Advocating for Your Struggling Child

POSTED BY on March 22, 2023

Josh's mom was worried about him starting kindergarten. At the age of three he had fallen out of a treehouse and was in a coma for 7 hours. Coming out of ICU and eventually going home, he wasn't the same easy-going child that had gone to a playdate with some friends that fateful day. Josh's mom shared her concerns with the kindergarten teacher and that began the essential partnership between school and home that helped Josh be a successful student. A partnership between school and home is critical for student success. "Students whose families are engaged exhibit faster rates of literacy acquisition, earn higher grades and test scores, adapt better to school and attend more regularly, and graduate and go on to higher education."1

Schools and districts have resources for students who are struggling in the school setting.

Sometimes parents need to go beyond the normal educator/parent relationship when the day-to-day activity of school is not working for their student. Every struggling child needs someone willing to step up and advocate for them. What can you do when your child does not want to go to school? Licensed Clinical therapist, Jenny Howe, helps develop school plans to get everyone on the same page. She stresses the importance of allowing our students to emotionally process their problems and find solutions. Threats and consequences might get the behavior you want, but they do not actually address the reasoning behind the negative behaviors or give our students the tools to find their own solutions. 

There are three different factors for parents to consider when determining whether more support is needed: frequency, duration, and intensity. Parents need to determine the student’s normal behavior and then see if a pattern of negative behavior is developing. If those factors are increasing, it might be time to access additional support. Schools and districts have resources for students who are struggling in the school setting. Parents need to be assertive in talking to first the teacher, then a school counselor or vice principal and possibly engaging district level support services. Get to know the district director if you are not getting the support you need at the school.

Elementary school plans may include having the counselor meet the student at the car and escort them into the school in an emotionally safe way. Students might need to start the day with the counselor. Most students acclimate within the first hour. Secondary students will require taking the time to determine what is happening that creates an environment where the child would rather be outside of school.2,3 

Sometimes, changes need to be made in the school experience to accommodate a struggling child. Trust your instinct! If something is not working, don’t be afraid to ask questions and urge the school to help where they can.4 Currently there are a variety of school modifications that can be made. Talk with your child’s school counselor to know what options are available to you. These options may include online classes, starting the day later, study time in school, or assisting in a class. Create a relationship of trust between you and your child and then build relationships with others that can help you be a successful advocate for your struggling child. 

  1. Why should Family Engagement be an integral part of your school improvement strategy? (2018). 
  2. EveryDay Strong Google Podcast: How do I get my child's teacher on the same page as me?
  3. To learn more about helping your child, Jenny suggests Lost at School: Why Our Kids with Behavioral Challenges are Falling Through the Cracks and How We Can Help Them by Ross W. Greene.
  4. Special Education 101: A Conversation with LeAnn Wood

LeAnn Wood is the Utah PTA Advocacy Vice President. She is the wife of Darren Wood, mother of 5 children, and Grammy to two grandsons. LeAnn has been a PTA Volunteer for over 25 years and has spent the last decade following education policy and legislation. When not volunteering, she loves to read and travel with her husband and family.

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