Having a child who has special needs can at times feel overwhelming. Your heart may break when you see your child struggle with the developmental issues that appear to be keeping him or her from living a normal life. Developmental disabilities can keep children from being able to feel confident enough to socialize and develop a peer group that they can count on. Disabilities can keep your child from being able to do activities that require a certain physical aptitude. Regardless of what your child struggles with, there are many gifts to having a disability and it is your job to remind them of what those gifts are.
Perhaps the most important life lesson to teach your child is that being different is a good thing because it means that they will be able to look at life in a different way. Help your child to understand that they have unique qualities that make them special.
Children can be more sensitive when they struggle with something and they learn skills that actually advance them in other ways. I am sure you've noticed that when your child is having difficulty reading, he or she may excel in math or design. When a child is socially isolated from others because they are not easily accepted into the peer group of their choice, they may resort to filling their time with other activities like drawing, being on the computer, or excelling in reading which may make them much more advanced in their academic skills. Regardless of the disability, find opportunities for your child to socialize that are structured and provide a sense of belonging. Camps, specialized programs, therapy groups are great ways to help your child feel included. Ask your child's school administrator or counselor if there is a mentor or special child in the school that can "buddy up" with your child? Invite this child over and set up experiences for your child to participate in … like going to the movies, paddle boating at Eagle Creek or the downtown Canal, arcading at Dave and Busters. These field trips will give your child extra opportunities to socialize and feel like one of the gang!
As you look at your child, ask yourself how has this gift of being different made them stronger? And of course reinforce this with your child.
Make sure to comment regularly on those personality strengths that you treasure about your child. Perhaps they're kind, compassionate, generous, honest, or loyal. Reinforcing the strengths helps them to integrate their gifts despite their struggles.
Be the “go to person” that they can share their frustrations and heartbreak. This means that you need to cultivate the belief that your child is going to positively grow from disability. As a parent, do you have a support person or resource to turn to share your fears and doubts? Having a special needs kid means lots of self-care so you so that you can be there for your kids in tough situations.
Kids need to know that there is a safe person that they can be "real" with and there is no better person than their parent to share their feelings.
You are a mirror for your child, so make sure you are comfortable reflecting back what you hear them say so they know that they know they are heard and have a voice when sharing their thoughts and feelings.
Your unconditional love is exactly what they need to recognize their own strengths amongst their struggles!
Carol Juergensen Sheets, LCSW PCC is a psychotherapist and personal life coach. SHe does motivational speaking and empowerment trainings locally and nationally. To find out more about her services, contact her at www.carolthecoach.com or call her at 317-218-3479. You can watch Carol the Coach segments on WTHR's Channel 13 Wednesdays at 12:50PM.