Updated: Jun 12, 2020
"Fear, She is a Liar"
...is the title of my favorite Zach William's song. This lyric rings particularly true when it tricks us into believing lies and limiting our child with special needs.
Parents: whether you consider yourself the laid-back-Margaritaville type, the mindful-Zen- yogi type, or any type in between, I guarantee you worry. At some level worry is hardwired within each of us, but there is a separate circle of fear reserved for those of us who parent a child with special needs. In this post, we will examine the sources of our fear, what it can make us do, and how to tame it.
Where Does the Fear Come From?
Because of a primal connection with our offspring, we feel our children’s hurts so intensely that their pains and slights become equally our own. Here are some common fears shared by parents with kids who have been labeled.
I fear being ostracized or left out. "What if my daughter comes off as too different?" "What if they don't accept my son, and by extension, they don't accept me?"
I fear being judged or pitied. "They are thinking I am doing too much (or too little) for my son." "People will look at me like I am a poor, misguided woman for expecting my kid to participate."
I fear being embarrassed or humiliated. "If she acts out again at the party, I won't be able to handle it." "If he doesn't get chosen it will kill him."
I fear failure or disappointment. "I don't want him to put himself out there only to get rejected. "I don't want to ask too much and have him fall short".
I fear standing out or being found out "they will look at him funny", "They will realize that she has ____ and does not belong here."
How Fear Tricks Us into Behaving.
Fear rears its head in lots of ugly ways. It can cause us to pass our fears onto our child. Played out over the course of a childhood, fear can cause us to behave in ways that prevent our child from pursuing his or her best life. Specifically fear leads us to...
1. Put fixed imitations on our child—"He can’t be on the playground unsupervised, the other kids will eat him alive." "He can’t sit for story time." "She could never get a job there are too many unknown variables."
2. Stay within our child’s comfort zone-- Fear causes you to play it safe. "He only does a half page of math problems." "He only complies with his regular 1 to 1 aide – we can’t risk putting him with someone new." "He needs his iPad to sit in circle time."
3. Opt out of possibilities and opportunities that present themselves-- "We turned down the birthday party invitation because the noise sets her off and it could get really uncomfortable."
4. Over protect our child—"I don’t take him to the after school program because those kids are so rough- and I don’t want him to get made fun of."
5. Buy into predictions associated with our child's diagnosis--"I expect that he will have trouble with reading because the diagnosis says 'developmental delays'" Because we expect to see them, we start manifesting these predictions.
6. Become anxious, angry, or irritable with our child-- "I lost it with my kid because I just know if he keeps putting his fingers in his mouth they are going to transfer him to the self- contained class"
What to do about our Fear?
There is a classic self-help book entitled Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway... That is my advice when it comes parenting your child with special needs.
Set a vision of "capable" for your child (check out my YouTube video to learn more).
Realize that everyone gets scared. Get out of your head. Catastrophizing is sure to lead to tunnel vision.
Keep your vision for your child front and center. Whether your vision of "capable" includes your child being a member of the brownie troupe, getting a job, or able to eat independently in the high school cafeteria, you can endure a few tantrums, funny glances, false starts, or snide comments. Your capable vision puts you in it for the long haul! You will outlast the naysayers, I promise.
We'll talk more about how to parent in ways that move your child toward a vision of "capable".