managing conflict as you advocate for your child.
By GreatSchools Staff
It’s inevitable: If you’re a strong advocate for your child, you’re eventually going to clash with someone. It might be a teacher, the principal, or even your spouse.
The complexity, emotions, and energy involved in parenting a child with special needs can take a toll on you and your relationships with others. So it’s natural that misunderstandings and conflict will happen at some point.
We surveyed parents of children with learning and attention problems about conflict in their lives. More than a thousand responded to our survey, providing tried-and-true tips for dealing with discord.
You're probably familiar with some of the advice that follows — and you may be using many of the strategies described. Yet, if you're like most of us, you will benefit from frequent reminders to help you stay on track. And you might pick up some new ideas or insights to add to your relationship repertoire.
Savvy strategies to prevent conflict
The best way to handle conflict is to avoid it in the first place. We asked parents for tips for advocating in a way that encourages cooperation from their child's team, rather than consternation.
- Be prepared and be clear about your objective. Have evidence to illustrate why your child needs help. Give specific, concrete examples (of both the difficulty and the solutions).
- Have as much up-to-date data (testing, letters from professionals, teachers' statements) on your child before going into the meeting.
- Know what you and your child are (and are not) legally entitled to. Know the laws of IDEA and use them.
- Acknowledge whatever support the other person (such as the teacher) does give your child. Be respectful and empathetic; try to understand their perspective and challenges. "Let [teachers] realize that you understand the struggles involved with teaching, because you know how tough it is [to help your child] at home. Ask the teacher how you can support her," said Anne from Michigan.
- Be a team player; offer to do your part to help your child at home, and follow through. "Doing our share of the work … we follow our part of the IEP plan, make sure homework is completed, and attend IEP meetings," said Karen from Oklahoma.
- When you disagree, "find a piece you do agree with, or a piece you can positively acknowledge in some way," advised Teresa from Maryland.
- Make the relationship about more than just your child's problems. Get to know the parties involved in other types of situations (for example, by volunteering at the school).
- Keep your emotions in check; don't make it personal. When upset, "I try to slow down my 'short fuse' and rethink the situation," said Cricket, a mother from California.
- When all else fails, hire a professional (an advocate, attorney, etc.) to help you represent your child and his or her needs. At the very least, take someone (such as your spouse or a friend) with you to meetings.