Back to School Days with Special Medical Needs: Tips for Good Communication with Teachers and School Staff

Communicating well is a critical skill that many of us simply weren't born with. The good news is that communication skills can be easily learned.
 
When a child has special medical needs, effective communication skills are especially important. Here are some tips for starting the school year out right for your child and teachers alike.
 
1. Communicate upfront about your child's needs. In the first two blogs in our "Back to SchoolDays" series, we discussed how to initiate health care plans, 504 Plans and IEPs.
Before school starts, initiate a discussion about your child's needs with school staff. Be sure to document everything in writing, especially agreements that are made.
 
2. Request, don't demand. Some people go into a meeting with school staff with a long list of demands and an attitude that says, "Do it or else." We call this the Drill Sergeant approach. The approach you take will set the tone for both the current meeting and perhaps your relationship with the school for several years.
 
There is an art to being an effective advocate for your child; it takes a bit of finesse. You want to come through as firm but not demanding; friendly and cooperative but not a pushover; and as a team player. It can be a fine line at times.
 
It helps me to remember to "be assertive but not aggressive" and there's a big difference. Being aggressive is telling others what they have to do and is seldom effective. Being assertive is telling others what we need.

Aggressive: You need to move my kid away from that other kid who is coughing.
Assertive: I would appreciate it if you could move my son away from the kid who is coughing so he doesn’t get sick. 

Human nature says that when one demands, the other resists so aggression and demands don’t usually get us very far. However, sharing what we need and phrasing it politely will generally result in cooperation. Note that this is true with our kids and spouses, too.
 
Most teachers are eager to do what's right for your child within reason when asked nicely. Ask, discuss, negotiate and problem-solve.
 
3. Be aware of how your parenting style will affect your child at school. The  relationship between children, parents, teachers and school administrators is a very dynamic one. If you are hovering over your child like a turbo charged helicopter at school, it will affect your reputation and relationships with staff. This may also "trickle down" to your child in the classroom both with teachers and the other kids.
 
As unfair as it seems, teachers do form opinions about their students and, like all human beings, prefer some over others. Parents are definitely a part of this equation. It's human nature to go the extra mile for someone that you like. So, be likable. 
 
4. Be a problem-solver, not a finger pointer. When things go wrong, it's easy to get upset and blame teachers and classmates instead of looking at the role our child might have played in causing the problem. Remember, there are always two sides to every story.
 
When there is a problem at school, parents are best advised to use the very same collaborative problem solving skills they use with their kids as a Consultant Parent. Foster Cline, MD gives us the attitudes for Consultant Parents:
  • Use Choices, not Demands
  • Are Sad for, Not Mad at
  • Are Curious, not Blaming
  • Are Empathetic, not Excusing
  • Are Consequential, not Punitive
  • Are Caring, but not Rescuing
Read more about parenting styles in our booklet called "Parenting Children with Health Issues and Other Special Needs: Love and Logic Essentials for Raising Happy, Healthier Kids" by Foster W. Cline and Lisa C. Greene.
 
With a handful of effective communication skills, parents and teachers can be excellent partners in doing what is best for our children. This goes for the parent/doctor relationship as well.
 
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Lisa C. Greene is the mother of two children with cystic fibrosis, a certified parent coach, parenting educator, and public speaker. She is also the co-author with FosterCline, MD of the award-winning Love and Logic® book “Parenting Children with Health Issues.”   For more information, visit www.ParentingChildrenWithHealthIssues.com

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