Ahhhh, meetings…don’t you just love them?…or loathe them?
No doubt many, if not all of you, have attended some kind of meeting or two at some point in your life.
Sometimes they can be really beneficial, sometimes they’re not so great and sometimes they’re just a total and utter waste of time, energy and precious resources.
I’ve even heard of meetings being convened to plan meetings. How bonkers is that?!
Have you ever sat in a meeting, glancing surreptitiously at your watch/the clock on the wall; your mind drifting away from the speaker, wondering what you’re going to have for dinner that night or what’s on the TV later or why haven’t the organisers provided biscuits…or whatever? I have! *gives a little sheepish smile* Guilty as charged again “Mi Lord”.
For those of you reading this who don’t have a child with additional needs, as parent/carers we often have to attend rather a lot of meetings. In fact, some of us have even had to give up rather good careers (or go part time) just to fit all the meetings in…I kid you not! And sometimes, we parent/carers may feel like we need to employ a PA just to keep up with the paperwork, telephone calls, appointments etc.
I’m not having a grump…it’s just a fact.
By meetings I mean those to assess or monitor your child and meetings to review your child (health, education etc. etc.). As mentioned earlier, some are beneficial, some might not be so useful, some are simply used just to ‘tick a box’…and some can be completely and utterly mind-blowingly frustrating (the ones where you’d like to pull your hair, run around and scream a bit!..or a lot!! – not that I do that, of course! Well, not often *wink*). These meetings can be formal and informal: they can be with an individual professional or a group. They can be held in your home or in a hospital, clinic or office. They can be where a group sits informally in the ‘round’ without a desk or even worse that the person (or persons) you are there to meet is/are sat officiously behind the safe and protective confines of their desk lacking the slightest hint of inter-personal skills and child centeredness….very impersonal…and totally unnecessary in the 21st Century, but that’s just my opinion/experience. That’s rare though.
I’m fortunate, in that, I’ve been to lots of meetings in my ‘other life’…I’ve even convened and chaired meetings too, so I’m not afraid of speaking out (sometimes a bit too much maybe!) and have always been sensitive to others feelings. Lots of parents aren’t used to these forums and sadly, it can be a rather daunting experience for many people.
However, I’m now at a bit of a disadvantage too as when I go to these meetings it’s MY child everyone’s talking about…so there are strong lioness/protective etc. emotions involved…so it’s all really rather personal. I simply can’t detach a little as maybe I once used to be able to.
I’ve now been on ‘both sides of the fence’, as they say.
So, I consulted a few people to get their views and ideas and have come up with some stuff which may, hopefully, be useful for people not used to the system….and for professionals too.
My very good friend Jacqui who works tirelessly for Breaking Barriers NW has made some fantastic contributions to this post…thank you Jacqui! As has another AMAZING mummy, Lyndsay, and thanks for the ‘rant’…it was extremely useful and it’s reassuring to know that it’s not just me! lol.
Right, here goes….
- Firstly, It’s very important to breathe! Maybe this seems a little obvious but try and relax a little and don’t get too tense (easy for me to say!). Be aware of your breathing and your posture.
- Make sure that you know everyone in the room. If they don’t look like they’re going to introduce themselves, then ask them to, and to elaborate on what their role is and (really importantly) if they’ve ever met your child or intend to. If there are students observing in the room then your views should be sought about this.
- If the meeting is in your home, then consider putting your household pets in another room…there’s nothing more off putting than trying to talk to someone and their pet dog is ‘humping’ your leg whilst you’re taking notes…or trying to bite your pen/paperwork….or languishing on your lap and shedding their hairs everywhere. I DO adore animals BTW, so don’t get cross with me for saying this. At Broccoli HQ pets have always been considered part of the family…but sometimes they needn’t be present.
- Take something to drink with you to the meeting just in case it’s warm/your mouth gets dry etc. Vodka might not be a very good choice, but water might! And think about taking snacks and toys etc in for your child too…some of these meeting rooms aren’t particularly child friendly!
- Remember, this is a meeting about YOUR child – These people will be privy to confidential information and there are rules regarding data protection and confidentiality that they should adhere to. If they don’t, then there are systems in place to address this.
- If the meeting is in your home then it’s on your turf…so your rules apply. So, if the house rules are that people wipe their feet and take their shoes off at the door then no-one is exempt from those rules. Remember, we ALL have a culture and we need to be respectful of each other’s.
