Every year, thousands of young children are diagnosed with disorders that make it difficult for them to absorb the external world. Parents of sensory kids—like those with sensory processing disorder, AD/HD, autism, bipolar disorder, and OCD—often feel frustrated and overwhelmed, creating stress in everyday life for the whole family.
I know a little bit about this myself. I’m the parent of a sensory child, as well as the owner of a business founded to help these kids and their families function in the world. So I know firsthand the struggles that parents face in trying to bring out the best in their rigid, anxious, or distracted sensory children. In my work with my own family, as well as with the countless families I’ve worked with in my company, Systems for Sensory Kids, I’ve come up with my own rules for parenting a sensory child—some guidelines to keep in mind when things get tough. While they are especially applicable for parents of sensory children, in reality ALL of us can benefit from keeping these truisms front of mind when we face tough situations with our kids.
Your job is not to compare yourself to other parents around you, but to figure out what works for your own family. Here are a few new parenting rules to help get you started.
Your child’s disorder is not a reflection on you or your parenting. Looking at things for how they really are and letting go of the why or how it happened can get us to a neutral, open place. You will need to gain a level of confidence that these new parenting rules are right for your child. The reality is that parents of typical children or members of your own family will question your approach. They are usually coming from a place of wanting to help, but have no frame of reference or experience with sensory children. Stick to your guns! Only you know what is best for your sensory child and your family.
Let go of guilt and anger. When you are in a place of blame, guilt, or anger, you are making your sensory child’s experience about you, and this takes away your power to advocate for them effectively.
Value the gift of the experience. Get in a habit of sitting down and writing out a gratitude list of all the wonderful things you have learned and experienced as a result of being the parent of a sensory child.
Initially, parenting a sensory child is a counterintuitive process. What might work when parenting most typical kids usually will not work in the same way for sensory kids. It takes more conscious thought and preparation for daily activities to parent a sensory child. If you can be mindful of this one idea, you will be able to adjust and adapt your plans to the daily situations that might be a challenge.
Celebrate your child’s strengths. Have a solid understanding of your sensory child’s strengths. Write out a list of all your child’s great characteristics. Sensory kids are special and among some of the most successful adults in the world. You are going to run into many people who won’t understand or appreciate what they bring to the table—make sure you do!
Parenting a sensory child is a marathon, not a race. Parenting is a journey and with a sensory child, the journey tends to have many twists and turns. Focus on the long-term objectives and then create the steps needed to get there.
No sensory solution works forever. Frequent amendments will be needed to support your growing and ever-changing sensory child. All kids grow and change, and these changes can be more exaggerated for sensory kids. When you understand how to tap into structure, routines, and visual aids, you will be able to find solutions to the changing landscape you will face over time with your sensory child.
Embrace when you do it all wrong. The bottom line is that you can learn more about how to better support your sensory child when something goes all wrong as opposed to the hundred times you do it right. Embrace the lessons in the “wrong” experiences.
Be guided by love and understanding. Our sensory kids just want to feel safe, loved, and understood. They are great kids who have a hard time learning the rules of life in the traditional way. They need and want to have times every day when they are in an environment that they understand and that supports their way of seeing the world. You can do this for them at home.
Pass it on. One of the best long-term gifts we can give sensory children is to teach them the tools. If you start sensory organizing at an early age, your sensory child will have years of practice, trial and error, and examples of real success. The goal is for this to be a way of life for them so when they are in high school and feeling overwhelmed, they stop and say, “What’s my plan to handle this or get this done?” That is the definition of self-reliance (and successful parenting).