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Caring for children is hard work, sometimes compounded when our children have special needs. Taking time out to recognize all of the successes moms and dads have not only means a more optimistic outlook for parents, it also helps children. When we make good choices our children benefit.
Attention, Parents: Give yourself a pat on the back
Caring for a child with special needs most of the time is a parent’s greatest joy. But parents of children with disabilities face a number of challenges, and many of these are beyond the comprehension of those who have children without special needs.
The work – borne of love and concern – is often physically and emotionally demanding. Depending on the nature of a child’s disability, parents or caregivers might be moving a child from room to room; adapting processes; attending additional doctor’s and special education appointments; administering medication; and helping with at-home physical, speech and occupational therapies that are a part of everyday parenting — in addition to providing hope, love and support. Caring for a child with special needs can often feel like a job within the already important job of raising a child.
Because most parents believe their role is to meet all of their children’s needs all of the time, it can be difficult to recognize that they are an unsung hero, and that for all of the efforts they make – be they successful or not – they deserve to give themselves a pat on the back.
Commendations are in order
From the moment a child is born and diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, life as his or her parents know it will change dramatically. And as it turns out, there are many parents in the same position. A 2007 study by researchers Nancy E. Reichman, Hope Corman and Kelly Noonan on the impact of a child with disabilities on a family showed that the number of non-institutionalized children with special needs has doubled since the 1960s, and that somewhere between 6 to 18 percent of children born in the United States have some level of disability.
The level of assistance and support – including a group of willing neighbors, family members, friends and babysitters – that parents rely on for respite, sitting, and emergencies are not as readily available to parents of a special needs child because these well-intentioned individuals may not be willing or capable of adequately providing care without proper training and confidence.
This can then make a parent feel isolated, or worse, it may make the mom or dad feel as if they are not having a positive impact on their child.
That’s why it’s important for parents to give themselves a pat on the back. This is especially important because there may not be someone available that can provide positive feedback when needed. And, a child can get nothing but positivity from a parent that is confident, secure, happy and well-rested.
But is it possible for a parent to take time out for positive reinforcement when a child needs attention constantly, or for several hours a day? The answer is a resounding YES.
And, is it selfish for a parent to be thinking of their own needs in this situation? The answer to this question is an equally resounding NO.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled some valuable tips that will help beleaguered parents pat themselves on the back in a way that will lift spirits and hopefully feel good. And our only requirement is that they take time each day, if only for a minute, for an accolade.
Ten encouraging reasons you deserve a pat on the back today
1. Celebrate your role in your child’s positive developments
You are the most important person in your child’s life, for better or worse. As a parent you are a role model, a trusted advisor and a lifeline to all of the necessities of life.
Although you may not realize it, all of the things you do for your child – from buttoning his or her shirt to helping him or her perform exercises – is something that will help your child face the outside world with confidence, dignity and success.
2. Don’t dwell on what’s wrong
Your best efforts, and those undertaken by your child’s educators or medical team, may not yield the desired results as fast as you would prefer. You may initially perceive these situations as setbacks, but know that a setback is a set-up for a comeback.
If your child is not progressing in therapy at the levels you had hoped, know that adjustments can be made, and that alternatives can be sought. Write down your concerns and ask authorities for tips and action steps. Most parents we talk to about this subject mention a gut feeling and uneasiness that they don’t have all the answers they need. Our advice is to seek answers until you feel confident in your choice and options. You don’t have to have all the answers, just a savvy in knowing how to find solutions and work towards them for peace of mind.
3. Relish the small victories
When your child meets small goals, learns a new task, or is making steady improvements, it may be overshadowed by a setback or issue that, for whatever reason, seems more important and of higher magnitude.
Small improvements are reasons to celebrate the hard work you and your children put into making that change occur. Though your child may still have trouble walking, the fact that he or she can now twist a doorknob may pale in comparison. But remember, winning several small battles are big steps in the right direction.
4. Remember strengths
You are one of the most important persons in your child’s world, but you cannot be the end-all and be-all in their life. Parents are an important factor in a child’s success, but not the only factor. Are there others in your child’s life that have strengths that also benefit your child’s development? If you notice someone else being particularly successful and helpful – such as helping them with physical therapy – you try to encourage their further influence on your child.
