Written by Emily Hayles – Physiotherapist and Owner, and author of ‘Braver than you think: How to help your child with a disability live their best life’
When a child is not meeting their motor milestones like their peers, is slow in their development, or has been diagnosed with a disability – amongst other emotions they experience at that time, parents can frequently feel eager to get in and try to help your child as quickly as possible. They don’t want to waste any time, and want to get started as quickly as possible on helping their child, to see them improve, to progress, to catch up, to be the best they can be.
But it is important to know that – as much as you might want to race into helping your child and helping them improve – there are some things that are worth taking your time over:
- Take your time learning about and understanding ALL your child’s needs
All areas of your child’s development are interconnected, across all the different areas of their development – movement, learning, communication, social skills, self-care, etc. It can be easy to focus on one area that is the most obvious difficulty your child is having, but missing other areas. Understanding the breadth of your child’s needs will allow you to be informed, prepared, and empowered to help your child be the best they can be across all areas of their life.
- Take your time learning to understanding of your child’s future
Receiving a diagnosis can be overwhelming time for any parent. Give yourself and your family time to understand and digest the information you have been given, mourn or grieve the life you had previously imagined for your child, and start to imagine and dream about what a good life for your child could look like.
- Take your time to find the therapists and services that that suit your child and family
Try to find a good match between your child and family, and the therapists and service providers you engage with. Consider your child’s and family’s needs, your values and approach to life, and whether that matches with what and how a service provider can help you. This will help you to feel comfortable and to develop trust in your service providers.
- Allow your child’s therapists time to get to know your child
Understanding a child – their personality, quirks, interests, strengths, abilities and challenges – can take time. If your child’s therapist can develop a deep understanding of your child – in both the initial assessment and over time – the therapist will more confidently be able to pin point the best way to help your child, with greater clarity and certainty.
- Similarly, allow your child time to get to know their therapists and support providers
Therapy is a collaborative process, with the therapist and the child working together. Therapy should never be done TO your child; it should always be done WITH your child. Your child will more willingly and happily be an active participant in therapy if they have had time to get to know the therapist and have built their own level of trust and confidence in their therapist.
- Give your child time to learn and master a new skill before pushing for them to move onto the next skill
Mastery of a skill takes a lot of practice. Hundreds and thousands of repetitions. However, even though it might feel like your child is not progressing because they are continuing to practice the same skill – achieving mastery of a movement or a skill is actually preparing them and giving them a solid foundation from which they can learn the next, more complex movement or skill. Your child will develop new skills by layering them on top of skills they have already mastered. So the time your child spends repetitively mastering a skill will be time well spent.
- Take your time talking with your partner
The rate of family separation and divorce for families with children with disabilities is higher than the average population. Having a child with a disability brings with it a number of new challenges you would have never anticipated for yourself and your family. Take time getting to know your partners thoughts, feelings and hopes for your child and family, and share yours with them. Spend time discussing your child and how you would like to approach raising your children, regardless of their ability or disability.
- Give your child the time and opportunity to have a go, try something, or do something by themselves (even if they are struggling) before jumping in to help them
It is important for your child to learn to become as independent as possible, to learn to ask for help when they need it, and to develop resilience and to learn to cope with setbacks and failures in life (just as any of us). It is by giving them time to try something by themselves that you can help them to develop these important life skills.
- Give your child time to explore their passions
What does your child like, what are the most interested in, what activities do they love to do? Let them pursue these interests and passions, and let them discover what they are good at and what they can contribute to in their life. This will help them to develop their sense of self and sense of identity. Your child is defined by their interests, passions and relationships, not by their disability.
- Take time to spend quality time with your child, and with your family
Life gets busy, but always ensure you and your child find time to find joy in the every day, and spend time with the people who mean the most to you.
How does the saying go? ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup’. You have to look after yourself first in order to have something to offer others. Make sure you take the time to pursue your own interests, look after your own health and wellbeing, and make sure your own cup is not empty.
- Take your time to celebrate the successes and enjoy the moments
Find joy in the small moments, find excitement in the achievement of both ‘millistones’ and milestones, and enjoy your time and the people you spend your time with. This is probably a lesson for all of us – regardless of if we have kids or don’t have kids, or whether we have abilities or disabilities.
At Move and Play, we believe in the importance of taking time to get to know the children we work with and their families, to understand their dreams and hopes for their child and family, and helping parents and families to take their time to help their child the best they possibly can.
In our fast paced world, what else do you think it is important to take your time with?