Children living with disabilities, whether mental or physical, are starting out in life with a few extra challenges. Not only because of their disability but also because of the stigma and stereotypes they are likely to experience throughout their life.
As a parent of a child with a disability, you will want to do everything to help your child live their best possible life. This can be challenging as you are also learning about what life looks like for you and your family, when parenting a child with a disability.
Empowering a child with a disability requires hard work, perseverance, and lifetime of learning. Every child is different, and every family adapts differently. Supports change as a child grows and develops, so constant change is inevitable.
With that in mind, read further to learn about ways to empower your child to embrace their abilities.
Independence is a big word for people generally and even bigger for those living with disabilities We all want the right to make our own choices, the ability to do some things for ourselves, and the freedom to decide on the big things in our lives. People with a disability are no different.
Helping your child develop their independence in whatever ways possible will help build their self-esteem and belief that they can, in fact, do more than they think.
Some ways to encourage independence in your child:
1. Give them the power of choice
You may need to make some decisions on their behalf but where you can, try to let them decide on things in their life.
Whether it’s small things like what to eat, what to wear, in what order to do their daily tasks, or big things like what friends they have, hobbies they choose, or what they want to learn or study.
If you feel they’ve made an unhealthy or unsafe choice, rather than outright denying their decision, explain to them why it is not a good option and what the consequences can be.
This is something that needs to be adapted to your particular circumstances, but the idea remains the same. Where you can, let them steer the ship and offer support rather than control.
2. Give them a voice
An important part of development is learning to speak up for yourself and express your wants, needs and desires. If your child is verbal, let them explain how they’re feeling to a doctor or therapist, ask for things in shops, ask for directions, and teach them how to ask someone for help when you’re not around.
If they’re non-verbal, there are communication devices as well as signs and sounds that can help them express their needs. Being able to express themselves and feel heard, can alleviate a lot of frustration and make them feel valued and builds confidence.
This includes giving your child a voice in the family. Include them in all family decisions, especially if it’s regarding their development or treatment as they get older. Ask for their opinion and let them have a say.
It’s also easy in families with multiple children with different abilities to be so focused on a child with disabilities that the one(s) without disabilities gets overlooked. No one ever said being a parent was easy!
3. Give them tasks
If your child is able to complete their own self-care tasks or help with small tasks around the house, assign those tasks to them little by little, so that they can start to learn life skills in an unpressured way.
Depending on the disability, they may be able to write a shopping list for you, use the internet, or do small tasks around the house. With the rapid development of digital devices, even if your child has a mobility impairment, they can often help you with online tasks like looking up a recipe or putting on music or a movie.
Wherever possible, let them take responsibility but add tasks in small increments and give loads of praise when they complete them to boost their confidence.
4. Give them a chance to figure it out
When your child is faced with a problem, the natural instinct is to swoop in and solve it for them. If possible, take a step back and give them the time and space to figure it out for themselves.
A good way to prompt them in the right direction is by asking open-ended questions like, ‘How do you think you can fix this?’.
It is great to support, but sometimes it can be easy to mistake protection with support.
Other ways to empower your child:
5. Give them a challenge
A great way to motivate your child is to find out what they are keen to learn to do or study and then set them small challenges that you can increase in difficulty over time.
If it’s something they’re interested in, they’re more likely to engage, and if they get a sense of accomplishment as well as your songs of praise at achieving their goal, they’re more likely to stick to it.
6. Give (or rather get) them the assistance they need
Under the NDIS program in Australia, there are lots of options for assistive therapies and activities that can help your child developmentally as well as emotionally.
There are workshops and programs that allow them to interact with others who have similar struggles and teach them practical life skills or just get them out into the community.
There are also many assistive devices that can help them in all the small but important ways to thrive and progress in daily life.
7. Give them a routine
You’ve set their daily tasks within their capabilities. Now establish that in a routine, which will allow them to rest easy knowing what’s expected of them and when. This will also improve their self-esteem that you are entrusting them with responsibility and expecting it to be done.
Routines are important for everyone, but especially for children and young people. If your child is on the autism spectrum routines are critical to their mental health and well-being. Often without a regular routine, parents report an escalation in negative behaviour, when really all that is needed is a well-organised routine.
Routines allow for children to be able to predict the day ahead, be prepared and know what is expected of them at different times.
Never under-estimate the power of a well-planned and implemented routine and the benefits, for the whole family.
8. Give yourself a break
When one person in the family has greater needs than the rest, it’s so easy to put your needs aside.
The problem is that if you burn out, then you become incapable of caring for others. So, it’s important to get support when you need it to. Reach out to family or friends that can step in and offer you the support you need.
9. Be kind to yourself
Remember, Superman is a comic figure and that you are only human. Many parents of children with disabilities fear they’re not doing it right, not doing enough, not helping their child enough.
The key thing to remember is that as long as you’re trying with your child’s best interests at heart, then you are doing a good job and it’s OK to ask for help.
Parenting is a journey with lots of love, laughter, joy, anger, sadness, and tears along the way. But the joy of watching a child grow and develop far outweighs the hurdles along the way. The more you can work to help them embrace what they can and can’t do, the more rewarding your job becomes.
If you need NDIS supports, contact us now!