Not too long ago, a mom came to me for advice about an incident that happened at her child’s school. As we talked and worked out a strategy that I thought was best for her child, she suddenly turned to me, shocked and said, “Wow, I didn’t know I could do that!” I looked her square in her eyes and said, “Repeat after me, ‘As a parent, I have the right to appropriately and strategically advocate for my child.’”
After having similar conversations with other moms and dads, it dawned on me that not everyone feels empowered or educated enough to advocate for their children. One of my goals as I help parents across the country is to empower them as they raise their families.
I used the word ADVOCATE to share eight ways you can best support your children at school, playing sports, taking music lessons or any other activity that they participate in.
A: Attend Meetings
One of the best ways to advocate for your children is to SHOW UP! Attend meetings regularly. Become a familiar face at PTA meetings, parent teacher conferences and any other event that may impact your child. Volunteer and be an active parent at your child’s school. Also, as soon as you see an issue emerge, immediately request a meeting with the teacher, coach or administrator to address it. Don’t wait until the situation worsens.
D: Document, Document, Document
At the point a problem arises, it is important that you begin to keep clear notes of what is going on at every stage. Documentation done wrong or not at all can cause a big mess. Make sure your notes include the who, what, when, where, how and why—who you talked to, what you talked about, when you talked about it, where you had the conversation, how the issue will be resolved, and why this resolution was chosen. It may be helpful to create a template. Feel free to include screenshots and photos, if applicable.
V: Voice Your Concerns Appropriately and Clearly
I frequently coach parents about the importance of using appropriate tone of voice. Because I am a recovering yeller, I know firsthand how negatively voicing your feelings and concerns can be the demise of your personal and professional relationships. The same is true when it comes to advocating for your children with teachers, coaches, administrators, friends, siblings and other people who have contact with your children.
Here are my tone of voice commandments:
- Thou shall talk to people the way I want to be talked to.
- Thou shalt not yell or curse.
- Thou shalt not use patronizing or sarcastic or tones.
- Thou shalt not write emails in all capital letters.
O: Observe Their Behavior
As a parent, having the ability to accurately observe and assess what’s going on in your child’s life is so important. Never assume that a change in your child’s behavior, social circles and physical appearance is no big deal. Usually, those are tacit signs that something is wrong. Your child may be crying out for help without the tears. If you feel or observe that something is wrong, it probably is. Trust your gut.
C: Celebrate With Them
In our family we can find all kinds of reasons to have a cupcake party. We have celebrated losing baby teeth, memorizing multiplication tables, learning how to tie shoes, the first and last day of school. We have also celebrated having to make hard decisions, failed attempts at new hobbies and the loss of friends. My point here is that part of advocating for your children means being able to celebrate them through the good and finding the silver lining in the bad and ugly.
A: Affirm Who They Are
Don’t you just love when people give you compliments and tell you great things about yourself? Your children are no different. Advocating for your children also means affirming who they are. What does that mean? Be your child’s greatest cheerleader, not their biggest doubter.
- Tell your child how smart and amazing they are
- Encourage their gifts, talents and abilities
- Help them accomplish their goals
- Help strengthen their weaknesses
- Comfort them when they fail and fall
T: Teach Your Children
While it is important for you to appropriately and strategically advocate for your child, one of the best things you can do to set your children up for future success is to teach them how to advocate for themselves. Teach them:
- To respect themselves and others
- How and when to use their voice and stand up for themselves
- How to write professional letters, emails and other correspondence
E: Empower Them
Teaching your children to advocate for themselves is one thing, but empowering them to advocate for themselves is another. It can be hard to know when to let go, but you can’t empower them to advocate for themselves at school, on the playground, on the court or other places if you don’t give them permission or power to do it at home.
- Allow your children to properly and appropriately voice their opinion with you and their siblings.
- Show them that you respect who they are by not ignoring their concerns and opinions just because they are children.
- Consider putting your children on a debate team, or create mock debates in the home with siblings and friends.
Advocating for your children does not have to be an intimidating or daunting task. If a situation arises that you don’t feel equipped to handle, find a friend, expert or The Family Strategist™ to help advocate with you and for you and your children. Remember, you are not alone in parenthood.
Author Charlotte E. Avery is The Family Strategist™ with a Ph.D. in Motherhood who helps women go from overwhelmed to overjoyed in marriage, motherhood, and the marketplace. She is the wife of one, mom of seven and the owner of no pets.