The 3 Tips to Effectively Parent A Child With Special Needs
By Dr. Karyn Gordon
Tip #1: Love the Child You Have
All parents have a dream when they learn they are pregnant. Some secretly want a girl – others may hope for a boy. Some dream for twins or for their kids to be just like them. Some parents dream their kids will follow the family business or go to college. All parents dream their kids will be healthy. So when parents learn that they have a child with a special need (whether at birth or later on), a massive range of emotion sets in: from shock to anger to sadness. And whether they are aware of it or not, a dream has just disappeared and they feel an enormous loss. Whenever adults experience losses – it’s healthy and essential to grieve. If parents don’t grieve – it can turn to resentment, guilt, bitterness, envy, depression and worst of all – kids may feel that they are a disappointment and a burden. When a parent can allow themselves to grieve the loss of this dream (not just for themselves but their dream for their child), their anger can shift to sadness and then to acceptance And only when parents reach this stage of acceptance can they fully embrace and love the child that they have. All children need their parents, and especially kids with special needs – they need their parents to love them fully for who they are.
Tip #2: Beware of the ‘Indulgent Factor’
Children with special needs are just that – children who have different needs. And yet when I’ve worked with 100’s of parents who have kids with varying physical and emotional needs – many parents feel guilty and pity their kids because they are “suffering”. This leads to 2 big problems. Problem #1: When parents feel guilty – they often spoil or indulge their kids. One mom of a 14 year old son who was deaf told me, “I just feel so badly for him so I do a lot of things he could do himself - because I figure he has already suffered enough”. Problem #2: When parents pity their kids and think “My poor son”, kids often internalize this and start pitying themselves thinking “Poor me” which fuels low self-esteem. The truth is that all people suffer (some far more than others). So it’s important for parents to empathize with their kids and acknowledge their difficulties, but to still hold them responsible for what is within their control. If parents make excuses for their kids, kids start making excuses for themselves.
Tip #3:Get Equipped & Partner With Them
Every child is unique and therefore every child with a special need is unique. So before you can partner with your kids - it’s important for parents to get equipped. Talk to experts who specialize in your child’s disability. Read their books. Go to their website. Read their articles. Get equipped and informed about what are realistic expectations for your kids. What should they be able to do and at what age? What is realistic and unrealistic? Once you know this specific information, you can start to partner more effectively with your kids. We are living in an era where parents are used to doing too much. We are micromanaging and over-functioning for our kids (waking them up in the morning, making them lunches, reminding them to do their homework). When parents micromanage it keeps kids dependent, and breeds an attitude of entitlement and low self-esteem. So one of the keys to effectively raise and parent all kids is to partner with them. My golden rule is that if a child can physically do something (ex. set their alarm clock) that should be their responsibility. When parents partner with their kids, giving them responsibilities that are realistic and age-appropriate, this builds their confidence, promotes independence and improves the overall parent / child relationship!