With the challenges, come the rewards—even during difficult times. You won’t always get it right the first time, you’ll have to forgive yourself and at times it will feel like you’re running a marathon. But remember, you don’t need to win, you just need to stay in the race and make it to the end.
It’s easy to put your own needs as a parent aside and focus solely on your child. So today we want to focus on providing parents and guardians of children with disabilities with a few tips to follow and words of encouragement to make parenting a little easier…
Start Preparing as Early as Possible
The amount of preparation that happens before leaving the house with babies and kids is something no one understands until they do it. The diapers, wipes, snacks, bottles, blankets, pacis and everything else those tiny people need often require an extra 10-20 minutes of preparation time just to make sure the diaper bag is prepped and stocked! And for a parent of a child with special needs, the list of necessities may even be longer. So, if you know your child requires medication or other special items like sensory toys or a specific blanket to sleep with, make sure you’re prepared and have them handy at all times. Stock the diaper bag or diaper caddy ahead of time to make sure you have all the items you’ll need throughout the day to make your child happy, especially if you’re away from the house. Here’s a list of some items you may want to consider keeping on hand…
- Diapers and wipes
- Hand sanitizer
- Changing pad
- Burp cloths
- Bottles with formula or breastmilk
- Change of clothes
- Medical supplies if needed
- Swaddle blankets
- Extra paci
Build a Support System
You are not alone. There may not be anyone else you know first-hand dealing with the same symptoms or challenges your child faces, but we promise you can find people to turn to in similar situations. There are many resources for parents with a special needs child, but it’s about finding the right ones. There are strong networks of parents each dealing with children who have different diagnosis’s, but they are there to support and help one another. There are groups on Facebook or through hospital systems, so ask your doctor for recommendations. Talk to friends, family members and neighbors and let them help you. Even if it’s just to lend an ear when you’re having a hard day.
Celebrate Small Victories
Children with disabilities may develop slower than other children their age. Celebrate the small victories and log their improvements. Even if it’s something as small as saying a word or taking their first step. Just like any parent would do, show your child how proud you are of their accomplishments, no matter how big or small. When raising a child with special needs it’s the baby steps or tiny accomplishments that lead to the big goals. So celebrate it all!
Create Time for Yourself
As a parent you are caring for your child nearly every minute of every day. However, your mental and physical health still matter and you deserve to be cared for. It’s important to make time for yourself. To have even 10-20 minutes of alone time each day to rejuvenate, exercise, think or just relax. Whatever makes you feel special and taken care of, do it! Doing this will prevent the parent burnout. Don’t let being a parent of a special needs child reshape your identity or become all of who you are. It’s easy to get lost if you focus all of yourself around your child and their needs.
Make Time to Work on Other Relationships
The stress of parenting can take a toll on relationships around you if you let it consume your life. This can also reflect onto your child if you’re not paying attention. So, take time to work on the relationships with those around you. Go on a monthly date with your spouse, schedule an occasional girls night or brunch with your friends and make a priority to talk to your neighbor, family member or friend. You could also set up playdates or outings with other special needs parents in your support network.
Set Realistic Expectations
Setting realistic expectations while not putting limits on your child can be tricky, but remember your job is to provide the opportunity for each child you have to reach their fullest potential. What is one child’s fullest potential may not be another’s, and that’s perfectly okay. Parents of children with disabilities just need to encourage them to try their hardest no matter what.
Discover Words of Encouragement
As a parent of a child with special needs, the most important thing you can do is not be too hard on yourself. Encourage, love and support your child and remember that you are giving it your best—which is everything and more than your child needs! Don’t ever forget…
- You are a superhero in the eyes of your child
- Keep a sense of humor
- Parents of children with special needs create their own happiness and believe in things that others cannot yet see
- “All kids need is a little help, a little hope, and someone who believes in them”- (Magic Johnson)
And just remember, no parenting advice can replace your instincts as a parent. You know your child best. Doctors, therapists and teachers are all wonderful resources to turn to, and while they’re experts in their areas, you are usually the expert on your child.