10 defusing phrases to use at IEP meetings

Emotions can run high at IEP meetings. But it’s important to focus on the end goal: helping your child. Here are 10 stay-calm phrases you can use to redirect conversation and defuse tense situations.

1. “I may be misunderstanding.”

meetings can get heated when there is disagreement about how to interpret laws or test results. You can defuse that by taking a step back and giving the school a chance to explain its position. If you’re certain you’re correct, don’t worry — you’ll get a chance to say so.

Sample response: “I may be misunderstanding. Can you show me a detailed interpretation of that law? Here’s the information I have on hand that speaks to this issue.”

2. “I can show you.”

If someone tries to shut conversation by telling you they’re not sure where your information is coming from, that’s easy enough to defuse. Simply show them.

Sample response: “I can show you where I’ve highlighted that information in the report and progress notes. Can we make each team member a copy?”

3. “How can we work together to make this happen?”

It can be frustrating (to say the least) to hear someone at your child’s school tell you it doesn’t provide a certain service or doesn’t have the staff to implement it. But the law is on your side, so make the conversation about collaboration.

Sample response: “How can we work together to make this happen? The law says services must meet my child’s unique needs, and this is the recommended service.”

4. “May I see a copy of the written policy?”

Someone from the school might say, “This is how we’ve always done something.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a policy. Defuse any arguments about it by asking to see in writing that this is how they handle the situation.

Sample response: “I understand this is how you do things. May I see a copy of the written policy that outlines this procedure?”

5. “Let’s ask him to join us.”

Federal law says that the IEP team needs to include someone who is able to make decisions about staff and funding. But in practice you may hear, “I’m not in a position to make that decision.” Instead of getting upset, get practical.

Sample response: “Is it Mr. Smith who has that authority? Let’s call him and ask him to join us.”

6. “I understand.”

It may surprise you how this simple phrase can defuse tense situations. Keep in mind it doesn’t mean the same thing as “I agree.” It just means you’re hearing what’s been said.

Sample response: “I understand you only have 15 minutes left for this meeting. While we’re all here, why don’t we set up another time to continue this conversation.”

7. “I’ve noticed…”

Parents are equal members of the IEP team. If you feel like your concerns aren’t being heard, take a breath and then calmly speak up. Be specific about what you know about and see in your child.

Sample response: “I’ve noticed that at the end of the day, Olivia isn’t able to focus on her homework without getting frustrated. I’d like to talk about how to make that easier for her.”

8. “How does that look in the classroom?”

Conversation about , behavior plans, or instructional strategies can easily turn to talk about theories or ideas. You can redirect by asking about how things will actually work.

Sample response: “I like the idea of checking in every 15 minutes to see if Olivia is on task. How will that happen in the classroom? Will the teacher be able to manage that?”

9. “What alternatives do you suggest?”

When you hear, “We don’t agree with that recommendation,” you may feel the need to push to defend your position. Instead, keep the dialogue going.

Sample response: “OK, you don’t think that will work for Olivia. What alternatives do you suggest to address that identified need?”

10. “Let’s talk about what’s working.”

Sometimes it can feel like an IEP meeting is a long conversation about what’s going wrong. It doesn’t have to be. In fact, focusing on what’s going well can help you discover ways to address other issues.

Sample response: “Let’s talk about what’s working. Maybe some of those strengths and strategies can help us find ways to address the trouble spots.”


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