By Amanda Morin
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.
IEP 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.”
If someone tries to shut conversation by telling you she’s not sure where your information is coming from, that’s easy enough to defuse. Simply show her.
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?”
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.”
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?”
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.”
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.”
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.”
Conversation about accommodations, 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?”
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?”
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.”
Being a member of the IEP team requires confidence, collaboration and a commitment to your child. Here are five important ways to advocate for your child during an IEP meeting.
Are you uncertain about the IEP process and IEP meetings? These tips can help you get familiar with IEPs and build your confidence.
A parent advocate and former teacher, Amanda Morin is the proud mom of kids with learning and attention issues and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.
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IEP Terms to Know
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Getting an IEP for Your Teen
@Icare: Many disputes between you and a school about your child’s education can be resolved by talking through disagreements. But sometimes you find that things are not working out, no matter how hard you've tried to resolve those issues. This article might help you figure out your next steps.
My child is diagnosed with Pdd-nos, epilepsy, and adhd. She has an IEP. No aid at all in her gen Ed classroom. 20 mins a day with resource teacher. She has gotten out of the building. Be lost in the building. Had behtroom mishaps. Won't return from bathroom without someone getting her when left alone. They refuse to give her an aid or even 2 on 1 aid. They said she won't be left alone transitioning from class to class etc. yet she still got lost and had to be found with she supposedly was in line with class and teacher. Should she has an aid?? Also they were slowing her to eat something she was allergic too regularly and said it was her fault because was taking it. Please help.
Fightingfor Justin and EdReformAdvocate: That's exceptionally good advice! I agree that having another person on hand to catch what you may not and to also advocate for your child is something you should do if you can. And the idea of taking a break is a good one. When the team loses track of the purpose or its focus, it's not a productive meeting. Thanks for adding these thoughts!
I *always* try to take someone with me, as they catch things I may miss. It may be the way something was stated, or the non-verbal interaction from people in the room I may not see when I am focused on listening to one individual.
Also, if meetings begin to feel overwhelmingly frustrating, sometimes I ask for a brief break (could be a bathroom break) in order to breathe, regroup, re-organize my thoughts, and remember my purpose and focus.
I have found that for me it always helps to have someone with me to help advocate for my son. With my youngest he is bi polar with ADHD his therapist is usually with me for IEPS. She helps to catch things I may miss when the conversation goes a little to quickly. She also adds her own views and is very helpful.
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