There will always be things you are good at, and others you are not. Try not to focus on the things you are not as comfortable with – perhaps those are things that are best handled by a child’s other parent, or support team.
5. Understand what overwhelms you
Some aspects of raising your child can make your hair stand on end, and it’s best when you can increase your awareness of what activities you should distance yourself from, and also recognize that it’s okay not to handle those things when you feel overwhelmed.
For instance, if paying the bills makes your head spin, why not have a spouse or another family member make provisions for payment? Financial issues are very common in families touched by special needs. Dividing responsibilities, delegating, and a little negotiation can enhance your ability to perform as a parent. Recognizing and adapting for emotional triggers help maintain equilibrium in your family unit. One parent should not always have to be responsible for every task. In fact, the more responsibilities that are shared, the likelihood more are investing commitment towards the family as a unit. Everybody then takes pride in the personal investments they individually make over time.
6. Give yourself affirmations daily
The busier you get, the more internal dialog you have, and sometimes, it’s not a positive or affirmative conversation.
Self-doubt can be a roadblock to self-confidence. In your internal dialogue make sure to remind yourself that you are doing a good job, and that there are good things in your future and that of your child. This helps to erase harmful dialog that is undermining your ability to feel good about your circumstances. Choose, instead, to build inner strength and self-esteem.
7. Never doubt that you can meet any challenge
From the time you learn that your child has Cerebral Palsy, you are in unchartered waters that are often intimidating. It’s natural, not having any hands-on experience with children with special needs, to question your capabilities.
What you often tell your children about being able to meet challenges and be successful despite physical or cognitive limitations are often the things you should be telling yourself.
The encouraging phrases you already use with your child, “You can do this,” or “You did a really good job today,” or “I believe in you,” is inspirational to them. You wouldn’t tell your child “You are a failure,” or “You are doing it all wrong,” or “You are incompetent” as it may break their spirit and hinder their progress. So we suggest you treat yourself with the same respect you would give your child; you are succeeding, you are doing so many things that make a world of difference, and you are SOooo competent!
8. Call a friend for a pep talk
Although it’s important to give yourself a pat on the back because there isn’t always someone else available to do it, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek out positive reinforcements from family and friends.
Reaching out to others for feedback can give you an important sense of connectedness that may be lacking if you are raising a child whose needs are substantial. These supportive relationships are important in helping provide you with perspectives you may not have considered.
Although parents may call family and friends, another place to see positive reinforcement or input is from other parents of special needs children. To that end, a parent might consider joining a support group in his or her town, or join an online forum. And, of course, join MyChild at CerebralPalsy.org and Facebook.com/CerebralPalsyOrg.
9. Hug your child
The person you may get the biggest pat on the back from is, perhaps surprisingly, your child.
Children thrive on individual attention, and the bond between you as the parent that cares for your child’s needs is going to be strong. But if you lack confidence, or are under a lot of stress, your child will sense that something’s wrong. That, in effect, means that your efforts may not be as beneficial to your child as intended.
If you are overwhelmed or out of sorts, it might feel difficult, or impossible, to pat yourself on the back. But this is precisely the time when positive reinforcement is not only advisable, but necessary. If you aren’t taking care of your own needs, you will not be able to assist your child to the best of their ability.
10. Take a compliment, and pass it on
Parents of children with special needs often feel uncomfortable accepting a compliment because they feel that what they do day-to-day is their duty as a parent.
But if you shy away from verbal accolades and encouragement, that’s a big indicator that you’re not in a position to receive compliments very often, and that needs to change. When complements are received, accept them with grace, knowing that when you have the next opportunity you will pass them on to another deserving parent who is struggling.
The best part of this is that it’s a two-for; not only will it make you feel good, it will make the parent in your support group who is disappointed at her daughter’s physical therapy assessment, or the dad whose son will have to undergo surgery, heart soar. That’s a feel-good.
It’s important to realize that, as a parent of a child with Cerebral Palsy, you are not alone. Parents of children with special needs are often told that they need to do everything within their power to make their child confident they are a valuable member of the family. Likewise, you need to feel confident in those same sentiments, not only from others, but from your own internal dialog. You are valued.
A message can be verbal, or something that’s felt in the heart. What all messages have in common is that they can influence our perspectives for better or worse. Luckily, by gathering positive messages, the bad ones can be cast away.
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