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Advocating for Your Child – Get Out Your Honey Shoes

In my last blog post, I provided tips for how to choose a school for your food allergic/Celiac child.  However, that was only step 1 of an advocating process that will be ongoing as long as you are involved with making decisions for the well-being of your child.

Even when things are going well in your child’s learning environment, the relationship you build now goes a long way towards future interactions.  Because bumps WILL happen along the way:  the teacher you normally love who plans a lesson that excludes your child or the principal who won’t let you go on the camping trip with your allergic child because other parents feel you’re getting special treatment.  I’ve encountered both personally.

So first things first, this all boils down to you and your attitude.  Yes, you.  So many of us have done full battle for years with our own families, daycare providers, children and even spouses, that we tend to go at this with a sledgehammer.  Put away the sledgehammer and get out the honey shoes.

  1. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
  2. Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.

These old proverbs have been repeated for centuries because they’re often true and apply to how you advocate for your child.

First, the honey:

  • Approach the teachers/caregivers of your child as partners in your desire to help keep your child safe.
  • Make appointments, ensure that there is time to educate and communicate your desires
  • Educate by speaking from your heart.  Allergic parents are motivated by fear – so be honest in that fear
  • Provide resources from an epi-pen trainer to pamphlets and printed safe foods lists so teachers don’t have to go digging
  • Approach one issue at a time (notwithstanding life-threatening situations)
  • Ask questions first in a quest for a solution.  You may or may not know the whole story.
  • Use “I” statements and avoid gross generalities, ie:  You always exclude my child
  • Be okay with the fact that your child will be treated differently.  You WANT your child to stand out – it may save their life

I’m certainly not suggesting that honey solves all problems but at least start there.  I’ve shared this beautiful letter many times over the years and I’ll share it again to help you get started (thanks to allergy mom Caroline Moassessi, otherwise known as The Grateful Foodie):

Next, the shoes:

  • Talk the problem over with the teacher first at an appointment (see point above), write emails later, DON’T post on social media.  How many times have your texts/emails/social media posts been misconstrued?  Talk, preferably in person, to get context.
  • Follow the process.  A problem with a teacher goes to the principal and, if that fails, the next step up the line of command.  Do this each time – starting at the top annoys everybody and makes you an adversary, not an advocate.
  • Bring the right people to meetings.  Parents should be there and formal advocates only if required.  Friends there for moral support, no.
  • Step back –  is what you’re asking for reasonable?  Maybe it works for you one-on-one with your child but would it work while you were hosting a birthday party for 30 children in a place where there are 20 other birthday parties of the same size going on (teaching is TOUGH)?

And as for that camping trip mentioned at the beginning of my post?  Frankly, my husband wasn’t thrilled to go on a trip with 150 ten to twelve year olds, no matter what else the other parents thought.  But he went after I went over the head of the principal – the only time I ever did so.  It all boiled down to this question that I asked the school district’s head of elementary schools when I phoned and asked her for her help:  “Which staff member will be taking the full responsibility for ensuring the safety of what our child will eat at a remote camp?”

Her response?  She said she thought the school was lucky to have parents who would go on a camping trip with their allergic child because they knew the issues far beyond what any staff member ever could.  She felt it was common sense that one of us should accompany our child.

Ideal, of course, but it might not have gone that way and then I would have gone farther.  Firmly, fairly, calmly and with conviction.  Be that advocate for your child.  They need you and they will learn from you how to advocate for themselves.  Priceless.

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