Meeting tips 5: Dealing with strong emotions

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It’s not uncommon for strong emotions to arise when dealing with these issues, sometimes on both sides. This does not have to derail discussion, if everyone can be aware of their own feelings, and manage them appropriately.

On this page:

Handling your emotions

It is common to feel strong emotions when you are advocating for your child. Even if you are not in a situation of conflict, you might find it difficult to contribute to the conversation at times, because of your emotions. Emotions can overwhelm you when you least expect them, and when you least want them to. But they are not something anyone should feel embarrassed about. This is about your child – feeling emotional is natural.

When you are meeting with the school, do your best to stay calm. It might help to vent your emotions to your partner, a friend or an advocate, well before you meet with the school. Then take your time to work through how to get your message across effectively, and what your priorities are in negotiations with the school.


Tune in to your emotions and get support for yourself

The most important thing you can do, when it comes to managing your emotions, is to tune in to them. Be aware of when you are starting to feel upset, as this is not usually the best state of mind for negotiating or resolving problems.

Don’t judge yourself for getting emotional. Just try to be aware of when you are starting to feel that way, and do something that will help, like suggest a five or ten minute break in the meeting.

Another very important strategy is to take someone with you into meetings. There are many ways that this can help. A support person or advocate can help to you to know your rights, to understand the system and to feel less isolated. They can also take pressure off you by supporting or reinforcing the important messages that you want to make.


A break will often help

If you start feeling upset or if the conflict level rises, taking a short break can be very helpful. This gives everyone a few minutes to gather their thoughts, and can help refocus on what you are there to achieve – which is, of course, the best possible outcome for your child.

A support person or advocate can help you to recognise when a break might be helpful. If you have someone supporting you in a meeting, talk to them beforehand about how you would like to proceed if discussion becomes heated, or if you become emotional. Take deep breaths, or find other ways to calm yourself if you become upset. Reflect on your own coping strategies in challenging situations, and go with what feels right for you.

If things do become heated and you say something that you regret, it’s really helpful to act quickly to resolve the conflict, and sort out any misunderstandings.


Making another time to meet – with more support

Sometimes its best to recognise when discussion is becoming very stuck, or so heated or that there is a risk of relationships breaking down. You might be feeling intimidated, or feel that you are not being shown respect.

In any of these cases, you can suggest that you leave the discussion for now, and agree on another time to meet. In the meantime, consider other supports that could help. For example, you could seek advocacy support from an organisation like ACD. Another option is a mediator – a neutral third party with skills in helping people work through difficult issues and find solutions.

And of course, you can always take your issue up the ladder, if you feel that you have tried everything to resolve the issue with the school, but have been unable to do so.


Avoid blame, accusations and confrontation

If your child is having issues at school, you might well vent your worries and frustrations to your partner or friends or support people in strong terms – that’s natural, and it can often help to have an outlet for those feelings.

But when it comes time to discuss the issue with school, it’s important to be as constructive as you can. Everyone – including you – has the right to feel safe and respected, even when emotions are running high. So instead of saying something like, “You’re the worst teacher my daughter has ever had”, considering saying something like, “My daughter is really unhappy about school at the moment, and feels like she gets blamed whenever there is trouble. Have you noticed any particular problems?”

Parents and carers can sometimes become anxious, upset, angry, defensive or confused when discussing concerns about their child at school. This is understandable, but it is important to express your views in a respectful way that will help everyone work together to understand and resolve the problem.

Teachers and others can also become defensive or emotional in these situations. If the discussion because very heated on either side, all of the above strategies can really help.


Take the long view

Whatever happens, try to remain as positive and supportive as you can. Ultimately, you want to feel good about dropping your child off at school each day, and you need to maintain an effective working relationship with your child’s educators – for your child’s sake and your own.

Try to maintain goodwill, and remember that teachers and others are there to help, even if they have a very different perspective from you. Get support and know your rights – as outlined elsewhere in Learning Together.

And know your options – for taking your concern up the ladder, for example, or for moving to another school.