Special Needs Parenting Mistakes
Parenting is often described as the toughest job on Earth and rightly so. The stakes are insanely high, there is no guide book and no matter how much you prepare, you will never be adequately prepared. Small wonder then that as a parent, you are bound to make mistakes over and over again because it’s a really tough job. There is one job that is even tougher than the toughest job on Earth and that’s parenting a child with special needs. As parents of kids with additional needs, we all have made and will continue to make innumerable mistakes. Are there any that are common ones that all parents should be aware of? Do you make these simple special needs parenting mistakes?
For many parents, their child’s diagnosis often shows up from nowhere, knocking them off the rails, leaving them overwhelmed, disoriented and exhausted. It looms larger than life and engulfs their entire universe. Naturally, it takes time to recover from the initial shock, for parents to find their feet and for the diagnosis to be absorbed and placed in its appropriate place of the family’s new reality.
For a few parents though, this settling never quite happens and the diagnosis continues to obscure their vision of everything in their universe, including their child. It’s never a conscious choice but the diagnosis becomes all they see and they lose site o their child, as a unique, complicated being with their own individuality that has nothing to do with their diagnosis. At other times it’s really difficult to separate the individual from the diagnosis because it can be such a huge part of who they are. As parents of kids with special needs, we all have to be vigilant and be ready to catch ourselves. It’s essential to not fall into the trap of parenting a label, a diagnosis instead of the unique and special being that every single child is.
I get it, it’s not fun to be the object of exchanged loaded looks and unwelcome remarks. Friends, complete strangers and especially the in-laws, always scrutinizing your parenting and pointing out all the ways you come short. When your child has special needs, not everyone will understand what that means on a day-to day basis; the adaptations you have to make. To them, it will look like you are spoiling your child, lazy or some other unflattering label. As hard as it may sometimes be, try not to make the mistake of changing how you parent your child in order to please the onlookers and avoid the wrath of their judgement. You know your child and their needs, you know how you want to raise them, stick with that and let the judges judge.
There will be times when you just can’t deal with the judgement and you will choose to adjust your parenting accordingly. Give yourself the permission to parent out of fear of judgement, as long as it’s a deliberate, temporary and conscious choice. Sometimes you need to save your energy or simply preserve your sanity!
Setting the bar too low
When your child received their diagnosis it was necessary for you and everyone else to adapt. Your child has challenges and limitations that you were not aware of nor had planned for. In making adaptations, it’s important to be mindful of not lowering expectations too much for a child with special needs. Wherever the bar is set, the child will rise and strive to reach it. In accommodating their special needs diagnosis, if the bar is set too low, it may actually end up stunting their development if there is nobody watching and ensuring that the bar is continually being raised.
Doing too much for your child
As a result of their parents and other adults around them, children with special needs often suffer from a most unfortunate affliction: “learned helplessness”. From an early age they are taught that if they simply sit back, there is always and adult ready to swoop in and take care of everything . To save your child from this, don’t do anything for them that with enough instruction, patience and time they could learn to do for themselves. Instead, think about how you could teach them differently, adapt something, find additional resources that would make it possible for your child to be independent. When children learn to do things for themselves, they take pride in their work, their self esteem and confidence increase, they become more resilient; all things that every parent wants for their child. Be aware that by doing for your child that which, with enough support, they could do for themselves, you inadvertently deprive them of so much and especially the chance to reach their potential.
Not planning adequately for the future
The demands of parenting a child with special needs can be all-consuming and not leave time or energy to think about the future. It may seem far away, but the future always seems to roll up faster than you expect. You wake up one day and realize that it has suddenly become the present. Your child has turned 18, with all the legal implications that don’t take their diagnosis into consideration. That is, if you haven’t planned for it. As a parent of a child with special needs, your days are full. The future is equally full and will be your present sooner than you realize, so start planning for it.
Parenting is hard and like all parents you will make your share of mistakes. At one point or another, I’ve not only made all of the above simple mistakes, but have confessed some of them on this column over the years. As we start a new year, look out for these simple special needs parenting mistakes and be prepared to catch yourself making them and adjust as you see fit.