Magazine article Work & Family Life

7 Smart Ways to Advocate for Your Child at School

Magazine article Work & Family Life

7 Smart Ways to Advocate for Your Child at School

Article excerpt

Your child comes home crying, "My teacher ripped up my paper. She said my writing looks like chicken scratches."

At a time like this, you might feel like marching into the principal's office and demanding that this teacher be fired. However, advocating for your child should not be viewed as a battle, but rather as a collaboration with the school to identify problems and forge workable solutions.

Throughout the school years, you'll need to address issues of concern and stand up for your child's rights, whether you're worried about an insensitive teacher, a class bully, or special learning needs. Here are seven golden rules of advocacy that apply in most school situations.

1 Address problems early on

Try to set up a short introductory talk with the teacher early in the school year. You might want to offer some insights into your child's strengths and weaknesses. For example, if your child is "chatty" or easily distracted, perhaps the teacher can seat him or her up front. Also share information about anything special that has happened at home such as a death in the family.

Discuss your willingness to get involved in classroom activities as well as any restrictions on your availability. Find out how to contact the teacher and tell him or her how you can be reached. Ask how much time your child is expected to spend on homework each night. Familiarize yourself with school and class rules.

2 Be a good listener

Listen carefully to what your child is telling you nonverbally as well as verbally. Acknowledge your child's feelings with hugs and sympathetic words, then gently question her or him to expand your understanding. Ask exactly what the teacher said. Don't make assumptions or ask leading questions because often children "tailor" their stories to please you or to get your attention. Role play: "I'll be you and you be Joey. Show me what he does."

If you sense that something is bothering your child but she or he does not want to talk about it, resist the urge to ask, "Is everything OK in school?" Instead, encourage a conversation with open-ended questions. Try asking: "What's your favorite thing about school this year?" "What's your least favorite thing?" "How is your new teacher different from your teacher last year?"

3 Stay calm

Don't reveal your anger or blame or belittle school staff or classmates in your child's presence. Be assertive but try to remain objective.

You don't want to "lose it" when a child or a teacher tells you something upsetting. The calmer you are, the easier it is to initiate change. At the same time, you'll be teaching your child valuable problem-solving skills.

Keep your child's age and temperament in mind when assessing a situation. Preschoolers may not be able to articulate what's bothering them, so it's likely to come out through sleep problems, thumbsucking or other regressive behavior. Between ages 6 and 8, when kids are particularly self-absorbed, they tend to take things personally and are likely to complain that the teacher doesn't like them. Between 8 and 11, you are likely to hear "it's not fair," and children may also be challenged by more demanding school work.

4 Talk to the teacher

If the teacher tells you something that surprises you, try not to be defensive. Say "That's unusual for my child. What do you think might be triggering it?" Ask "What can we do to help?"

Whether or not there is a specific problem, it always helps to explain what you are seeing at home and to ask if the teacher sees similar things happening in class. …

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