Tips for Parenting Special Needs Children

Tips for Parenting Special Needs ChildrenBeing a parent is difficult and definitely trying on the nerves, but being a parent of one or more special needs children requires a special parent indeed.

Special needs children require more attention, guidance and assistance with everyday tasks. Some of the things that have certainly helped me are structure, patience, and time for me.

Structure and Routines

All children respond well to structure and routines as it helps to nurture self-discipline and provides a sense of security.  People in general are afraid of the “unknown” and as a parent it is your job to guide your children through their many “unknowns”.  Growth and change are unavoidable and children need the security of routines to counteract their constantly changing worlds. Structure and routines help children grow to understand and learn to positively control change and their surroundings. The security of small routines actually enables children to handle change and growth with less fear and more independence.

Can structure hurt a child’s ability to grow? Yes, if used excessively.  Oppressive unwielding structure can limit a child’s ability to learn and become independent.  Be aware and notice that there are times when routines can be broken, such as special events and vacations.  Providing simple (sometimes bending) structure is positive parenting for all children.  Creativity and innovation can only grow if basic fears and insecurities are managed first.

Dr. Laura Markham, a Clinical Psychologist  and parenting expert, outlines 7 benefits of Using Routines with your Children:

  1. Routines eliminate power struggles.
  2. Routines help kids cooperate.
  3. Routines help kids learn to take charge of their own activities.
  4. Kids learn the concept of “looking forward”.
  5. Regular routines help kids get on a schedule.
  6. Routines help parents build in those precious connection moments.
  7. Schedules help parents maintain consistency in expectations.

For more insight on Dr. Laura’s techniques, try her book: Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids

Structure is especially important for children with ADD and ADHD as  they struggle with the ability to stop behaviours and focus.  Symptoms of ADD and ADHD  lead to difficulties with self-control.  Structure helps to manage or regulate a child”s self-control and thus manage the symptoms of ADHD.

Dr. Peter Jaksa is president and clinical director of ADD Centers of America and a clinical psychologist in private practice in Chicago gives 10 tips for building routines

  1. Give specific instructions.
  2. Assign tasks that your child is capable of doing on their own.
  3. Involve you child in discussions about rules and routines.
  4. Write down routines as sequences of tasks (2-5 items only), and post where easily visible.
  5. Be realistic about completion time.
  6. Expect gradual improvement.
  7. Praise efforts and not just results.
  8. Allow for free time in daily routines.
  9. Seek help from a pro/counselor if your child isn’t learning the routine.
  10. Stay focused on long term goals.

For more information about Dr. Jaksa’s tips for parents, try “25 Stupid Mistakes Parents Make“.

Patience

Being a parent certainly takes patience, but being a parent of a special needs child takes extra patience with a strong dose of inner strength.  Patience comes in many forms.  Patience when an autistic child wants to dive into a pool instead of jumping feet first as the pool rules state, patience when doing homework with an ADHD child who has not had enough free time, or patience when you are teaching your Down Syndrome child to feed themselves.  All of these situations require a deep breath and that extra ounce of strength you really didn’t think you had.

Sometimes you can find your patience and strength in a quick memory, a supporting hand, friendly advice or even just sharing the difficult moments.  Although the saying is “Patience is a Virtue”, I believe we can all develop our patience “skills”.

First, have patience with yourself.  No one is perfect, we all have our flaws that we need to accept and adapt.  It is ok to make mistakes, as this is often the most valuable tool for learning.

Learn to develop your “patience” skills. Be cognitive of your attitude, stress levels and responses.  Take responsibility and use some of these tips to help with situations.

  1. Count to 10
  2. Take some deep breaths
  3. Record your moments of success and failure
  4. Pretend someone’s watching
  5. Ask for advice from friends and family
  6. How am I helping my children
  7. Take a time-out for yourself
  8. Make it a teaching moment
  9. Visualize your response before acting on it
  10. Laugh

Try to be prepared. If you know you are going to do something with your children or ask them to do something, try to anticipate and prepare for their response. Preparation often relieves some of the stress which rings our “patience buzzer”.

Time For Me

I am not so great at this tool, but it is crucial.  Taking time for you is rejuvenating and calming.  This doesn’t mean go take a vacation on your own…This means make the time in your daily schedule, whether it is 15 min or an hour, if it is in the schedule there is more probability that it gets done.  Getting up a little early, reading a book quiet at night, going for a walk, these are all great ways to spend “your time”.  Your children will come to appreciate and accept that this quiet “self” time is essential and perhaps build it into their daily schedules as they mimic their parental mentors.

Taking time for me is also about taking care of me.  Eating right and exercising are important for your health.  It is really hard to be a great parent, when you’re not feeling so good. Using your time for keeping yourself healthy can be a great teaching time to show your children that you can be the example instead of just talking about it.

As a mom of 3 it is hard to find this “time”.  Sometimes I pack up the kids in the wagon (after bedtime) and take a stroll around the neighborhood. They are sleepy or sleeping, I get my quiet “me” time and my exercise all at the same time.

Be diligent in taking your time for you.  It is not selfish to enjoy a moment to yourself.  You will however probably need to educate your children on the benefits to both yourself and your family of having this special “self” time and it will take some great efforts to “enforce” this break time.

These parenting tools are simple and easy, but they can also be easily forgotten.  Go back to the basics and use these tools along with lots of love and your children will be able to grow and flourish as they were born to do.  Enjoy each and every moment that being a parent can bring and know that children reflect all the guidance and nurturing that you give.

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