Keeping Chill: A Guide for Special Needs Parents

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Well, the last few months have been a great exercise in keeping patient, hasn’t it? With all the uncertainty around school, work, therapy, etc. it’s been a test for even the most even-keeled parents.

Add to that being cooped up with the kids…for months.

Here’s your glass of wine, dear. You’re welcome.

Now that we’ve gotten our hands dirty and know the ropes when it comes to this COVID-19 business, we can mentally start to prepare for what’s coming as the summer starts to wind down.

But, I know the last few months you’ve yelled, screamed, and thrown tantrums yourself over what your kid(s) have done. For the 100th time today, your special needs child has ripped all their toys out, they keep asking you about the iPad (over and over), have literally done the exact opposite of what you’ve been asking them. They’re literally climbing the walls and you haven’t had a second rest.

And, you’ve felt guilty about it when you’ve lost it. Give yourself a pass because…

Guess what? Parents lose it. They get upset. They yell. When you’ve been pushed to your limit, it happens!

But, if you’ve found yourself resorting to this more and more I know that it’s a triple whammy — you’re angry, feeling guilty, and without a solution to the problem. When we stay cool around our kids, it not only makes you feel like a good parent, but you can see your child responding to your example.

So when you’ve not had the best moments, accept that you’ve gotten upset. Know that you’re human.

Forgive yourself.

As a sleep consultant and Doman Method Coach, I’ve seen time and time again that when parents can stay calm and composed, kids emulate this. Really well. If parents are anxious, stressed, frustrated, tired, their kids sense this. As your child’s rock, if they see that you’re not 100% they are going to feel unsteady.

It’s really easy to pass your feelings onto your child.

But as a special needs parent, you will experience extreme stress. It’s part of the job description. So in those tense moments, or when you’re about to blow your top…what do you do?

Be clear about what you want

Unfortunately, people can’t read your mind. If there’s a boundary that you need in place, communicate it with everyone – including your child. So, if the iPad can only be used at a certain time of day, everyone has to know this and it needs to be abundantly clear. I encourage my families to write the new rule/boundary and put it in a common place in the house. Once you know what that new boundary is, have a family meeting about it. Make sure that everyone is on the same page.

Be consistent in your response

In the sleep training process, for example, I always encourage my parents to use the same phrases with their child. For example, if you want your child to stay lying in bed, just keep repeating “Harry, it’s time to sleep. You need to stay in bed.”  For children who have difficulty understanding, reading emotions, etc. this predictability from you is so important.

By using the same phrases, your child with special needs will know exactly what to expect from you and will know that they can’t engage you more. Using the same phrases helps to cut down on additional interaction/attention from parents. If a boundary is overstepped and you have to give a consequence (like a time out), be consistent in doing it right away. There can’t be any delay. And, you got to do it each and every time.

If you have to consequence, be neutral

When setting that new boundary with your child, you have to go into it knowing they’re going to step over it. It’s okay, it happens, and it’s all part of the process. Let’s take an example: a family puts in to place a new rule about not throwing toys. If your child has been used to doing this without consequence up until this point, they’re going to break the rule.

So, when you do have to “consequence” your child you have to be neutral. Be respectful of the fact that this is a learning process. You can’t get upset if they don’t follow the rule right away. Some kids can’t control certain impulses! Boundaries are made to bring calm and order. If you’re not calm and ordered, the rule or boundary is null and void at that point.

If you can’t be neutral, wait to respond

Let’s take the example from above. Let’s say that your child has thrown their toy for the 10th time. You’ve done 9 timeouts at this point.

I know what you’re feeling — I’m miffed just writing this!

This is the biggest challenge. You got to be neutral and do a 10th timeout. You’re feeling guilty you have to do it again, and you’re angry with the situation. And chances are your anger is with yourself because your feel guilty!

So, just stop. Take 10 deep breaths and recollect your thoughts. Remind yourself that your child is learning a boundary. It’s going to take time. And then, get back in the game and do that 10th time out. And, take comfort in the fact that each time your child is learning that new piece of information.

Taking that 10 seconds or so will allow you to respond in the best way possible.

Once the dust has settled, acknowledge what happened and keep moving on

If your child has finally finished that time out and you’re ready to move on from it, I recommend giving a quick hug and acknowledge that your child is learning. In the case of night time, and you’ve had to do a consequence gently remind your child it’s time to go to sleep again.

If you did lose it and get upset, apologize to your child. And then move on.

One last thing: as much as we have to talk about the negative, you HAVE TO focus on the positive. When your child has finally gone 10 minutes without throwing their toy, or they’ve stayed in their bed, it’s your job to praise them for what they’ve done — they’ve learned that new boundary! So, even just a positive word from mom or dad is enough. Make sure that your child with special needs knows they’ve been successful.

Not sure how to get your child with ASDADD/ADHDTrisomy 21Cerebral palsy, and/or developmental delays sleeping on their own? Melissa Doman develops individualized programs for each and every family to make that happen safely and gently. Contact her today to learn more!

Photo Credit: Jordan Witt