Seven Life Lessons I’ve Learned

By Kimberly Schuchman, RPh, CWC

May, 2017

This article originally appeared on the Alt Ed Austin blog (www.altedaustin.com/blog) and is reprinted here with permission of the author and of Alt Ed Austin.

Parenting. It’s the most difficult job many of us will experience in our lives, and one that we receive the least amount of formal training for. Even if you were to become a “certified parent” prior to your first day of parenting, each child comes complete with a unique set of strengths and challenges.

When a child has a diagnosis such as autism, ADHD, a learning difference (dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia), sensory processing disorder, or physical or mental health issues, the parenting waters can become even more murky and turbulent to navigate. Layer multiple diagnoses onto the same child, and it can feel like “man overboard”!

The good news is that parenting can also feel amazing, exciting, and downright miraculous. It’s incredible what your children can inspire you to be, do, or have as a result of their mere existence. Following are some insights that I’ve gained from my very own special-needs parenting experience.

1. Take time every day to appreciate your child’s strengths, no matter how difficult the day has been. Parents often feel a sense of urgency to “fix a problem” when they see their child suffering or struggling in some way. While there are many special-needs-related issues that may require additional outside help, that process can be all-consuming and deficit-focused. It’s important to reconnect daily with your child’s positives, and remind your child of what those positives are. This will help your child develop a sense of self-efficacy.

2. Use humor, even during difficult moments, and laugh often.Despite our children sometimes embarrassing us with their behaviors, their shameless honesty can be downright funny. Life is too short to take everything too seriously. Laughter and humor can often diffuse a situation quicker than anger and stern discipline. In addition, laughter reduces stress, elevates our mood, and can even contribute to building a stronger immune system.

3. Build a support network. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a city the size of Manhattan to raise a special needs child. Ask often for help and support for you and your child. Sources of support can include your spouse, professionals involved in your child’s care, support groups, family members, and friends. Don’t be afraid to share your story and learn from others with experiences similar to your own.

4. Connect your child with positive adult role models in areas of interest. Because we can’t be everyone or everything to our children, it’s important for them to have other adults, besides their parents, who can serve as their cheerleaders and mentors. Connecting your children to adults who share their interests can foster their innate desire to learn and grow, and help them envision their positive present and future.

5. Prioritize your concerns.Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a child. Children with special needs often have multiple areas of development in which they are struggling. Pick one or two important goals each year that you want to focus on with your child, asking for the child’s input if possible. A narrowed focus is less overwhelming for both parent and child.

6. Give yourself permission and time for daily self-care. It’s vital for us as parents and caregivers to take time out each day in order to recharge our own batteries. As they say on the airplane, “Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” Even if it means letting go of other tasks that need to be completed, take 15 to 30 minutes (or longer if you can) to do something just for you. Ideas for self-care can include meditation, reading a book for pleasure, taking a walk, running a warm bath, or calling a friend.

7. Practice self-compassion. In a nutshell, be your own best friend each and every day. Life is not perfect and neither are you. Pat yourself on the back for what you did well and forgive yourself for what you would do differently the next time. Share these thoughts with your children. They will appreciate your honesty, and understand that it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them.

Kimberly Schuchman, RPh, CWC, is the mother of two exceptionally creative kiddos, ages 11 and 15. She is the founder of and certified health and wellness coach at Strong Self Wellness Coaching. Through private coaching sessions, her mission is to support and empower parents to prioritize and practice regular self-care so that they can feel strong and balanced in their lives. After spending nine years advocating extensively for her 2e son in public school, she remains an active parent advocate by helping other Austin, Texas, families through her volunteerism and her coaching practice. Kim may be reached through her Facebook business page at www.facebook.com/mystrongself or by email at kim@mystrongself.com.

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