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The balancing act of special needs parenting

Parenting on a daily basis is a constant balancing act. Between school, homework, extracurricular activities and having a life of your own, it’s hard to believe you’re still standing at the end of the day. Being a parent to a child with developmental delays or a behavioral diagnosis takes that balancing act to an entirely new level.

More than likely when you dreamt of becoming a parent, you didn’t dream of the heavy world of special needs parenting but nevertheless, here you are. And we understand that the daily pressure can often feel like too much.

We regularly hear from parents that there’s not enough time in the day or week to accomplish everything they feel they need to do for their child. Between school, homework, multiple weekly therapy appointments and doctors appointments - when is there time for your child to just be a child and for you to just be a parent?

We also hear from parents that they feel so much pressure to make every minute of every part of their child’s day therapeutic. But the mental exhaustion that puts on both parent and child can just be too much. In fact, it can be detrimental to both you and your child.

You deserve to JUST (we hope you get our humor here) be mom or dad. And even more so, your child deserves to just be themselves.

In an effort to relieve some of that guilt and pressure, we’re going to let you in on a couple secrets.

1) Allowing your child to JUST be a kid IS therapeutic.

These days, we place so much importance on “learning, learning, learning” that we lose sight of the value of free play. This is especially so when your child has developmental delays. The pressure as parents we feel to spend every free minute working on whatever skill deficit they have is intense but we have to understand free play is just as therapeutic.

Whether it’s going to the playground, playing with Legos or their favorite characters or even watching certain children’s television shows for a short period of time, there is value in all of those activities.

Between strengthening their muscles at the park and learning to make friends to improving their fine motor skills through playing with Legos, building their imagination by playing with their favorite characters to getting some much needed “downtime” by watching certain children’s shows on television, there is a benefit in all of those activities.

2) Being “JUST” mom or dad is also therapeutic, both for you and for your child. In fact, it’s the MOST important job you have.

Repeat after us, you are not your child’s therapist. As a parent, you love their child unconditionally and it’s up to you to show them your love and support on a daily basis. Tell them how proud you are of them when they accomplish some new milestone, no matter how small it may seem. Making them feel loved and supported is crucial to their self esteem. The higher their self esteem is the more they believe they can accomplish all the hard things they’re working on in therapy.

Does this mean you can’t work with them on the things they’re working on in therapy? Absolutely not! But, it’s not on you to bear the entire burden. The old adage of “it takes a village to raise a child” is 100 percent true and with a child with developmental delays or behavioral diagnosis, that just means you have a bigger village.

It’s also important to remember that in most cases, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Learning new skills takes time and your child may go through peaks and valleys where they accomplish a lot and then it seems like the progress has slowed to a snail's pace. That’s normal. Try not to let it get you down.

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