||Avoid overcompensating by
In a misguided attempt to make up for their child's frustrations
and challenges, parents of children with special needs often
become engaged in a style
of parenting that is overly permissive. Unfortunately, pampering
or becoming a "Doormat" style parent just makes matters
worse. When a child with special needs is rewarded with special
privileges, does not have to follow reasonable rules, is immune
from accountability for her actions, and is able to use his special
needs to put others in his service without good reason, she is
in danger of developing a condition known as "learned helplessness."
An Active (or "Authoritative") style of parenting,
modified to account for the real needs of the special needs child
can help her learn to do what she is capable of learning to do-what
you might call "learned competence."
A simple rule of thumb for all children is this: Do not do
on a regular basis what the child is capable of doing for himself
or capable of learning to do for himself.
||Show empathy, not pity or
The emphasis on teaching parents to identify and respond to children's
feelings in Active Parenting is coupled with empathy-building
activities to teach parents this essential parenting skill. New
science on brain research shows that empathy (the experience
of feeling what another person is feeling) releases the hormone
oxytocin in both parent and child. This hormone, sometimes called
the bonding hormone, creates a sense of well-being and trust.
As such, empathy is a counter to stress that produces the hormone
Cortisol. Prolonged stress, as is often suffered by abused children,
can actually damage brain functioning and reduce the child's
ability to effectively handle stress.
Responding to the special needs child's feelings, especially
the ones they do not verbalize, is a skill that can help build
a cooperative relationship that leads to effective problem-solving.
However, there is one particular feeling we do not want to show
them, and that's pity. Compassion is a good thing, but when we
slip into pity, we put the child in a position of inferiority
that can become severely limiting. This is true for all children,
but it's especially important to remember for those dealing with
To show compassion for the child's frustrations, without pity,
acknowledge the child's feelings (and those of your own), but
then move on to helping the child learn to solve problems and
succeed in spite of them.
||Provide respectful, non-violent
The goal of Active Parenting is to help parents and other caregivers
prepare children to survive and thrive in a democratic society.
This includes helping the child learn to exercise "freedom
within limits." All children benefit from the freedom to
make choices within the limits of their ability and circumstances.
Sometimes this means offering the child choices. At other times
it means offering logically connected consequences and other
limit setting discipline. These tools help them learn to become
and learn to become successful.
To be effective, discipline is best given in a firm and calm
manner. Discipline delivered in anger or violently is not only
less effective in the long run, but can also be damaging to the
child's character development leading to much larger problems
than what it was intended to correct. Because special needs children
are often frustrated and frustrating, it is easy for them and
their parents to become angry and lash outsometimes in
words, and sometimes in action. Learning to manage our own anger,
and to help our special needs children learn methods of managing
their own can help. The skills taught in Active Parentingmindfulness,
self-calming, and otherswork for most all children. However,
in special needs situations it is important for the parent to
develop the patience to stick with them for longer. Having other
supportive adults who can take over at times is extremely helpful.
||Help stimulate their independence
and build on their strengths.
There is a story we illustrate on video about a boy whose teacher
sends him to observe a cocoon. The student becomes impatient
while watching the butterfly emerge from its cocoon. Finally
he reaches in and frees the butterfly himself, but the butterfly
is not strong enough to fly, and it falls to the ground. The
boy returns with tears in his eyes and asks his teacher what
happened. The teacher explains that when the student reached
in to help that he robbed the butterfly of a chance to strengthen
its wings in the struggle to break free.
Children need to struggle with solving problems and doing
other things for themselves in order to develop the skills and
"emotional muscle" to eventually become as independent
as reasonably possible. One of the challenges of parenthood is
learning when to step in and help, and when to step back and
let the child work it out for herself. This challenge is multiplied
when a special need is involved.
There are many situations that you will want to address in
your family depending on your child's special needs. Help your
child understand her special needs and what she needs to be aware
of in order to avoid problems associated with it. Make this a
cooperative venture with you and your child working together
to overcome the challenges, and helping you both become emotionally
stronger for having learned persistence.
"Stimulating independence" and "building on
strengths" are two of the core methods of encouragement
taught in Active Parenting as a means of instilling one of the
greatest character traits a parent can help provide a child:
courage. With courage a child will try and eventually learn to
do that which seemed almost impossible at first. When parents
focus on what the child can do by building on existing strengths,
children feel encouraged to persist, to learn, to cooperate and
to succeed. Break down challenging tasks into baby steps so that
your child has ample opportunities to experience the encouragement
of success and progressing towards a concrete goal. Children
with special needs are well aware of their limitations. Help
them learn to also become aware of what they can do, and help
them expand and build on that foundation.
||Take care of themselves physically,
mentally, and emotionally
"Taking care of the caregiver" is a topic covered in
all Active Parenting programs, because it is a reality of caring
for children that "you cannot do your best if you do not
get your rest." This is particularly true of those who care
for special needs children who regularly require more physical,
mental, and emotional energy.
More than just rest, it is important for parents and others
who care for special needs children to monitor their own physical,
mental, and emotional well-being. This goes beyond just getting
enough exercise and sleep. It also includes taking time away
from your child, engaging in stimulating adult activities, and
learning to manage frustration and anger in positive ways. If
you are a spiritual person, it means taking time to nurture that
part of yourself, too. If you are married, in a romantic relationship,
or just want to get into one, taking care of those needs are
important, too. This does not mean you should neglect your child.
It means that you should balance your child's needs with the
understanding that a happy, healthy caregiver is important to
If you are thinking, "Great idea, but where is the time
going to come from?" two things might help. One is to get
better at time management. From learning to make "to do"
lists to keeping a good calendar, there are lots of books and
articles that can help you use time more wisely-something almost
all of us can benefit from. The second thing that works for many
parents of special needs children is to find someone to relieve
you on a regular basis. Depending on your situation and budget
you can hire someone or find another parent to swap childcare
with. Whatever you do, don't try to do everything alone. Your
child needs a healthy you.
||Give lots of hugs and kisses.
Remember that so-called "bonding hormone," oxytocin,
that the brain releases when children feel empathy from their
parent or other caregiver-the one that produces a feeling of
well-being and trust? Well, brain science has also learned that
hugs, kisses, and other loving touches also release that same
chemical. When paired with loving words (like "I love you")
the words themselves can create the same feelings.
There is more to this than just feeling good. When children,
and again especially special needs children, feel that their
parents and others accept and love themwarts and allthey
develop the courage, self-esteem, and resiliency to tackle their
challenges and eventually succeed. We encourage parents to be
generous with their hugs and kisses at any time of day. A bedtime
routine with your own special rituals can be a great way to end
the day on a warm and positive note. Adding hugs, kisses, and
an "I love you" (said from the heart, not the memory)
is a wonderful way to send your child off to dreamland at night,
and school in the morning.
Copyright 2017 by Active Parenting Publishers,