We all want our young children to mature into independent, self-sufficient teenagers, but whilst they are young they need us to give them a voice. They need us to stand up for them and communicate their needs. They need us to be their greatest advocate. Here are seven tips to help you advocate for your child.
Why a Highly Sensitive Child Needs Us to Speak for Them
In many cases your highly sensitive child (HSC) will not show their true emotion in the classroom. They wait until they get home and then melt down. A teacher can therefore be oblivious to the issues that your HSC face. It may take a long time for your HSC to build up the trust with a teacher that allows your HSC to show their real selves, if ever.
All young children need a parent to help them communicate with other adults. They need help to feel listened to. They need us to help them put how they feel into language that others will act upon.
Therefore, your voice speaking for them is vital if they are to flourish in any setting outside the home.
At the end of the day, you know your child better than any other person on the planet, and if you don’t advocate for them who will?
1. Be a Messenger
Really sit and listen to your HSC. If you are going to speak for them, make sure it is their message you are sharing. It’s easy as parents to fill in the gaps and make assumptions or jump to conclusions about why your child feels a certain way.
Try to see the world through your child’s eyes but ensure too that you translate those experiences for them. A HSC may take a flippant comment from a classmate to heart and tell you that they are being bullied. Probe deeper before you charge into school and start an emotional dialogue with a teacher.
Help your child to see a situation through different eyes but, when necessary, advocate for them with their view of the world in mind.
2. Know How to Work Within a System
If your child needs support in school, then you need to know where to go and how to get that assistance. Know what rights your child has to an evaluation and support services.
If your child is not eligible for support then your efforts can be better directed elsewhere, for your sake and your child’s. Fight for your child, but don’t drive yourself mad knocking your head against a brick wall.
Remember that red tape is a fact of life. Resources in the education system are limited.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions & Challenge
Being informed helps you advocate for your child. Ask the questions you need to ask in order to feel confident that you understand the situation your child is in. Prepare yourself for meeting with school heads or teachers, or with external support services.
Don’t be afraid to challenge assumptions. HSCs are often misread and misrepresented.
A great example is scoring low marks in a subject in school. As a parent you know your child is underperforming, but the teacher insists that your child needs to up their grades before more challenging work is set. (Ask me how I came up with this example!!)
Sometimes you need to go above and beyond to get your point across for your child – and you sometimes have to be THAT parent.
4. Build Partnerships with Others
The best way to advocate for your child is to build partnerships with others who are involved in the care of your child. That means short lines of communication with teachers for example.
A school usually wants the same outcome as you – but a teacher likely has responsibility for more students than they would like. The more you partner, the better you inform a teacher, the easier it is for a teacher to understand your child and their needs.
5. Learn to Be Comfortable Outside Your Comfort Zone
If you are highly sensitive yourself, and an introvert, you may find the role of advocate a weighty one. Being the advocate your HSC needs you to be may mean you need to step well outside the confines of your comfort zone.
You may need to respond on the spot – without processing and thinking about your answer. You may have to challenge and stand in the spotlight. You may have to fight your way though a maze of processes and people to get the outcome your child needs.
You need to get comfortable outside your comfort zone.
6. Offer Solutions
When you sit down at parent teacher conferences, or sit in meetings with external support services, come armed with potential solutions – and not just a list of problems.
Talk to your child and work out together what your HSC needs.
Even if you are not sure how to implement those solutions you’re half way there coming to meetings with potential ideas.
7. Educate Others
You may find yourself advocating for your child with extended family. They may misinterpret your HSCs’ behaviour, leaving you and your child upset and exasperated. Not everyone knows what highly sensitive is, or understands how a HSC feels or experiences the world.
Not every teacher has had experience with the idea of ‘highly sensitive’.
If you are lucky, the people around you will be open to learning more. These two books are excellent resources to help you on your mission to educate others about high sensitivity.
- Elaine Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Child has an excellent section for teachers.
2. Understanding the Highly Sensitive Child: Seeing an Overwhelming World through Their Eyes (My Highly Sensitive Child) by James Williams. This book is a brilliant read for extended family or teachers who don’t quite understand your HSC. It’s written to help them gain a view though a HSC’s eyes. If they don’t get it after reading this, then quite frankly they never will.