Monday, December 8, 2014

HOW TO RAISE A CONFIDENT KID (who happens to have special needs)

Sometimes I fear that when I write a post like this, I come across as a know-it-all.  That is not my intention because I am certainly not without flaws and I am regularly at a loss for answers.


I am the mother of three special needs children and God is teaching me a lot about what it looks like to raise them in a world that likes to define your significance by your physical performance or appearance.   These lessons have come to me three ways - trial and error, watching other parents raise kids with special needs, and by God’s grace.  Poor Jack has been my experiment as the firstborn.  God bless that child.  As I try and parent the other two better, it helps me to put some framework to what I have learned. My hope is that it will help some of you too who are navigating these waters with special needs kids of your own.

I would love to share with you some of what I have learned and I would love to hear from your experience too.  There will be at least two parts to this one because I am hoping to add in some of your advice.


So here we go!


HOW TO RAISE A CONFIDENT KID (who happens to have special needs):


1. Give them perspective

I have to start with this one because it is key to the way we approach struggles in our home.  I remind my kids regularly that everybody has something that they struggle with and if we threw all of our troubles in a pile to be redistributed, we would most likely fight like hell to get our own back.

I regularly point out the challenges of their peers so they can see that they are not alone in having struggles and hopefully help them take their eyes off of their own plight long enough to demonstrate empathy for someone else.  I am also trying to raise them with a compassionate worldview so they can see how blessed they are to be Americans.   There are kids fleeing ISIS who would be happy to walk with a limp for the opportunity to live safely in America. 


I don't think seeing it is enough though.  I think they need to really get their hands dirty (more than stuffing shoe boxes or buying a t-shirt) serving others to really get it.  That is coming.





2.  Be honest and keep the communication flowing

When Jack was initially diagnosed, I approached his condition with a bit of denial.  It was as if I thought that if I did not talk about it, it wouldn’t be real.  This style of parenting communicates some level of shame towards having special needs that should never be there.  Instead, I have learned to be very honest with Jack and Ruthie about their conditions.  I want them to know that they can trust me for the truth and that there is nothing to hide or be ashamed of.  

With that I think it is also important to give them the language they need to explain their condition to someone else.  My kids get asked a lot of questions about their situation and that can be intimidating if they don't have the words to respond with.  We have in no way mastered this but we are getting better. 


3. Empower them
Find that thing that they are good at and provide opportunity there.  Special needs kids are reminded daily of what they cannot do.  It is our job as parents to help them find what they are passionate about and empower them to be involved there.  

I used to have a coworker whose nephew had Cerebral Palsy.  He also happened to love baseball.  Instead of telling him, sorry you can’t play baseball because you can’t run, his parents contacted the local Little League and arranged for him to announce the games.   Our role is to counter the voice that says “you can’t” with the voice of “let’s figure out how.”


4. Show them people with physical disabilities who have changed the world
Having a child with special needs opens your eyes to a world of adults who have overcome their limitations to do incredible things.  Just last year, a girl with Ruthie’s diagnosis, Arthrogryposis, was a finalist on The X-Factor.  Bill Gates had Aspergers.  I became a Christian while listening to the message of an evangelist who had Polio and Cystic Fibrosis.  The truth I continually speak over Jack is that God is going to use his disability to develop the character and determination in him that will enable him to do incredible things.  I speak it because I believe it with all of my heart.  My hope is that when my kids see other people with challenges who have gone on to do incredible things, that they will feel empowered to do the same.  

Confession moment - I also point out seemingly "perfect" people who royally blew it because they didn't have the character and work ethic they needed to succeed. 


5. Prepare them for those who haven't been prepared for them
Oh this is a really difficult one and is definitely one that we learned the hard way in 5th grade.  I don't say this out of bitterness but really just out of the realization that kids will say mean things if they don't know better and most don't know better.  I have had to communicate a handful of truths to my kids to help them not take what others say too personally.  

First, most kids are more curious then they are spiteful.  If they are asking questions or staring, it really is because they just don't understand and their little brains are trying to make sense of it.  
Second, those who are mean (and there will be some) are generally the ones who are most insecure about their own situation.  This was certainly true for Jack last year.  Of the three boys who bullied him last year, one was the smallest in the class, one was having trouble at home, and one was bullied by others.  Helping Jack see that, enabled him to go back to #1 and have perspective.   

Jack does an incredible job now at blowing off the comments of others and Lord help the first person who says something mean to Ruthie.  I pray she will be ready, but if she is not, her daddy and I are. :)



Okay so we are just getting started.  I have at least 4 more points that I want to share in another post and I want to know your thoughts too.  I promise to give you credit.  

PART 2 to this post can be found HERE

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