Tips for Special Needs Parenting
by Joy Burgess
Parenting always comes with challenges, but the normal challenges that come with being a parent are often compounded for the parents of children with special needs. Just a few of the common challenges for parents may include:
- Coping with the physical and emotional demands that come with caring for a child with a disability
- Becoming educated about the child’s disability
- Advocating for essential school accommodations, placements, and/or interventions
- Researching and finding effective resources and treatments
- Paying for interventions and treatments that may not be covered by the school system or health insurance
- Getting to all the appointments with therapists, school personnel, advocates, and medical providers
Of course, these are only a few of the many challenges that special needs parents deal with each day. Some of the biggest challenges that parents face are not the most obvious ones, such as dealing with a special needs child’s challenging behavior, staying organized in the chaos, and nurturing your marriage. Here is a closer look at these specific challenges and some helpful parenting tips that will help special needs parents meet these challenges head on.
Challenge #1 – Dealing with Challenging Behavior
One of the most stressful parts of parenting a special needs child is managing challenging behavior. However, it is important for parents to understand that this behavior is a form of communication from children with special needs, often because these children are not able to communicate in other ways. Parents must realize that this behavior indicates a problem in learning – the problem is NOT in the child.
Managing challenging behavior requires that parents listen to what their child is trying to tell them. It’s important to avoid confrontation when possible while keeping a consistent approach. Special needs children generally do not use challenging behavior to manipulate parents. In most cases, there’s a reason this type of behavior is happening.
Although there’s never one solution for dealing with the child’s challenging behavior, there are tips that you can try. Try using these tips consistently to better deal with the challenging behavior that often comes from children with special needs.
- Tip #1 – Record Incidents of Challenging Behavior – Start recording incidents of challenging behavior in a journal. Write down as much as you can about the incident. What happened before the incident? How did the problem start? How long did it last? How did you get your child calmed down? This can help you to look back to see if there are any contributing factors or patterns that seem to result in the behavior.
- Tip #2 – Encourage Exercise as an Emotional Outlet – Kids and teens with special needs need to have a healthy way to let out their emotions. Exercise is an excellent emotional outlet and can help kids get rid of some of their overload of anger or stress. Try to build exercise into every day if possible. Many parents find that this reduces the occurrence of challenging behavior.
- Tip #3 – Try Using a “Break Card – For older children, try using a “break card” to avoid a meltdown. These cards give the child the ability to communicate that they want to leave a situation that they find unpleasant. These cards can be used at home, while out and about, or even in school. Giving a child this ability to communicate often stops a problem before it begins.
- Tip #4 – Keep Calm – When challenging behavior occurs, an important parenting tips is to keep calm. Calm, assertive body language and instructions are important when dealing with this type of behavior. Adding more emotion to the situation will only cause confusion and escalate the situation.
- Tip #5 – Take the Volume Down – If your child is shouting or getting aggressive, take the volume down. Keep a neutral face and lower the pitch and volume of your voice. In most cases, kids will quiet down so they are able to hear what you are saying. Shouting back will only make the problem worse.
- Tip #6 – Focus on Good Sleeping Habits – Sleep makes a huge difference in the behavior of any child, but especially a special needs child. Make sure your child is getting enough sleep. A meltdown could occur simply because a child is overly tired. Kids with special needs should get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night.