According to “Merriam-Webster,” an advocate is “one who pleads the cause of another … one who defends … one who supports.” Your child or teen needs an advocate on his or her side—someone to plead, defend, and support him or her in the classroom, at the doctor’s office, and even within your home. And by design, that privilege has been entrusted to you. Children and teens may find it challenging to speak up for themselves, and more often than not, they do not even realize their need for additional support. It is important for you to seriously consider your role in advocating for your child, as it can impact almost every area of his or her life—from reaching his or her highest potentials and progressing at school to simply enjoying and thriving in everyday life. While not an exhaustive list, the following are a few steps you can take in advocating for your child.
Give yourself permission to advocate for your child or teen.
Understood, an organization that provides resources and support for those who learn differently, encourages parents to know that it is OK to advocate for your child: “It’s not disrespectful to share your concerns. Teachers want kids to do well. They know that families have a lot of helpful information to share.” This same thinking can be applied to a healthcare setting, in extracurricular activities, and in your church’s children’s or youth ministries.
Communicate with your child or teen.
Communication builds connection, and connection builds trust. In your efforts to better understand how you advocate well for your child or teen, it is important to talk with him or her. Before you can support your children or teens, you need to know what challenges or issues they are facing. This can be hard as sometimes your child or teen may not be able to articulate his or her needs, so you must put on your detective hat, paying closer attention to the times when he or she is thriving and to the times when he or she is dysregulated.
Gather your thoughts when advocating for your child or teen.
Whether it is a regular check-up with your child’s doctor or a parent-teacher conference at your teen’s school, it is integral to write out your thoughts or even speak with a trusted friend who can help you organize your questions and ideas. In doing so, this will help you keep your emotions in-check. It’s more than appropriate to show emotion or passion, but we must always do so with respect.
Build trusted relationships when you are advocating for your child or teen.
You will need allies when you are working to advocate for your children or teens. This could be a teacher or a school counselor. In regard to healthcare, Children’s Hospital Colorado recommends considering a child-life specialist who can help guide your child or teen through treatment and care, and in cases where a child-life specialist is not available, simply building a strong relationship with a nurse or practitioner on staff can make a difference.
Educate the professionals when advocating for your child or teen.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, trauma-informed care “is fundamentally relational care—the ability to form safe, stable, and nurturing relationships.” Trauma-informed, trauma-competent care is fundamental for children and teens who have experienced relational trauma. In some cases, your child or teen’s doctor or school faculty and staff may not be as acutely aware of the unique needs that trauma can produce. It’s critical for you to educate—with respect—those who are providing care for your child or teen about the unique, sometimes complex developmental and relational needs that are a result of past trauma.
Your child or teen needs an advocate on his or her side—someone to plead, defend, and support him or her in the classroom, at the doctor’s office, and even within your home. And as uncomfortable as it may be for you, it is imperative for you to step in as that advocate for your children and teens. Not only is it your responsibility, it is also a privilege that cannot be taken for granted, as it can impact almost every area of his or her life—from home life and relationships with friends to different settings, like school, healthcare, and even in your church community.