Helping your child become Independent By Dolores

As parents, our natural instinct is to shower all our children with care and attention, maybe even more so when they have additional needs. Speaking from my own experience, with David recently turning 28, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on whether my approach was the right one.

Was there a better way?

David being my firstborn, there was an inherent inclination to spoil him as much as I could, as one often does with their first child. However, with David’s physical and intellectual disability, I found myself doing everything for him, believing it was the right thing to do.

While therapies and daily activities were crucial and constant, there were instances, like attempting a geography project, where I tried to do most of it, attempting to pass it off as David’s homework. Crazy, I know, but I was thinking I was helping him.

Here are a few thoughts while reflecting on my journey.

Encouraging David to try a task really worked well. I know it is easier and quicker to do it yourself, but in the long term, you are not helping your child. I used to encourage David to pour milk into his cereal using a smaller milk jug. If spills occur, I didn’t make a big deal out of it; I just let him clean it up with a cloth or kitchen roll. I tried to embrace mistakes without seeking perfection and would say to him that I often spill milk, too.

David took three years to master zipping up his clothes. Despite suggestions from teachers to keep him in tracksuits, we persevered with school trousers. Now, he can zip up his trousers and jacket – a significant achievement when you have very little use of your right hand and less use of your left.  For ease of bathroom use, many of his jeans and trousers are elasticated waists. There is a fine line, isn’t there? You just can’t make it too hard or embarrassing for your child, either.

While it’s easier for David to undress rather than dress, any progress in dressing was encouraged. Even if he could only take off a tee-shirt over his head in younger years, it’s a step forward.

I often underestimate David’s capabilities, inadvertently making him more disabled by doing everything for him in a rush. Despite falling into this trap, I realise that time and a lot of patience are the key. David thrives on responsibility and praise, so don’t forget to commend your own child’s efforts.

Remember, what might seem cute at the age of 5 may not be as endearing in their twenties. It can become learned behaviour, which is harder to undo as your child gets older.

Reflecting on whether I may have ‘mollycoddled’ David too much, the answer is a definite yes. However, I did the best I could with the information and support available. If I were to do one thing differently, it would be to seek out a role model – an older parent generous with their time you had a child with the same condition – to provide regular advice and guidance, just someone I could learn from.

Saying all this about me, there may be a lot of things I could have done better. But as for David, I wouldn’t change a thing. He’s perfect to me.

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