Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Vicki Caruana's new book, Standing Up for Your Child Without Stepping on Toes, (Tyndale, 2007).

When your son’s soccer coach has him sitting on the bench while other kids play, you want to convince the coach to give your son more game time. When your daughter’s teacher gives her an unfair grade, you want to persuade the teacher to change it. In these situations and many others when you need to be your children’s advocate, it’s easy to react in anger and end up alienating the very people you hope will help your kids. But if you approach these challenges wisely, you can accomplish a lot.

Here’s how you can stand up for your kids without stepping on toes:

Ask God to change your heart. Pray for God to reveal any wrong attitudes you’re harboring over situations in which you think your child is being mistreated. Ask Him to motivate you to seek His will for how you should respond. Consider your accountability to God and your reputation as a Christian in a watching world. Decide to honor God through the way you respond to challenging situations.

Create safe relationships with your kids. Make sure your kids know they can always come to you to talk, even when they’re in trouble. Listen to them carefully, taking their thoughts and feelings seriously, and refraining from judging them. Let your kids know that your home is a safe haven for them, and that they can trust you to keep their best interests in mind when you stand up for them.

Be mindful of what you model. Set a healthy example for your kids – and a faithful example to the people you’re confronting – when you’re trying to get your kids’ needs met. Recognize and work to improve your negotiation style. If you tend to be aggressive, learn how to work more cooperatively. If you tend to avoid speaking up when something bothers you, develop more leadership qualities. If you work hard to serve others yet tend to neglect your own family, make your family a top priority. When working with your kids’ other parent to negotiate, make sure you present a united front. Follow the rules of negotiation: Know what you’re willing to do and not do; do as well as you can for your kids; get as much information as you can; stay calm, cool, and collected; don’t be competitive just to be competitive; know when to cooperate; work with the power you have; decide ahead of time what the most important outcome is; think at least one step ahead; and remember that when it’s over, it’s over.

Know the needs of both sides intimately before you speak for either. Recognize that there are always two sides to the story of what’s going on with your kids. Understand that the better you are at telling your stories and listening to those of others, the better your chances that all parties will get what they need. Make sure you’re communicating accurately. Don’t invent stories to try to explain your opponents’ behavior in either a positive or negative light. Avoid jumping to conclusions or convincing yourself that there’s a conspiracy against your kids. Don’t use stories to rationalize your own bad behavior. Avoid false modesty; recognize that your gifts and experience are valuable parts of your story and worthwhile sharing. Don’t exaggerate to make yourself look good. Speak up so people don’t make assumptions about you because of your silence. Strive to give a true reflection of who you are, what’s important to you, and why. Don’t expect people to read your mind; speak up, but in a respectful way. Tell as much of your story as necessary to reach a mutual understanding, and carefully and respectfully listen to others.

Keep the long-term best interests of your child in mind when you make short-term decisions to intervene. When determining whether to intervene or restrain yourself in a challenging situation, consider whether the stakes are low or high, what the risks of intervening would be, whether the best results would be instant or take a while to achieve, whether you’re considering action just to placate someone else or because it’s truly important to you, whether the situation is urgent or time-sensitive, whether you have the right people supporting you in your efforts, and whether you’ve already addressed the situation and perhaps just need to wait for a response or use a different approach. If you have older kids who can safely stand up for themselves in certain situations, step back and let them do it, knowing that you’re giving them valuable learning opportunities. Don’t intervene to protect your kids from the consequences of their actions; let them learn from their mistakes. Don’t hover over your kids, becoming too involved in their lives.  Instead, help them grow in independence. Don’t force issues to the point of damaging a relationship or your credibility as a Christian. Be sure to pray for the best resolution to the problem.

Make sure your words and actions are in harmony when dealing with others. Keep the promises you make. Be consistent, so people will learn that they can trust you. Speak the truth, but always do so in love. Remember that God and other people are watching you. Decide to handle all of your conflicts with the utmost integrity.

