Advocacy is an art. How you approach conflicts, situations, and people makes a huge difference on how things work out. Advocacy demands that you are calm, intentional, and collaborative in every situation. You get more bees with honey is a saying worth remembering when advocating. In other words, no matter what, always be kind. How you make your child feel, their teacher, that doctor, their friends will dictate how well you are doing your job as an advocate. Being respectful and reasonable always works to make others feel good.
Not only must parents respect their children, they also need to respect the people surrounding their children. Even if you disagree with someone, to communicate effectively, respect is required. Respect comes in different forms. The way you address someone. When and how you reach out to others. Your tone of voice. The time you give to really listen to others’ points of views. Your non-verbal behaviors. Manners. Be mindful of how you can show respect to others whilst advocating for your precious child.
Connect with your Child
Not always as easy as it sounds, especially if you have a teen. Even harder when your child’s behaviors make you feel upset or even angry. But remember you are the parent. The adult in the room. In order to really help your child, no matter their age, you need to listen to them. Creating an atmosphere of trust and a place your child can feel safe to share their feelings is paramount. How can you truly advocate for someone when you do not know what they feel, think, and want? Creating this open atmosphere takes work, self-reflection, and patience but is well worth it. Along the way, you will be growing and buttressing your connection with your child; that’s a win-win.
Educate: Yourself and Others
In order to advocate you must become fluent in your child. If they have anxiety, reading about how anxiety can look, how best to manage anxiety, and different treatment options is key. Connecting with your child about their experience with anxiety, and identifying what types of issues can be masked as anxiety: these are the backbone of what you become educated in. In order to best help you child with whatever they need help with, you become an expert in that subject. Part of advocacy is sharing knowledge about your child. Back to the anxiety example, if you daughter struggles with anxiety at school, sharing her unique experience of anxiety with her teachers is advocacy. Explaining what type of strategies help her when she is anxious is your role as an advocate. Think of it as helping others to become fluent in your child.
Your child lives in a community. Their family community. Their school community. Their friend community. Their extracurricular community. Their mental health community. Their religious community. Bringing all these communities together is advocacy. Take that anxious example again. If this young lady is anxious at school, she is also anxious at soccer. At youth group. With friends on the weekends. At her therapist’s office. Your job is to work together with all these communities to educate, stand up for your daughter, and listen to other points of views and suggestions. You collaborate with your daughter’s communities to help her be her best self. As an advocate, you create a solid and supportive team to stand behind and besides your daughter.
Bring a Friend
Going to an IEP to advocate for your child? Then bring a friend. Going to your child’s first visit with a new Psychiatrist? Bring a friend. Going to an adoption support group? Bring a friend. Going to a parent-teacher conference? Bring a friend. You get the idea. Why? Because having support as an advocate allows you to be a better advocate. That friend may not even say a word but maybe they will help you recall a difficult conversation at the IEP later on. Perhaps that friend shares their unique perspective about your child at the Psychiatrist’s office that helps that professional see your child in a useful way. Maybe you get sad at the adoption support group and your friend gently lays their hand upon your shoulder as you wipe away your tears. Advocacy is hard work. Share that burden with a friend.
Sense of Humor
This is the most important element of parenting, life, and certainly advocacy. Laughter truly is the best medicine. Accessing your sense of humor will always help you diffuse tense situations.
“A sense of humor is the best indicator that you will recover; it is often the best indicator that people will love you. Sustain that and you have hope.” ―