I usually write about children with disabilities, but today’s post is about parents with challenges. As an occupational therapist that sees children in their homes through the Early Intervention program, I meet all kinds of parents. This includes parents with disabilities of their own. Some parents have vision or hearing issues, some have orthopedic issues (try lifting a toddler all day with a bad back!}), and some have emotional or cognitive issues. I have worked with parents with addictions and parents that were intellectually challenged. I may have seen it all, with the exception of parents in wheelchairs and parents that are deaf. But my career isn’t over yet; there is still time.
They all have had one thing in common: parenting small children is even harder when you have a disability. Not impossible, and no reason to think that they cannot do a good or even a great job. But it is definitely harder to raise children when you have a disability. Small children are demanding, in a 24/7, self-centered manner. That is normal, that is the natural state of a young child. It doesn’t make it any easier. There are no coffee breaks, there is no weekend off. Not unless you have willing relatives or friends that will come over or take care of them in their own homes.
The Happiest Toddler on the Block techniques are methods to teach children self-regulating skills and strategies to help children learn to communicate their needs and feelings without aggression or defiance. They don’t require an advanced degree, and they could save you from going to a therapist yourself, just to complete a sentence that doesn’t start with “For goodness sake,….!”
Parents with disabilities often think that what they need most are the skills or the capacity that they lack. And I am not going to tell you that being able to see well, hear well, move easily or have boundless energy wouldn’t be a good thing. But if a child is able to calm down, wait for a snack or a toy, follow directions and even assist the parent in accomplishing something, life gets so, so much better. Just the removal of stress from tantrums and whining makes everyone’s life better. You are able to focus and work out how to get things done and feel good about yourself as a parent. Children that can self-regulate are better able to handle the frustrations of life, and better able to empathize with others.
If you are a parent with a disability, or you know such a parent, please share this post with them. Tell them to read Why Telling Your Child “It’s OK” Doesn’t Calm Him Down (And What To Do Instead) , Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today! and Use The Fast Food Rule For Better Attunement With Your Child for some useful strategies that start turning things around right away.