Be willing to seek advice when you’re unsure, instead of pretending you know it all. Pray for the humility you need to admit that you need guidance for handling a certain situation. Then seek it out. Pray for the confidence you need to ask questions you’ve previously been afraid to ask. Ask three types of questions: questions to clarify the meaning of something, questions to provoke your opponent to think, and questions to enlist help from important people in your kids’ lives. Be sure to frame your questions in a positive way that invites help rather than defensiveness. Be specific. Ask what concerns your opponent has about your child in a given situation. Ask what options might help solve the problem. Ask for copies of records (such as test results) that affect your kids. Find other parents who have faced similar issues and ask them for suggestions. Remember to follow the chain of command when you make requests, to demonstrate respect to all involved. Consider joining organizations that advocate for your kids’ particular needs. Acquire as much as information as you possibly can.

Carefully consider the self you want to present to the world as a parent. Instead of trying to save face with your opponents, focus on simply resolving conflicts. Aim to come to a workable compromise and agreement that constitutes a win-win outcome. Don’t just show up unannounced to talk with your opponent; make an appointment. Present your argument logically, keeping emotion out of it. Listen carefully to your opponent and restate his or her point in your own words to make sure you understood it. Stick to the issue without getting sidetracked. Agree on what behavior is acceptable while you discuss the issue, and respect the rules. Don’t attack your opponent’s sensitive areas. Call a temporary truce if you’re not making progress solving the problem. Reschedule your discussion. If you do agree, create an action plan that explains who will do what and by when. If you find later that you’re dissatisfied with the outcome, schedule another discussion.

Let your children see how it’s done; then step back and let them do it. Help your kids learn how to stand up for themselves, since they’ll need this valuable skill once they become adults. Encourage them to develop initiative (the ability to act on their own) giving them plenty of opportunities to meet their own needs whenever they can (such as by preparing their own meals sometimes). Help them develop responsibility (being accountable) by teaching them how to care for someone or something – such as a pet – and then letting them continue to do so on their own. Have them pitch in to do household chores on a regular basis. Encourage your kids to develop self-confidence (the belief that they can succeed) by urging them to investigate, pursue, and practice things in which they’re interested and gifted. Rather than doing everything for your kids, motivate them to take risks and try new things. Help your kids develop diligence (the ability to persevere) by expecting them to follow through on tasks they’d prefer not to do at all. Minimize distractions to help your kids persist in doing what’s most important (such as by not allowing any television or video games until they’ve done all of their homework). Give your kids plenty of opportunities to practice standing up for themselves. Role-play different hypothetical situations with your children so they’ll be more confident when they find themselves in those situations in real life. Make a family list of situations for which to prepare, and include situations like: when and how to make a 911 emergency call, how to seek help from a teacher when they don’t understand an assignment, how to speak up to you or someone else if they’re concerned about health or abuse, how to budget their time to complete a project, how to get information they need to succeed from coaches and other mentors, how to let their friends’ parents know what they are and aren’t allowed to do while away from home, and how to get home if their ride falls through.

Trust in the certainty of your calling. Know that when things go wrong and your best efforts to advocate for your child don’t seem to be working, God is still at work in the hearts of all concerned. Don’t give up; regroup and find a way to stand up for your child in whatever way you can. Pray and trust God to choose the ultimate outcome. Ask other people who care about you and your kids to support you in prayer. Keep trying, with the confidence that God will give you all the guidance and resources you need as you continue to stand up for your child.


Adapted from Standing Up for Your Child Without Stepping on Toes, copyright 2007 by Vicki Caruana. Published by Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, Ill., http://www.tyndale.com/.

Vicki Caruana is an adjunct professor of education at St. Petersburg College, a former public school teacher, and parent turned writer who seeks to educate and encourage kids and those who live and work with them to strive for excellence. She has a master’s degree in gifted education and is currently in her doctoral program. Her best-selling book Apples & Chalkdust has sold more than 600,000 copies. She has written more than 80 articles and 20 books and is a frequent guest on national radio and television programs. Vicki speaks at educational, parenting, homeschooling, and writers’ conferences. She conducts seminars about parents as partners, success in school, character building, and other topics that build bridges between home and school. She has written curriculum for school districts, online correspondence courses, and online learning modules. Vicki now lives with her husband and two children in Seminole, Florida.