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Parents Corner

16 Tips
for Working with Professionals

Excerpted from
the American Association
for Home Based Early Interventionist
News Exchange

As parents, we are responsible for our child's well-being, in all areas of their lives. Parents are typically involved with several professionals and have to coordinate their services. It can be challenging at the best of times-especially if the child has special needs. May and June each year seem to bring an increase in the number of meetings to plan services for the following school year. So, take a few minutes to see if any of these tips might help you better implement a team approach and obtain the appropriate services for your child.

Julie Loe

Here are 16 tips to help parents work effectively with professionals

1. Please treat me as an equal. You have a right to be treated with courtesy and respect, just as professionals do. Everyone responds better when treated respectfully. You, the parent, know the most about your child. You deserve to be treated as an equal.

2. Let's solve this problem together so we can figure out the best plan of action. You and the professional are partners in working out your child's problems. You can both help your child best if you work together as a team rather than as people from opposite sides. Make sure the person who can make the decision will be present at the meeting. This will save time, even if you have to re-schedule an initial meeting in order to make it happen.

3. Let's share our information so we can come up with the best solutions. Professionals may know more than you about their profession, but you know your child best. You each have special knowledge that can help your child. Power is knowledge, so learn about the issues that affect your child. Solutions come through sharing information, and sometimes compromising.

4. Here's a list of the questions I'd like to discuss with you today. Be as clear as possible. Before an appointment, make notes to yourself of things you want to discuss with the professional. Bring the list with you. Be specific and use examples whenever you can. Many people forget what they want to say when they're nervous. A list will help you remember. Write down the answers as you get them or ask at least 24 hours prior to the meeting to audio tape it. You may not be able to remember everything later.

5. I don't understand these terms. Could you explain them to me? Ask the professional to explain things to you in plain English if you don't understand the terms being used. Sometimes professionals talk in their own "language" and use words that only people in their field understand. Don't be embarrassed to ask for an explanation. You have the right to know exactly what they are saying. After all, it's your child they're talking about.

6. I'm too upset (... or whatever) to continue right now. Explain your point of view in a calm, courteous way. If you are calm rather than angry when expressing your opinion, the professional will be much more likely to see you as a partner who has a different point of view. Most professionals are really trying to help your child. It's okay to disagree, express emotion, cry or be angry. But, if you are feeling "out of control," it may be better to end early and schedule another meeting.

7. In many cases, that might be the right approach, but I don't think it would work for my child because . . . You may disagree with professionals about their recommendations for your child. Don't be afraid to say so. Professionals are only human. Sometimes they are mistaken. You know your child in a way they can't. If you think what they're suggesting won't work for your child, for whatever reason say so! Based on your input, professionals may change their recommendations.

8. I still don't understand why you think that. If you don't understand how the professional came to a conclusion, ask for the specific reasons behind it. A recommendations will always make more sense if you clearly see what led to it. Continue to ask questions until you understand the professional’s thinking. Know that you may still not agree. State your opinion as clearly as you can and move on to the next topic. You can always return to this issue later, but don’t forget to come back to it to get a resolution,

9. I’m glad we’re both on time so we can get as much done as possible. Parents and professionals should respect each other's time. Like you, professionals can get very busy. That's why it's so important to make an appointment and ensure that both of you have enough time to meet and thoroughly discuss any problems. Then try to be on time. If either of you is late to a meeting, it may make you both late for the rest of the day. Call if you will or may be late. Establish the length of the meeting ahead of time, so that each of you can plan your time wisely. Understand that it may take more than on meeting to complete your business.

10. I think we need to discuss this more. Let’s find another time to get together. If you need more time with the professional, say so. If one appointment isn't long enough to get all your questions answered, the professional should be willing to schedule more time to meet with you. It may mean having to set another meeting on another day, but you have a right to get complete, clear information about your child.

11. When would it be useful for us to visit again? Keep in regular contact with any professional involved with your child. In some instances, it's important to see a professional on a regular basis if you are going to get the best for your child. Check with professionals to see how often they recommend you contact them.

12. My child had his last shot in January. Find a safe place to keep all of your child's important records. Professionals often need to know your child's history so they don't do things over again. Keep all of these records in a box or file to help you remember what services your child received, from whom and when.

13. Have you talked to my child's doctor to make sure what you're suggesting is okay? Encourage members of your child's professional team to talk with one another. Remember, professionals who work on behalf of your child will perform better if they are working as part of a team rather than all alone. Part of your Job as the "coach" of your child's team is to make sure the "players" are communicating.

14. Thanks for all your help; it's really made a difference for my family. If you are pleased with a professional, say so. Just like everyone else, professionals like to know when they are doing a good job. A simple "thank you" can mean a lot and will go a long way toward maintaining a positive working relationship. This one cannot be emphasized enough. Professionals need to hear from you when things are going well, not just when there are issues to resolve.

15. What is your supervisor's name? If you can't work things out with a professional, you may need to discuss your problems with a supervisor. Make sure you've made every effort to resolve things with the professional before you see a supervisor.

16. I don't think this is working out. Could you suggest someone else who might be able to help me? If you have tried all of the above and still cannot resolve your differences with the professional, think about changing to a different person. Sometimes, people simply cannot get along. If you have done the best you can and still do not feel comfortable with a professional who is working with your child, you'll be better off finding someone else to help you. Remember, that professionals just like parents can get their feeling bruised, so make the change kindly and with your child’s best interest driving the change.

The original tips were developed in 1994 by the Parent Involvement Committee of the Hamilton County Family and Children First Council located in Ohio. These tips were reprinted in a colorful brochure by Starting Point of the Montgomery County Early Intervention Consortium but can no longer be purchased. The original tips have been enhanced and expanded upon. (They are used with permission from the Parent Involvement Committee of the Hamilton County Family and Children First Council.

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Last modified: January 26, 2013