Raising a child that has special needs can be, and often is a lot of work. Children with special needs learn differently from typical children. And because of this, we as parents tend to be a bit overprotective in an effort to help ease our child’s burden.
Often times, it will seem easier for us to perform everyday tasks for our children simply because it takes less time (such as when you’re preparing for school in the mornings). But by doing everything for them, we wind up doing more harm than good to our kids.
As a special needs parent, you have to learn to let your child take over the reins so that they can learn to be more self-sufficient. It’s extremely important to start building independence when they are younger so that they will be equipped for adulthood.
Just because a child has a disability does not mean that they can’t learn to do things on their own. You can help your child gain the confidence that he or she needs by trying the following tips.
Allow them to make their own choices
One easy way to start building independence is by giving your child choices. You can apply this to different scenarios throughout the day. Start by offering them choices at mealtimes. I may offer my son a choice between pizza or chicken for dinner, and pancakes or oatmeal for breakfast. As they get older they may be able to tell you exactly what they want during mealtimes.
You can also have them help pick out their own clothes. Ask what color shirt or pants they would like to wear to school. Or even what program they would like to watch on television or what game they’d like to play on the Ipad.
My son has a tendency to choose the same things over and over (whether food, TV shows or games), so I will sometimes take his favorite from the list of choices just to add a little variety here and there.
Allow your child the opportunity to make their own choices as much as possible.
Avoid the urge to do things for them
Trust me, I know that this can be difficult. But if your child is capable of doing certain things themselves such as showering on their own, brushing their teeth, or getting dressed by themselves, then, by all means, let them do it.
You may have to get up a little earlier in the mornings so that you’re not late for work or school – which is what I do, but it is so worth it.
It may seem easier for you to do things for them, but it really doesn’t help them in the long run. They may not master a task in the beginning, but continue to work with them until they’ve perfected it.
Challenge your child
Resist the urge to make everything easy for your child. Give them activities that will provide a challenge for them every now and then. That way they will learn that by working hard and putting forth some effort, they can achieve a goal.
If they struggle with a task, in the beginning, make some minor adjustments so that it fits their skill level. Continue making adjustments as needed in order to help build their independence.
It is so worth it to see the pride in their eyes (and yours) when they master a task.
Work with your child’s instructors
Schedule an IEP meeting with your child’s teacher or sit down with their therapist so that you can talk about ways the two of you can work together to help foster your child’s independence.
I like to incorporate a lot of the things that are covered at school into my son’s activities at home. It helps him to master new skills a lot quicker when he’s putting them into practice both at home and at school.
When you communicate learning strategies openly and freely, it helps to ensure that all parties involved are on the same page.
Learn to let go
The road to independence for children with special needs is often more challenging than it is for their peers. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. We just have to be willing to let go and allow our children to make mistakes so that they can learn from them.
It took me a while to master this one. My son can do so much more than what I often allow him to do. As they say – old habits die hard. I am learning more and more each day to let go and allow him to spread his wings and soar. I know that it can be hard watching your child stumble, but how will they know what they can accomplish if we don’t allow them the opportunity?
The earlier we start to foster independence, the easier it will be for our kids to learn to stand on their own two feet.