Catherine Whitcher with team of Master IEP coaches; caption reads,

Managing Emotions at the IEP Table

A question came up inside our Master IEP Coach® community: What’s the best advice for someone who can get emotional at the IEP table?  

Master IEP Coach® Leah Rivers brought up this topic because she often finds herself becoming emotional at her children’s IEP meetings, but it “comes off as aggressive and on the defense”. Let’s be honest, sometimes emotions run high in these meetings and what feels like an honest moment can be misconstrued as hostility or combativeness.  So how can we take emotions out of these discussions so parents can be focused on the task at hand, rather than managing their emotions?

“Preparation is your best defense,” suggested another Master IEP Coach®, Diana Prowitt.  Here are some of the steps our Coaches suggested to make sure you are focused in your next IEP meeting: 

  • Know why you are there – Keep a picture of your child close as a reminder of your purpose
  • Concentrate on priorities… don’t try to think of “all the things”.  Have a list of things you want to address ready to go before you even step foot in the room.  
  • Be prepared to listen fully!  Sometimes, our brains are working faster than our ears.  Slow down, listen to your IEP team members, and really hear what they have to say. 
  • Ask for a break if you need it. It’s okay to show emotions and it’s equally important to step away when you need to compose yourself.  Your team would much rather see you step away from the table to gather your thoughts before your emotions take over the meeting.  No one wants to see you go Hulk mode when a quick trip to the restroom could have prevented it.  
  • Come to the IEP table with your prep work done.  Before your meeting, become familiar with the data that will influence your decisions.  That means gathering your own information together AND asking for data from your fellow team members.  There shouldn’t be any surprises at the IEP table.  
  • Calming techniques like deep breathing or snapping a rubberband on your wrist can be a great way to distract yourself from overwhelming emotions.  Our students need these types of supports to succeed in the classroom.  Why not put them to use when you need to focus?  


Managing emotions at the IEP table can “take a lot of inner work”, said Master IEP Coach® Jessica Beaty, but we can find ourselves dealing with emotional reactions away from meetings, too.  When Jessica finds her emotions in the driver’s seat, she sets clear boundaries for herself: “I do not respond to emails or phone calls if I’m angry.  I need to process… It can take me a week sometimes.  But I set my boundaries and I do not cross them as it is too important for me to not mess up our relationship.”  Is how you feel today, in this moment, going to affect your relationship with your IEP team well in the future?  Then take the time to sort out what will be most beneficial for maintaining a positive relationship with your team members.  

For some, having some kind of sounding board might be helpful in discovering what’s fueling your emotions and how to best move forward.  A sounding board can be talking with a family member or friend, maybe you find peace in journaling, or maybe even just a pro and con list can be a healthy outlet.  

We’re so glad that Leah had the Master IEP Coach® community available to be that sounding board for her in this time of need and we want to share that experience with others.  

If you’ve ever thought about becoming a Master IEP Coach®, visit today to find out how you can feel more confident at the IEP table and supported by a community of Special Education parents, teachers, admin, and therapists - all in one place! 


About the Author:

Contributors to this article are members of the Master IEP Coach® Network, a professional organization determined to make positive changes in Special Education. Members of this Network have all completed the Master IEP Coach® Mentorship, founded by Catherine Whitcher, M.Ed.

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