Children need predictability in their life. They need to know the rules. This means that parents need to be on the same page, at least most of the time. My children are typically developing, and I find it difficult for my husband and I to agree on all parenting issues. Although, we do agree on most issues. It must be even harder for two parents to agree on their approaches when the child has special needs. Unfortunately, while I am at work it is not an uncommon sight for me to see parents on opposite ends of the spectrum in their approach to parenting. So often, one is more leniant because they are a "softee" or feel sorry for the child. The other parent might be stricter and expect more of the child no matter if he has a special need or not. Of course this depends on the special need, if it is medical, developmental, or learning problems. However, these children need consistency between their parents more than anyone else does.
Some suggestions on how to get on the same page on parenting your child with special needs are:
- Discuss your opinions and how you will respond to things before the situation arises. Do not bicker, argue, or debate in front of your child. This is super confusing for the child and lets them know the two of you are not in agreement. This is especially the case for a divorced couple. So, unless the child is in harm, don't disagree with the other person in front of the child.
- Understand the rules at daycare, preschool, the babysitter's home and other places that your young child may be during the week. Try to use some of those same rules at home. This might include not eating a snack before washing hands. It might be that the word "stupid" is considered a bad word; if they can't say the word at school, don't let them say it at home.
- After therapy sessions (physical, speech, occupational, or other), discuss any techniques that might need to be updated by the parents. If the speech therapist recommended only giving the child a small amount of food at meal time so that the child needs to request more food with sign language or words, then do this at each meal if possible. And all caregivers need to carry this out, not just the parents.
- Be consistent and predictable. If the child's behaviors start to improve, don't all of the sudden switch approaches as this may alter the child's behavior again. Remember, that predictability can be calming. An example may include that if a toddler with feeding problems learned to chew food without gagging after 6 months of addressing the issue, then don't regress to offering him baby food because that is all you had in the pantry. Plan ahead if you need to, but if you let him have the baby food again, you just undid alot of the work. It may take another month to get him to eat table food or not scream when he does eat it.
- Keep open lines of communication. Discussing how to address behaviors that the child displays may need to be done on a regular basis; maybe once a week or once a month.
- Give lots of praise to your spouse in front of the child and in private. It is not easy to be a parent and it is even harder when there are special circumstances
Now, I hope this weekend and next week on our family vacation that my husband and I can be consistent with our parenting styles. I know that times where we are in a hotel and out of our environment can be a true test for us!