by Maria McCutchen
Living with any disability is a challenge, at best. If you have physical handicaps that make it difficult to perform daily tasks, then you know the challenges of just trying to get by day-to-day. But if you are a parent and disabled, then you know how even more difficult life can be.
Most parents will tell you that raising children is the biggest reward there is; though it usually also comes with the greatest challenges. Raising children is a lot of work. It requires physical, mental, and emotional strength. On a good day, you can be exhausted by the end of it. But if you live with disabilities or a handicap on top of trying to be a parent, your challenges can grow to insurmountable measures.
Children are resilient, this is true. They adapt to changes, and can handle discouraging circumstances much better than we, as adults seem to. We may find it hard, at times, to put that one foot in front of the other to keep going, whereas children seem to have a natural ability to move past, and bounce back.
Even so, if a parent had been living one way — healthy, vital and active; and suddenly, there are changes happening inside the home due to the illness, these changes can confuse and even frighten children. Changes such as:
- Frequent doctor visits
- Noticeable changes in routine
- You become less active
- Changes in your behavior or mood
- Surgery or other big procedures
It can be frightening for a child. He may be nervous and confused; worried about you, and worried how everything will affect him. This is especially true if his normal routine is disrupted. He will have lots of questions and concerns; he just might not know how to voice his feelings, or ask the questions he has. Some common concerns kids have if a parent becomes ill or disabled are:
- Will I stay in my school?
- Will we have to move?
- Is Grandma (whoever is there helping) moving in, or just visiting?
- Will you get better?
If you know there are a lot, or even just some changes, it’s always a good idea to talk to your child about the changes. This makes them seem less frightening, as well as it can lessen the fear of the changes and make them less traumatic for him.
If your child is old enough to understand, even just a little, there are things you can do and need to do to help your child deal with, and accept your limitations and your medical condition. There are certain things you can do to help a child cope, at any age.
- Lots of hugs — Children need lots of physical contact with their parents. Hugs give your child reassurance.
- Lots of talking — Talk to your child. Tell him you love him and reassure him in any way you can.
- Spend quality time — However it is you can spend time with your child, whether it is going to the park, or just coloring together; spend the time doing something fun and something that would be normal for him.
- Books — Look for books that will help your child accept your disability, and more than that; change. One good book for kids about change is “Harry the Happy Caterpillar,” by Cindy Jett. She teaches kids how to think positive, and how to breathe calmly, to calm themselves down. She also talks about how fear can bring about physical symptoms; such as, tummy aches and headaches.
- Counseling — Whether it be through your child’s school or an outside, independent counselor, if you feel like your child is having a hard time coping and what you do doesn’t seem to work, seek the help of a counselor. Sometimes children need to talk to an outside, unbiased source. Counselors know how to get children to express their feelings, sometimes better than we, as parents. They can feel safe telling a counselor. If your child’s behavior changes, seek the help of a counselor to help him understand what is happening and how to accept.
Sometimes it is the “change” that frightens children most. Children are creatures of habit. They like things to be routine and the same. When their world becomes up heaved, they get nervous. And children do not always know how to communicate their emotions. So it is up to us, as parents, to help them understand, to calm their worries, and help them adjust.
Maria McCutchen is a freelance writer and author of It’s all in Your Head.