I don’t think I’ve ever reprinted a parenting article at this blog. But I was so taken with “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Special Needs Parents” that I thought I should share it with you, since I know that more than a few of my readers are, like me, parenting children with special needs. I’m curious whether you manage to maintain any of the habits described below. I have tried hard, especially during the past few years when I have been a single parent as well. Here is the article, reprinted with permission of Joan Celebi of SpecialNeedsParentCoach.
If you are a mom of a child with special needs, I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on this article. Please leave them in the comments.
Did you ever notice how some special needs parents seem to be not just surviving, but doing quite well? Even with the challenges they face every day, and heavy demands on their time and energy, they’re happy, organized, energetic, all-around “put-together” people – and they hardly ever seem to be in a rush or stressed out. What are their secrets?
It’s not that their children’s special needs are any less serious. And it’s not because these parents just naturally have a sunny disposition.
From my own experience as a special needs mom, from observing fellow special needs parents, and from seeing what works best for my coaching clients, I’ve discovered over the years what it takes to be one of these “highly effective special needs parents.”
Parents of children with special needs who live manageable, balanced, joyful lives utilize a set of skills I call the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Special Needs Parents. You can learn these skills, just as I did years ago, and just as my clients do today.
So … what do highly effective special needs parents do? While everyone has their own unique mix of what works best, here are the common threads that I’ve found running through the lives of these parents:
1. They make rest a priority.
Highly effective special needs parents are in bed by 10 pm or even earlier most nights, even if it means leaving something unfinished. Parents whose children have irregular sleep patterns take naps whenever possible to make up for the late nights and pre-dawn awakenings.
2. They make time for eating well.
Highly effective special needs parents don’t skip meals – and they eat delicious, nutritious food. They get the whole family involved in weekly or monthly meal planning. They also tend to stay hydrated by sipping water throughout the day.
3. They find support.
Highly effective special needs parents get help with even the smallest things, as often as they can, from anyone and anywhere they can: family, friends, neighbors, agencies, organizations, and their community. They hire help when necessary, and find creative solutions for bartering help with family and friends. They belong to support groups for their children’s special needs and disabilities, and they’re in close contact with other special needs families in their area.
4. They guard their time carefully.
Highly effective special needs parents know they have to be careful about how many activities they sign up for, and the activities they do choose to participate in are only those that are nearest and dearest to their hearts. They save most of their free time for whatever truly matters to them most.
5. They schedule social time on the calendar.
Highly effective special needs parents regularly go out with friends, and also with their spouse or partner. They take the time and effort to train sitters, relatives, or friends on how to care for their children, so their social time can be as fun and worry-free as possible. They take advantage of respite services in their area when they need a break. They schedule social time weeks or months in advance, and then do whatever’s necessary to make it happen.
6. They nurture their own needs and interests.
Highly effective special needs parents reserve time for exercise – walking, biking, hiking, stretching, exercise videos, even gym workouts. Many exercise with friends. They engage in creative pursuits and hobbies that can be fit into small moments here and there throughout the week. And they make time for intellectual activities too, like reading or taking a class for personal growth and enrichment.
7. They intentionally practice stress-reducing techniques.
While all of the above habits are excellent for reducing stress, highly effective special needs parents take stress reduction a step further by practicing deep breathing, meditation, or anything that helps them build up their inner reserves and cultivate inner calm. Highly effective special needs parents also reserve time each day to put aside the therapy goals and the discipline issues, and relax with their children, enjoying them just the way they are.
What about you?
I’ve seen it time and again: the more you practice these 7 Habits, the more productive and efficient you become, the more you’re able to handle whatever comes your way, and the more things fall into place in your life. Many of these habits are about taking excellent care of yourself, so you can continue to take excellent care of your children and family.
It’s well known that when parents lead low-stress, balanced lives, children do better socially, emotionally, and academically. Try some of these 7 Habits, starting today – you’ll be amazed at what a huge difference they’ll make – for you, your children, and your family.
(Photo by me, August 2010)