Feeling sorry for a child who struggles with special needs is a common, understandable reaction from a loving parent. But — it’s not going to help your kid. Here’s how to adopt a new mindset that will.
Nine-year-old Amanda walked into my office, a worried frown on her freckled face. She heaved a heavy backpack off of her shoulders, dropping it with a thud and blurted out, “I’m exhausted!” Her mother agreed, noting, “I feel so bad for her all the time. She is under so much stress!”
As a parent, it’s hard not to feel sorry for your own child sometimes. It’s especially hard if your child has the extra burden of an atypical profile. Children with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, ADHD, autism, or developmental delays are additionally weighed down by the necessities of their diagnosis, whether extra tutoring, multiple therapies, socialization groups or intensive behavior training programs.
Parents may have to let go of typical fun activities, such as sports teams or school plays, in lieu of prescriptive interventions. It’s emotionally draining both for child and parent. No one wants their child to be different, and yet differences seem to drive the weekly calendar, continually reminding everyone of the “special needs” of the child.
A major reason it is so difficult to keep a positive attitude when your child is atypical is because, like all parents, you worry. You worry that your child will be bullied, have no friends, never go to college or get married. That he’ll suffer.
And yet, because children learn by watching their parents, it is critical to adopt a cheerful attitude. The way you see your child ultimately shapes her own self perspective. On top of everything you’re challenged to do, you have to cultivate optimism, resilience and confidence in your child’s outcome.
Is that hard? You bet it is. But if you keep these Dont’s and Do’s in mind, you’ll find it easier.
Don’t Always look through the disability lens
Your kid is a whole person with different gifts and great potential. The special need aspect is just one aspect of your child’s life.
Sometimes, parents will worry about something that might happen – but it’s stemming from their own experiences or fears. Are you worried that he won’t be popular because you weren’t popular? Take some time to find out what your child is worried about; you might be surprised to find out that he is much more at ease than you thought.
Don’t Overindulge to “compensate”
Extra video games or unlimited treats, for example, do not have anything to do with your child’s disability. Stick to “typical” rules, while allowing for occasional leniency in circumstances that really do relate to her disability.
Don’t Be too tough
Tough love doesn’t work with atypical kids. Atypical kids are more fragile. Get to know your child and work with him consciously and gently.
DO Step in when necessary
Some atypical kids are prone to social isolation and depression. Teachers, even if unintentionally, can exacerbate the problem. Keep an eye on your child and have open communication so he’ll feel comfortable confiding in you.
You are your child’s advocate, and your child will need assertive intervention at times. This is not “babying” your child. It’s part of your job as a pro-active parent of an atypical child.
DO Encourage participation
Don’t limit your child’s activity options based on what you think she can’t do. If she really wants to join that club or try that sport or take those lessons, chances are there is a way to make it happen.
DO Enjoy the present
Staying in the moment and noticing your amazing child as she unfolds is an important—and joyful—exercise. Take a short break from the everyday jostle to savor small moments of just being together.
DO Express gratitude daily
Before bed, perhaps at tuck-in time, encourage your child to think about what he’s thankful for. Chime in with a few ideas yourself. Practicing gratitude as a family goes a long way towards ultimate feelings of positivity and happiness.