Advocating for Your Child

Advocating for Your Child

I don’t enjoy confrontation.  I probably should have thought of that before becoming a trial lawyer.  In recent years, I’ve had to wear my “tough chat” hat more than I would like.  I’m a mom, which by itself requires big girl pants, and I have some extra labels too: I’m a single mom, a mom to kids in foster care, a mom to kids with trauma, and a mom to kids with high / special needs.  Which means I make a LOT of phone calls!

Today, I want to share five tips for advocating (for your kiddos, or just in general).  The goal is low drama, productive communication where everyone wins.  For these tips, I’m using this hypothetical scenario as an example: Sammy, my imaginary four-year-old, is having recurring episodes where he “goes away” and stares into space for 30-90 seconds without moving or blinking.  We’re working towards a diagnosis, but I feel like I’m getting the run-around between doctors and therapists and social workers.

  1. Advocating vs. informing.  When having tough conversations, start with the goal.  Are you trying to inform someone of the facts they don’t know?  Or are you advocating for a specific outcome?  Write your goal down.  If I am calling to tell his neurologist about a new episode, that’s informing, and I can take a casual tone and just relay facts without emotion or agenda.  “Hi Dr. X, Sammy had this episode yesterday.  It was 45 seconds long, and he didn’t blink or move for that long.  I tried tapping him, calling his name and waving a toy in front of his face.”  Once I inform the doctor, that is all I need to do.  Or, if I’m calling to ask for our appointment to be moved up by a month so we can be seen earlier, I’m advocating, and I take a more direct tone, explain facts but also make a quick argument for why I need an earlier appointment.  I would add to the above call, “Based on this recent episode, I think Sammy needs to be seen at your first availability and we can come in anytime.”  Rule of thumb: informing is better if it is objective (just the facts) and without emotion.  Advocating adds emotion and subjective words (opinion).
  2. Keep it brief.  Shorter is always better.  No matter who you are communicating with (teacher, doctor, social worker, boss, insurance person, babysitter), keep it short and sweet.  The problem is mega to you and likely very small to the other person.  Respect their time by keeping your communication to the bare minimum.
  3. Communicate in writing.  Whenever possible, communicate in writing.  This encourages clarity and allows you to reference back to it if someone disagrees.  When I have phone conversations that might be important later, I write a brief summary in an email and send it to that person.  Keep it light, something like “Here’s a quick recap of our conversation to make sure we’re on the same page. Thanks for talking!”  That way, the other person can respond in writing if you recall the conversation differently. If you don’t have their email, keep a personal log of phone conversations.
  4. Ask for what you need.  Going back to the conversation in #1, I would wrap up the conversation with a very specific ask.  “Would you put Sammy on your cancellation list for the first available appointment?” or “If we came in Monday at 8 am could the doctor fit us in sometime that morning?”  Often, I expect others to magically understand what I am asking for when I haven’t asked.  Always end your tough conversations with a very specific ask, something that requires the other person to say yes or no.  If the person refuses to say yes or no, ask again or rephrase.  For example, if the scheduler responded to me “I don’t think the doctor has any openings this week,” I might respond “Yes, I know the doctor is very busy.  I would really appreciate being on the cancellation list. Would you add me?”
  5. Escalate only when necessary.  It seems to me that we get a certain number of “tough asks” with each audience.  When I first became a foster parent, I cried wolf a LOT.  Every surprise was worthy of an email to the whole team.  Every twist in the case was worth a week of anxiety and tears.  It helps me to have a high bar for my reaction, and to imagine that I get maybe 1-2 favors from each person. I ask myself, “is this the conversation when I want to call in a favor?”  If I have an appointment with the doctor in a week, I probably don’t need to escalate by asking to talk to the scheduler’s supervisor or a nurse. But if I think someone called in the wrong medication for my child, and the nurse is being dismissive, I definitely want to ask to talk to the doctor or another nurse.  Escalation is a tool but cannot be overused.  Assume everyone will do their best to help you when you are nice, calm, and objective.  If they won’t, consider if it’s worth escalating to the next step.

As moms, we are supposed to advocate for our children – it’s what we do. While confrontation may be uncomfortable, sometimes it’s the best step to give our children what they deserve. Even so, there’s a fine line between advocating for our little ones and creating unnecessary conflict in the situation and stress for ourselves. Hopefully these tips I’ve learned will help you advocate for your babies with strength and grace.

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