How to Support and Advocate for a Child Facing Challenges at School
The school year can come with many challenges. For some parents and caregivers, your child’s teacher may be pointing out the ways they are struggling—with things like behavioral or emotional difficulties, or even work refusal. In those instances, here are eight ways to be an advocate for your child, while also supporting their teacher.
1. Remember that your child’s teacher is also their advocate.
Most of the time, teachers are doing everything in their power to help their students adjust and feel successful in their new classroom. When teachers feel supported by you, the parents/ guardians, they feel more empowered to continue exploring alternate routes in supporting your child.
2. Consider the classroom environment.
While many classrooms in the U.S. are making strides toward more inclusive experiences, much of what we picture as a “typical classroom” involves rows of student desks, a whiteboard and a teacher’s desk. Does your child’s classroom offer alternate options for sitting? Are students allowed to stand while working? Is there a place within the classroom for students to go to when they feel dysregulated? Does the school provide various tools to help diverse learners do so in a way that works best for them? There is no “one size fits all,” but learning about what the current classroom environment looks like and determining your own child’s learning and sensory profiles can help you pinpoint the tools to provide for both your child and their teacher.
Visit the Child Mind Institute to learn more about sensory processing concerns.
"YOUR CHILD’S TEACHER IS ONE OF THE PEOPLE WHO SPENDS THE MOST TIME WITH THEM AND, JUST LIKE YOU, THEY HAVE THEIR BEST INTEREST AT HEART."
3. Consider whether expectations are developmentally appropriate.
There are many reasons why developmental milestones can be important to keep in mind. They can help you ensure your child is meeting the expectations of their age group, tell you whether they might need some help catching up or may be struggling to stay engaged due to being ahead of classmates—or even point out areas where significant delays may be present, for which early intervention can be especially helpful.Visit the CDC website to find tips for fostering developmentally-appropriate expectations.
4. Partner with their teacher to present a united front.
Your child’s teacher is one of the people who spends the most time with them and, just like you, they have their best interest at heart. Partner with the teacher to present a united front to your child. Note to your child that you and their teacher are working together to help make school feel easier.
5. Utilize your school’s support services to come up with a plan.
Almost all schools have some sort of student support system; the level of support and number of staff members dedicated to these duties often varies based on the district (if it’s public) and school (private). Public schools do tend to have a more robust team in place and will have a system designed to help. In most schools, a learning specialist, counselor or other support team member will be able to work with you and your child’s teacher to come up with an actionable plan. Keep in mind that these services can be limited, and external support may be required.
"BY APPROACHING YOUR CHILD IN A NONJUDGMENTAL, OPEN WAY, YOU MAY BE ABLE TO GAIN A GLIMPSE OF WHAT THEIR DAY IS LIKE, AND WHICH PARTS ARE MORE CHALLENGING FOR THEM."
6. Consider if external services are needed.
While schools do have student support systems in place, these services are often limited to short-term, solution-focused interventions. For those who have greater needs (such as persistent anxiety), consider seeking out the support of a licensed professional. Schools are often open to partnering with those external providers in order to provide a consistent treatment approach for the student.
7. Talk with your child about their day.
Instead of asking them about the “good” and “bad” parts of their day, ask questions such as, “What parts of your day felt really easy today?” and “What parts of your day felt harder than you expected?” By approaching your child in a nonjudgmental, open way, you may be able to gain a glimpse of what their day is like, and which parts are more challenging for them.
8. Ensure you are reinforcing to your child that they are not a “bad kid.”
You can phrase these discussions along the lines of, “School is feeling hard for you right now. Grown-ups are going to figure out what is feeling so hard and how we can make it easier. You are learning, and it WILL get better. You are a good kid, even if a grown-up is mad at you”.