I have two children, at two different schools, who previously attended two different nurseries and who have a long list between them of diagnosis and extra needs. What that means is over the last nine years I have been to a LOT of meetings ranging from one-to-ones with teachers, therapists and social workers to formal meetings with twenty plus professionals around a table, and everything in between! 

Can I tell you a secret though? Sometimes I still get anxious about meetings. I think in some way or another we all do as parents because at the heart of the meeting is a child we have more invested in than anyone else. We are the ones up during the night when they can’t sleep, holding them when they are sick or overwhelmed, washing their hair (often against their will!) and so much more besides. The fact of the matter is though, we cannot go it alone if our child or children have extra support needs, it’s in everyone’s interest to meet together and work closely. 

So how as a parent can you do your best to make any meetings a success? Here are my six top tips:

  1. Know the purpose

Is the meeting because of an up and coming transition (moving from nursery to school or from Primary to Secondary for example), an annual review, a meeting to decide on appropriate support packages (like a health and care plan or co-ordinated support plan in Scotland), a simple “catch up”, or a large multidisciplinary meeting with everyone involved with your child? Knowing what the purpose is means you will go into the meeting mentally prepared. A more formal meeting may even have a formal agenda and chairperson if the purpose is of a serious or legal nature such as if your child needs to meet certain criteria for a support plan. 

As a parent it is easy to come away from a meeting feeling emotional or even intimidated but by checking back to the purpose you may actually realise the meeting WAS a success. For example hearing about your child’s struggles in school can be heart breaking for a parent but if that ultimately means everyone agrees your child needs support and that support is put in place then the purpose was fulfilled and the meeting was worthwhile.  

  1. Take your own notes

Whether this is just jotting down areas where the teacher feels your child needs extra encouragement during parents’ night, or more formal notes to remind yourself who attended (or often more importantly who didn’t and therefore may have no knowledge of what was agreed) and what date the next meeting is, it is so worthwhile having your own notes. More formal meetings may be minuted but you have every right to ask for these to be amended if they do not match what you feel was said or agreed. 

It sounds hard but even using your notes on your phone or tablet can help you remember anything important you may wish more details on or need for the future. 

  1. Stay focussed and professional

When asked to speak, think about the purpose and reason for the meeting. While you may be dealing with a myriad of difficulties with your child or be desperate to share a lovely story about them, it is better to initially keep to the agenda and answer any questions clearly. YOU are the expert and often only you can answer for your child. I have been to several meetings where I have strongly disagreed with something said by a professional but it is received much better if you can put your point across calmly and professionally so that it can be noted why you disagree and what you see differently. Shouting or verbally attacking will always go against you.

  1. Plan ahead

In most meetings each professional will come to the table with some sort of report about your child. You may or may not have seen these prior to the meeting but there is nothing stopping YOU having your own report about your child written out to be given to everyone there too. If this is directly related to the purpose of the meeting I have found it is always looked on very highly by everyone. I usually include current or past concerns, my child’s strengths and what I hope to achieve from the meeting. 

  1. If your child can’t be there take a photo

For both my children it is inappropriate for them to be in attendance at meetings at this point in their life. Their age, difficulties and communication limitations mean I am currently their advocate. What I do, do though is print out a recent photo of them and have it in front of me in view of everyone there. This helps everyone stay focussed on the child in question and makes everything much more personal. It’s simple but, in my experience, highly effective and it can keep everyone accountable. 

  1. Chase up afterwards

Did the meeting with the teacher end with them agreeing to refer your child onwards or give them extra help? Did the meeting decide to proceed with a new support plan or update the current one? Did any new therapists agree to come on board your child’s team? Sadly it can be too easy for things to be agreed at meetings and never actualised. Don’t be scared to ring up a professional a few months later to check everything is running smoothly or that any referrals have been sent in. It can be so hard to find time and by nature I hate confrontation, but my child needs me to make sure that they get the best and that spurs me on. 

You CAN do this. If you feel you are too stressed or nervous, do take someone with you for support. Nine years later and still my stomach churns as I approach yet another meeting with anyone connected to my children, but they don’t know that. 

Remember everyone there may be every bit as nervous as you. They are all, doing their job but you have the most important job of all: you are the parent and that carries more weight than you may ever realise. 

Good luck! You are not alone!  

Read more of Miriam's blogs here