- DON’T feel like you need to provide drinks and snacks to everyone that crosses your threshold. A glass of water will suffice…You have enough to do!!
- Don’t spring clean your home before someone visits…it’s not a show house…it’s your home.
- Think before you react. If someone says something you’re not happy with then just take some time to consider the best way forward. Don’t ‘go for the jugular’…even though you may feel like it!
- Rehearse what you want/need to say to yourself or someone you trust before you attend the meeting if necessary. If you’re anything like me, when I get nervous I waffle (well, I waffle even when I’m not nervous too!).
- Consider compiling a list of questions.
- Be mindful of respectful language – yours and other peoples.
- Remain aware of your tone of voice and body language. If you’re cross about something and start to have a rant then people are less likely to want to listen to you.
- It’s okay to be emotional, but not ok to be rude and violent. Professionals have feelings too.
- Don’t be afraid of taking notes you’ve made into the meeting or when you’re actually in there. If there’s a note taker in the room then you should (hopefully) be sent a copy of the minutes of the meeting.
- Don’t hesitate to ask someone to repeat what they’ve said or rephrase if you haven’t understood…or even write it down for you to take away.
- Many of us are guilty of using acronyms and may forget that others might not understand them…if you’re not sure then ask them to elaborate.
- Remember, YOU are probably THE ultimate ‘professional’ in your child’s life – you should know your child better than anyone else. YOUR views and opinions need to be heard. If you’re not confident in speaking up then find a class for parent/carers that can help you with this.
- No-one knows everything about everything; they may pretend to, but they don’t. If you have a child with a rare genetic syndrome like me, you may end up having to educate other people about it. If you have difficulty explaining things then think about downloading a factsheet to give to them or signpost them to where they can access relevant information off the internet.
- Take someone you trust with you if you feel that it’s going to be an emotional meeting. You may not take everything in that’s said at the time and another pair of ears always comes in handy. Even if they’re not allowed to be present at the meeting, they can be close by.
- Practitioners will come and go in your child’s life…you won’t…fact!
- EVERY child has rights. It’s important that YOU advocate on your child’s behalf to ensure your child’s rights are met and that they have equality of opportunity.
- Maybe consider other distractions if the meeting is in your home…like the noise of the TV or radio. Perhaps switch them off (?). This may sound a little obvious, but it’s not for some. Your pet parrot might also want to take a little snooze…especially if they swear!!
- People will often make snapshot judgements or assessments on your child’s developmental needs based solely on the teeny tiny amount of time spent with them. They WILL get things wrong from time to time. Kids aren’t performing monkeys. If it’s boring or not what they want to do right at that moment, then they won’t comply – and can you blame them?
- Don’t be afraid to challenge conflicting information. I’ll give you an example: at Hannah’s last eye test I was informed by the assistant (who puts the eye drops in to dilate Hannah’s pupils and then does a few tests with black, white and grey pictures) that Hannah DEFINITELY had something wrong with her eyes. A few minutes later we saw the proper ‘eye doctor’ who informed me that there was absolutely nothing wrong with her eyes and that she could be discharged!! The assistant then came into the room and a discussion followed regarding her earlier remark…she back tracked….A LOT!!……..sometimes, just sometimes, I absolutely despair. I’m sure a lot of other parents do too. I’ve had to get used to throw away comments but it can be VERY frustrating at times.
- Never, ever, EVER be patronised….by anyone.
- Remember, your child may have been provided with a diagnosis, and several labels along the way too, but this doesn’t mean you’ve lost your child – this may just explain why your child does certain things and helps to access services and support you might not have been entitled to without the ‘label’ – just don’t let those labels ruin your life…they’re just words…your child is your child, regardless. Celebrate your child and try not to get too upset about the negativity that may sometimes feel overwhelmingly relentless.
- If you’re in a meeting and everything is sounding/feeling rather negative, don’t be afraid of throwing a (realistic) positive in there. This meeting is about YOUR child…let them SHINE!
A few extra tips for practitioners….
- Send us your reports to read please….don’t just file them away. We often have a right to see them.
- If the meeting is cancelled, then please let us know in advance…we don’t enjoy traipsing all the way across town for nothing.
- Talk to US, listen and consult with us – we can often be an excellent source of information which might actually make your job a little easier.
- Be sensitive in your manner and your choice of words…once said, it’s hard to take something back.
