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.
- Tip #7 – Offer Some Independence – Try to find ways that you can offer your child some independence. This can be scary, and your child may be limited in what he can do on his own. However, allowing your child to make more decisions or do more on his own can help improve behavior.
- Tip #8 – Consider Medications – Consider the medications your child is taking. Some medications result in side effects that your child can’t communicate, resulting in challenging behavior. Talk to your child’s physician to find out if any medications could be making your child’s behavior worse.
- Tip #9 – Intervene Early – Make sure you know the warning signs your child displays and intervene early if you notice them. Distraction techniques often work well. Know what distracts your child and use those distractions as soon as you notice the warning signs of challenging behavior.
- Tip #10 – Pay Attention to Your Own Wellbeing – Part of special needs parenting is taking care of your own wellbeing. Special needs children are often very sensitive to the way their parents feel. When parents are stressed or not feeling well, it has the potential to affect the behavior of the child.
Challenge #2 – Staying Organized
With medical appointments, school meetings, paperwork, and daily physical care, staying organized can be one of the biggest challenges of special needs parenting. However, staying organized can save parents a lot of time and help to keep things running smoother. Organization and structure can also help improve your child’s behavior. If you are having a tough time staying organized, here are some helpful parenting tips that will help make your life and your child’s life a bit easier.
- Tip #1 – Prepare the Night Before – If you have special needs children in school, the chaos in the morning can be crazy. One of the best things you can do is prepare the night before. Pack your child’s backpack the night before with any items he will need, such as extra clothing, incontinence products if needed, snacks, etc.
- Tip #2 – Create Some Weekly Rituals – Sometimes weekly rituals can cut down on the chaos. For example, picking out clothing for the school week on Sunday can save time during the week. A closet organizer is a perfect way to keep the clothing organized for busy school mornings so all you need to do is grab and go. Sometimes cooking dinners on the weekend and freezing them for the week can help parents.
- Tip #3 – Keep Medical Items Organized – Many special needs children have medications or medical devices that must go with them to school. Keeping these items organized is important. When sending a child to school, make sure that you include a copy of the instruction manual for any medical devices. Add a bag with any dosing tools needed for medications. Sew or tape in a list of medications, doses, and instructions inside the backpack.
- Tip #4 – Create Folders for Important Papers – Juggling important paperwork for school, home, and doctors can get overwhelming. If you do not organize paperwork, it’s easy for it to get lost. Create special folders for these important papers and label each folder. Consider having a folder for school, one for home, and one for medical paperwork. You may even need to create a folder for any legal paperwork.
Challenge #3 – Nurturing Your Marriage
Even the strongest marriage can be challenged by parenting children with special needs. However, you can’t afford to allow your child’s special needs destroy or interfere with your marriage. Keeping your relationship strong helps make you a better parent for your child. Of course, caring for a special needs child comes with many challenges and time demands that make nurturing your marriage difficult. To keep your marriage strong, here are a few tips parents need to follow.
- Tip #1 – Take Time to Talk About Frustrations and Feelings – Many couples deal with the stress of raising a special needs child by bottling up their frustrations and feelings. Unfortunately, those things will eventually explode. If you want to keep your marriage strong, you can’t afford to bottle things up. You need to take time to talk about your frustrations and feelings. Be each other’s best friend – make sure you both listen to each other. This will enhance your bond.
- Tip #2 – Fan the Flame of Love Daily – It is important to fan the flame of love daily. Whether it’s a walk together, snuggling in the morning, writing a love note, or going out on a date, you need to work on keeping your love alive each day. Even small loving gestures done each day will help you keep your love alive and your marriage strong.
- Tip #3 – Deal With Financial Challenges as a Team – Taking care of a special needs child brings with it added financial challenges, and balancing the budget can be tough. You need to deal with these challenges as a team. Figure out finances together, even when times are tough.
- Tip #4 – Don’t Play the Blame Game – When you are going through tough times with your child, don’t play the blame game. It will destroy your marriage. While it is easy to blame each other, you’ll only make the situation worse if you try to chastise, shame, or blame each other. Although frustration is a normal part of parenting a special needs child, you cannot lash out at each other when you’re dealing with pressure.
- Tip #5 – Make Time for Alone Time – It’s easy to get so busy parenting your special needs child that you don’t leave any time for yourselves. While it is challenging to find alone time, you need to make it a priority. Your relationship is important and it requires regular care too. Communicating and connecting with each other will refresh your spirt and mind, helping you be a better parent.
- Tip #6 – Have a Good Support System – You don’t have to do everything alone. Make sure you have a good support system of family members and friends. Ask for help when you need it. Loved ones are often happy to help. Having a good support system will make it easier for you to get the couple time you need.
- Tip #7 – Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Professional Help – For many couples, asking for professional help feels like failure. However, if you need professional help, do not be afraid to ask. Don’t let guilt destroy your marriage. Sometimes you may need help, so make the choice that is best for your child and the rest of your family.
Joy Burgess is 28 year old wife and step mom, currently living in Arizona. Her family includes her husband, step son, step daughter, and dog, Chewy. Along with being a full time step mom, Joy also works full time as a writer and musician. Hobbies and interests include scrapbooking, gardening, playing the piano, cooking, and finding a few spare moments of quiet time alone.
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