Getting the best out of your professional is the title of a workshop I developed for parents like me who have children with additional needs. Some people, particularly practitioners, may wince at the title. Yet families like mine are often referred to as clients, case-load or service-users. Seeing the table turned shines an interesting light on how impersonal and manipulative such language sounds.
#1 Don’t shout
I know this can be pretty tricky some times. When emotions are raw, real and brimming above the surface all you want to do is be heard. It is even harder to keep the volume down when it feels as though your voice is being drown out or discarded. But shouting rarely works and mostly allows a professional to roll their eyes and label us as a ‘difficult parent’.
Take a deep breath. Remember your yoga (like you get time for yoga!) and concentrate on explaining yourself in a different way if the message isn’t getting through.
Even after telephone conversations, follow up interactions with your professional with a short email. This creates a trail of what has been said, by whom and when. Should you need to complain to take things further you then have evidence of when deadlines were missed or messages unclear.
#3 Keep your eye on the end game
Sometimes, it is really easy to get caught up in an argument over something that at the end of the day will make no difference to life in the long run. You may have a point or the moral high ground but it is important to decide if fighting this fight is going to give you the end result you need. And try not to lose sight of the fact that whatever the issue, the end game usually involves needing to work with the professional for a very long time in the future.
#4 Don’t be afraid to show or express emotion
We can’t expect professionals to guess what life is like or how we are struggling unless we tell them. I know this amplifies our vulnerability and makes it even harder when we are rejected (I relived that the hard way this week). But sharing your emotional reaction to a professional about what is happening in your life, helps them remember this is all about people’s lives not targets and budgets.
#5 Be specific
Give your professional clear and specific guidelines with timescales and action points. Let it be clear to everyone involved what you are hoping or expecting to happen so this can be adjusted if necessary.
#6 Assume competence
I know some people are rubbish aren’t very good at their job. But you have to admit we all have bad days, we all make mistakes and the majority of professionals working in the public sector do so because they care. Most professionals want to improve people’s lives; give them the benefit of the doubt.
#7 Look after yourself
Complaining, fighting, emailing and telephoning on behalf of our children is emotionally exhausting. The actual physical work required doesn’t quantify the toll it takes on our well-being. I often leave an email from a professional in my inbox until I know I have the head space to read it, and then it is likely to be days before I respond. The bottom line is the best thing for your child is you not sitting in the corner rocking and crying. So do what is needed to create opportunities for self-care and space (pot/kettle).*
I can’t say I’m really an expert
Only that I have had over a decade of having practitioners of every shape and flavour come in to my home and tell me how to do things. My filing cabinet and laptop both have ‘complaints’ folders because it seems fighting is the nature of having a child with additional needs (as I’ve written before here and here and here). I regularly quote section such and such or legislation and statutory duties in emails. Yet, I have also been that under-resourced, frustrated professional, trying to do my best for my patients. So, I guess you could say I have the perspective of both sides of the bed.
*I know this is a vicious cycle. Getting help is what stops the rocking but fighting to get the help is rocking inducing!