For many families, Spring brings with it the promise of increasing daylight hours, blooming flowers, fun outdoor activities, and thoughts of summer vacations– and yes, an abundance of those pesky Individualized Education Program Team (IEPT) meetings that help state your child’s goals and objectives and services for the next school year. (Sorry to sneak in the IEP with all that fun family stuff!).

The reality is that IEPs are often unnerving and frustrating events, even for the most well-prepared families. So here are five key tips to help you make the process a little less stressful, and increasingly productive. You can find more in my book Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs:Raising the Bar of Expectations.

Sometimes, the simplest actions can make you feel more empowered and effective!

First, you must believe in your child’s value and their right to appropriate educational opportunities before ever setting foot in that meeting. Everything else stems from embracing this belief in your child. It will make you fearless. Do a gut check- what do you want for your child?

Educate yourself about the IEP process.
Do your homework before the meeting and answer the following questions: What exactly is an IEP? How important is it to your child? What does it include? What is your role in the process? How does the law support your child’s educational needs? How does it all work? Several good resources can help you do just that, including:

Dress Professionally and Be on Time!
Listen without interrupting. Use good eye contact and sit up straight. Avoid profanity and threatening behaviors that escalate tension and do little if anything to help your child get what they need. Taking the high road can help you feel increasingly confident and competent in what is often an emotionally charged atmosphere. It may earn you more respect and support- and yes, even results. Look and act like the important team member that you are!

Use children-first language and request that others do the same. Don’t allow others to define your child by disability or use limiting, negative labels and language to discuss him/her. Don’t ignore your child’s needs, but ask that all present address those needs in more positive, productive ways that focus on solutions, not problems. No child’s potential should be limited because of negative perceptions from inappropriate or excessive use of labels.

Include your child in the IEPT meeting. They have a right to be there. It is their life everyone is discussing afterall.

Debrief after the meeting.
These meetings can take your breath away- and not in a good way! Adenaline is pumping and stress levels are high, no matter how well it all seemed to go. Take time to refuel and recover by doing something fun. Go out for pizza, take a walk, watch funny movies, or read your child his/her favorite story. End your day with some much-needed balance.

One final note: Never skip out on your child’s IEPT meetings! If you don’t care enough to advocate for your child’s best future, and yours, why should anyone else? Make a better choice- one worthy of your child!

Remember: You are your child’s first and most important teacher-and not just for a school year, but for life.
Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations