Parenting a Child with Disabilities
First Most Important Guideline: This is not about you. So don’t measure your success by whether or not your child is behaving well. Your child’s nervous system is more like yours than different than yours. He/she will go toward what feels good and is easy, just as yours does. They are trying to manipulate you to get what they want. They do this to feel good not to get over on you. Their thinking is about themselves. They want to feel good. Do not take this personally. It is normal and natural for all children. It is your job to teach them how to get what they want in an appropriate manner, and how to wait for it and how to tolerate not getting what they want. This takes time and lots of patience. Also, slow down and take a moment to consider how clever your child is in getting his/her needs met.
Our job is to gently but firmly teach them the appropriate ways to ask for what they want, either verbally or physically. (It doesn’t matter if your child can’t verbally express their needs; you most likely have already begun to teach your child how to communicate his/her needs without words.)
What is the biggest difference between parenting a child with learning /behavioral / attentional / difficulties, is that these children don’t pick up appropriate ways of behaving from having role models. They need to be taught to behave in appropriate ways. Think of it as your child doesn’t know and needs to be taught. You might have the idea in your head that not everything needs to be taught but you would be wrong. Each child is an individual and “picks up on others behaviors” either in their own time or not at all. It is important for you as the parent to understand that this isn’t about you. You did nothing wrong and the “shoulds” in your head are getting in the way of you seeing your child as he/she is and recognizing what they need to learn in order to have friends and to successfully negotiate in this world in their own time. It will not happen on your time line so relax and enjoy the teaching. DO NOT TAKE IT PERSONALLY. YOU WILL GET THERE.
You wouldn’t punish or get frustrated with your kiddo because they don’t know how to add or subtract or read or write. You would teach them how to do it. It is the same for behavior. Some kids need to learn appropriate behavior. So, without judgments, teach them.
Start with where they are and break down what they need to learn into small manageable steps and teach each step toward the goal. Lose the idea of how long this “should” take and go with, “it takes as long as it takes”.
If you are in a situation where your child is behaving in ways that are inappropriate then you must gently and firmly, without emotion, (anger), and with consistently, tell them how you would like them to behave and what the consequences are for not following that direction will be, (hopefully you have already gone over this before so it is not new information and is not harsh and not punitive) and what the positive outcome is of compliance. Taking the time to practice is often very helpful. You might have to do this many times. It is very important that you follow through and do what you have said you would do. If you do not follow through even once you will have to start all over again, as now your child doesn’t believe you will do what you say you will do. They will not trust you. Trust is really important here. It is very disconcerting for a child, as it feels chaotic and lessens the comfort/security level your child needs to feel.
IMPORTANT TO NOTE; having good consistent boundaries that you communicate to your child helps your children to feel safe.) Children will not “HATE” you for having rules. You want your child to know that you are someone they can depend on, who cares enough to do what needs to be done to keep them safe.
You will not have to come up with consequences on your own, as the natural consequence is often enough of a deterrent but if not, than come up with something that either you have decided on with your child and/or with your partner, that is somewhat connected to the situation and is small. (If it feels too big and punishing it will be difficult to do more than once and it won’t fit the situation, i.e. feel fair).
Take good care of yourself by having a supportive system in place for yourself…and trust that your child really does want to do the right thing but might need some, or a lot of reinforcement and consistency in order to get there.
Keep a belief in your heart that this will work and your child will change his/her negative behavior into a positive one. Give lots of positive feedback for appropriate behaviors and little to no attention to negative behaviors. Remember for many children attention is what they want and it doesn’t matter if it is positive or negative. So use this to shape your child’s behavior by only reinforcing the behavior you want.
All behaviors are communication. What is your child trying to tell you by their behavior? Once you figure this out you can help them to get their needs met in a more positive way.
Do not behave in punitive ways. You love this child; you just don’t love the behavior. Make that separation; your child is much more than his/her behavior. Do not act in harsh ways or yell and scream. That is your problem, that frustration; it is not anyone else’s problem. Take the time to understand what is driving you and figure out how you are going to deal with it. DO NOT TRY TO MAKE IT THE CHILD”S PROBLEM. They look to you to get information about themselves. Are you letting them know with your behavior that they are loveable just as they are, regardless of whether or not they have their behavior under control. The ways in which you treat your children have a major impact on how they will think about them selves for the rest of their lives. Conversely, if you do not help your child to be responsible and let them off the hook because…they’re so cute, or disabled or? Then they will not learn to take responsibility for themselves and they will grow to believe the world owes them something.
Think about what you want for your children. You want them to grow up to be as independent as possible and to trust and believe in themselves. You want them to know and feel loved so they can share that with others. You want them to be kind and considerate of others and to have friends. You want them to have the skills necessary to work at something they enjoy. I am sure there is much more you wish for your children. Please keep these in mind as you parent these precious children. And trust them to be their best selves with your guidance and the kind guidance of others.
As you can see this is the same parenting advice I would give to any parent regardless of labels, but I am aware that some children need much more repetition than others. Therefore I would say it doesn’t matter how long it takes for children to learn it only matters that they are lovingly and patiently taught and expected to learn. And they will!! They will meet your expectations so reach for the stars! Yet celebrate every win even if it is far from the stars. Positive movement, even minimus movement in the right direction lets you know you are doing it right.
If you find you need help to stay strong and loving please consider hypnosis. Hypnosis can help you learn to stay calm and composed and believe in yourself just as it can help your child make those positive changes you are working towards. It is fun, non-fattening, easy and effective.
Laney Coulter, M.Ed, BCH, CHI,
Loving Kindness Hypnosis and BWRT