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.
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.
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.
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.