It’s only natural for parents to hover over their kids and so parents must remind themselves that it’s time to “let go.” For parents whose children have learning disabilities or mental health issues, however, the letting go part becomes doubly hard.
Where do you draw the line between being supportive and over sheltering your child? Yes, you want a child with special needs to learn resilience and navigate life on his own, but how sure are you that he’s already able to perform tasks independently?
To build resilience in your child with special needs, you need to know the difference between "supporting" and "enabling," according to Dr. David Anderson, a psychologist and director of the Behavior Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute in the U.S.
Support should empower your child to move forward toward greater stability and more independence. Support means you acknowledge there will be difficulties in overcoming obstacles, but it will be up to your child to solve them.
The desire to protect their children from experiencing negative emotions like failure, fear, pain, and embarrassment can sometimes lead to giving in to their child's demands. Even though it’s hard, parents should learn how to stop “saving” or "rescuing" their kids from struggles. It is this enabling attitude that reinforces undesired behavior, says Child Mind Institute. Enabling is a temporary fix and will hinder the child’s growth.
Dr. Anderson says that children shouldn’t be protected from all risk-taking, as some risks — safe risks — boost confidence. It may even help reduce the risk of children developing an anxiety disorder, according to research. Here’s how you can avoid enabling your child and provide support:
Instead of: Allowing your child to avoid all uncomfortable situations... Acknowledge your child’s feelings.Talk about emotions and what they are feeling at the moment. Teach them that it’s all right to be scared, sad, frustrated, or tired — you feel them, too.
Instead of: Enforcing house rules inconsistently because you feel bad about your child’s condition or because you think he will grow to hate you... Provide structure at home through rules and schedules. Many children with special needs get easily upset with things or situation that is not part of their daily routine. So it’s important to stick with these rules no matter what. Discuss positive consequences with your child so he can become better at managing his behavior at home.
Instead of: Speaking up on her behalf when there is conflict... Let your child express his own thoughts and feelings. Knowing that are listening to her increases her self-confidence and make her feel more connected to you. In the same vein, it will empower them to stand up for themselves.
Instead of: Covering up for things your child did, forgot to do or did poorly... Guide your child through problems she cannot handle. Discuss with your doctor the possible coping skills you can teach here. “When there is a problem, help them to calibrate it,” says psychologist Ma. Araceli Balajadia-Alcala in her article forSmartParenting.com.ph. “Is this a real crisis or is it something that just feels like an emergency but really isn’t?”
There are other ways of providing support to your special needs child, but perhaps the most important thing to note, according to the Child Mind Institute, is to understand and learn more about your child’s disorder and treatment. As parents of special kids know, their children’s personality varies from day-to-day and providing support will not always equate to successful behavior management.
“Gauging what your child can and can’t do will always be a matter of observation, parental judgment, and trial and error,” says Child Mind Institute. But as you continue to gain an understanding of your child, you will also get better at managing expectations and help your child on his path to independence.