5 Game-Changing Attitudes That Got Me Through Stressful IEP Meetings

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

You know how this goes, especially if you’ve adopted a child from a traumatic past or you’re parenting a child with special needs: the dreaded IEP meeting. The last thing you need is another defeat, but does it really have to go that way?

No, it doesn’t. It often comes down to the way you choose to enter the meeting. You’re probably thinking, “Easier said than done!” 

Trust me, we understand.

A few years ago we thought we were in for a battle. My wife, Kristin, nearly dropped the phone when my son’s resource teacher called out of the blue and bluntly said, “Could you make sure you feed Andre every morning before he comes to school!”

Kristin was dumbfounded. She managed to say the words, “Our son receives a balanced breakfast every morning.”

A moment of silence on the other end. “Well, he comes in to my class every morning claiming he’s hungry and that you don’t give him breakfast,” the teacher replied.

After several minutes of back and forth conversation, Kristin finally asked how long this had been going on.

“Well, he’s come in and complained about being hungry for the past several weeks,” she replied.

“And why didn’t you call me?” Kristin asked.

“Well, I’ve just been giving him granola bars and snacks that I keep in my desk drawer and that seems to satisfy him.”

Oh, I’m sure it does, Kristin thought to herself. And that’s precisely why he’s telling you he’s hungry.

It was pretty obvious, at that moment, that we needed to call an IEP meeting, quickly. As a result of trauma sustained early on in his life, our son has major food issues. He could have the biggest meal of all and he would tell you he’s starving an hour after eating. We thought we had made this clear to his teacher, but it was clear we needed to get back in the same room with her.

We were both so angry that we almost came unglued that evening at home. We wanted to march into the meeting and let this teacher have it. I wanted her fired. How dare she do that to us! How dare she let this go on for weeks and not call us! We stomped around our house, ranting and raving. We went to bed, still fuming. But the next morning, when it came time for the meeting, we decided to change our attitude.

It’s easy to let our emotions get the best of us. After all, these are our children we’re talking about. We brought them into our homes with love. We want the best for them, we believe in them, and nothing is going to stop us. That’s precisely why it’s critical that we enter IEP meetings, or parent-teacher conferences, with a positive attitude. Doing so is a game-changer for our children, and their education.

After years of walking into hundreds of these meetings, here are five attitudes we’ve learned to carry in with us …

1. We’re on the same team.

This is number one for a reason. It tends to function like an umbrella over the entire experience. When you walk in with a “same team” attitude, it rains down peace on just about everything you’ll talk through. It will help you view the teachers and administrators with the right perspective.

2. Crazy never wins.

If you walk into an IEP meeting guns blazin’, belligerent, or rude, your child’s needs will get lost. The reason is simple: when crazy is speaking, people hear and see crazy. They don’t hear or see the real need. I know you’re passionate; I know these meetings can be frustrating. But your spirit and your tone determine so much of the outcome. Crazy never wins!

3. Collaborate and listen.

Okay, I’ll be honest: I haven’t been able to get “Ice Ice Baby” out of my head for the past week. And now, you won’t either! In all honesty, though, walk in with a spirit of collaboration. Remember number one: We’re on the same team. Tell yourself, as you walk up to the school entrance, “Keep my ears open, use my words cautiously, and walk in with a goal to create better for my child.”

4. Be kind but firm.

By all means, enter calmly and with kindness, but be firm. This is your child you’re talking about. If the discussion begins to go downhill or you sense that your words are falling on deaf ears, repeat yourself. Restate your position and your requests, but be kind, stay calm, and remain firm. Remember number two: Crazy never wins!

5. Remember you’re supported.

The day we entered the IEP meeting with my son’s resource teacher, we took our support team with us. We had his therapist, our therapist, a close friend of ours, and our post-adoptive service provider sitting on our side of the conference room table. We really didn’t have to say anything during the meeting; the mere presence of these people spoke louder than any of our words could. The teachers and administrators could see how real my son’s special need was. You may not be able to do this, but if you can and if you have a team like this, take them with you to the meeting. Even if you have one or two people from your support community, bring them along. The extra voices are valuable.


Look at it this way: your attitude in your child’s IEP meeting today, impacts his or her future tomorrow. You are working hard to receive the services your child needs to succeed, but you are also forming a life-long partnership with teachers, guidance counselors, and principals. Or at least, that should be your focus.

It’s been several years since we’ve had children at that particular elementary school in our town, but every time we see one of their principals or a former teacher our son had, the conversation is rich and the spirit is cordial. We walked away from our time at that school loving our experience, and loving all of the faculty.

Your goal must be peace. It must be partnership. That’s the only way your child will succeed, and that’s the only way his teacher will succeed in leading him.

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Article Posted 4 years Ago

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