- If you’re coming to our home then be respectful and remember it’s our home, our culture and you’re a guest. We will try to make you feel very welcome though!
- Talk to our children/try and communicate with them on THEIR level. Try and forget or modify your textbook stuff…it may not work on our kids. Trust us, we know!
- Be on time and if not, phone and give us an ETA.
- Consider apologising if you’ve left us in a warm waiting room for over an hour before you see us….or send someone out and give us an approximate time you’ll be available.
- Introduce yourself…use your ID badge too…it’s there for a purpose.
- Leave your contact numbers etc. with us if you’re new.
- Read and update the CAF form (if your Local Authority uses it)…it could save parents and carers repeating information over and over and over again.
- Explain the purpose of the meeting, make sure parents/carers are introduced to everyone in the room.
- It’s great to have a methodology in terms of testing techniques and assessments however, sometimes you’ll need to think outside the box with our children. Your methods may not suit our kids…and will therefore be a complete waste of time (ours and yours). Plus, as I said earlier, kids are kids…they’re not performing monkeys.
- Please, please, PLEASE be child centred. If you’re not, then perhaps you need to consider a change of career.
- If you’re discussing my child with another professional make sure you keep parents in the loop…unless it’s a safeguarding matter that is…parents have a right to know, you know….it’s the rules!
- Please, please, PLEASE, don’t call me mum/mummy…I have a name and my own identity so feel free to use it…there’s only one person in the world who should call me mummy but sadly she’s non-verbal!
- This may be a jolly trip out of the office for you but we also have a life…and may have things to do, so, try and time limit your visit to our home please.
- Please don’t refer to my husband as ‘Hubby’, it drives us potty! He actually has a name too. If you’ve forgotten it, then please don’t hesitate to ask.
- If you’re about to examine my child make sure that you’ve washed your hands please…I WILL be observing…and commenting if necessary.
- You may not like me because I’ve challenged you…and I can live with that…but we need to work together and in partnership for the benefit of my child.
- Please don’t assume that if we’ve missed an appointment we’re not interested. Something really rather serious (and far more important) may have cropped up – like our child being in intensive care! – So maybe consider thinking first, before you post that snooty letter out to us and cc it to everyone else about our non-attendance…not only will it make us cross, it will make you look a little silly too!
- We have a lot of appointments to attend, so sometimes, we may have to cancel yours because we can’t fit them all in…plus, our child’s education is quite important too…the more appointments/reviews they attend, the more school they miss. So it’s important to spread them out a little.
- Please don’t ask us to fill out lots of forms before the meeting. You may possibly have most of the information anyway (we know it’s sometimes easier and quicker for us to do it for you). If it’s new information, we will gladly share it with you though.
- If you’ve got it wrong…PLEASE be honest and have the courtesy to apologise. We’re ALL human and we’ll respect you even more for being open and honest.
- Don’t EVER, EVER, EVER tell us to smile after our child has been resuscitated (it happened to me – long story!). I hope and pray there never is a ‘next time’, but if there is, then I will not be responsible for my actions! Grrrrr!!!
Before I go…
SOME (EVEN MORE) UTTERLY, BUT MORE LIGHTHEARTED, USELESS INFORMATION – many moons ago, I did (politely) inform my husband that if Sting (aka Gordon Sumner) ever knocked on Broccoli HQ’s door then I would simply have to run off with him (it would have been rude not to)…I had a bit of a penchant for him, obviously! My husband just rolled his eyes and nodded in defeat. But I’ve recently changed my mind (sorry Sting, I’m sure you’re gutted). My affections have now turned to another rather ravishing individual…Patrick Grant, Savile Row Tailor…he’s…just…yummy!!…in every respect…(google him if you don’t know who he is – it’d definitely be rude not to!) but, actually, now I come to think of it, Gary Barlow’s looking pretty hot these days too. Hmmmm….decisions, decisions….
Right everyone, that’s all for now. Thanks so much for reading, I hope you got something from this post. If anyone has any more ideas they’d like to contribute, then please feel free to leave a comment.
Oh, before I forget, 10th May (tomorrow) is CdLS awareness day. More information can be found at http://www.cdls.org.uk or on my previous post about Cornelia de Lange Syndrome.
Until next time…
This post is dedicated to Jacqui and Lindsay (obviously!)…who both contributed to this post…and are just utterly amazing, fabulous women. Xx
Breaking Barriers can be found at http://www.breakingbarriersnw.com