As parents, we try our best to meet our children’s needs and prevent them from being disappointed. We know this is an almost-impossible task, as life is full of situations over which we have no control.
Children will experience disappointment in school, sports and their social lives. You cannot always provide certainty and comfort for your children. The question is how much to protect them from the disappointments and challenges they will face during the ups and downs to life and situations out of their comfort zone. You can try to overindulge, overpraise and do your best to make your kids happy, but you may be cheating them out of the resilience and problem-solving skills they will need to function in their everyday lives.
Dealing with disappointment, emotional hurt and stress from difficult situations is a part of life. Most kids experience varying degrees of setbacks. Some may be minor, such as not being picked for a team, but some are life-changing, such as illness or death. Some kids adapt to disappointment, stress and crisis, and bounce back. They have a quality called resilience.
Resilience isn’t about reacting to every setback with acceptance, as your kids may still feel sad, angry or frustrated, but they find ways to move forward, to cope with the situation successfully and to adapt to the stressor. Resilience is not a trait that people either have or don’t have, but behaviours, thoughts and actions that can be developed and learned. Resilience begins in childhood, and the patterns children and teens develop will continue in how they deal with problems in the future.
Some kids are flexible and adapt more easily, which helps them cope with stress and hardship. This is part of the natural abilities and personality traits that help them cope with adverse situations. Resilient children have social and emotional competence, which enables them to understand their feelings, be aware of their emotions, solve problems, make good decisions and confront stressful situations with confidence.
You need to know your children and understand that what they find stressful varies. What is stressful to one child may not be stressful to another. Children and teens who lack resilience become overwhelmed by certain experiences, are slower to return from setbacks and may dwell on problems. When you see these behaviors in your child, there are ways to help develop resilient behavior.
Teaching Resilient Behavior
One of the major ways you can teach resilience is to acknowledge that life is full of challenges and that there are many areas over which we have no control. Kids need to learn problem-solving skills and maintain a sense of perspective with the challenges they face. They need to look at the problem and plan a strategy to deal with this challenge and envision a successful solution.
A good starting point is to ask, “Why is this situation challenging or stressful, and what skills do my kids need to achieve the outcome they want?” Children and teens can use a trial-and-error approach and role-play how different solutions may or may not work for a particular challenge.
Kids need to realize they may not have control over what happens but they have a choice in how they handle and respond to the challenge. They need to set reasonable plans and goals and take steps to solve the problem. When a child or teen faces uncertainty, and problem-solving skills are needed, you should not provide all the answers. You can facilitate the problem-solving steps to work through stressful situations. A follow-up chat about what happened afterwards can also help reinforce the learning and remind your child that what started out as a stressful situation can still work out well.
Model positive coping skills in stressful times so that your kids can observe and take cues from your behavior. Share with them the times when you felt overwhelmed because things did not go the way you had planned, and how you were flexible and adapted to a new situation.
Always let your kids know that family and friends are a very big support in life, not only when things are good but also when times are hard and stressful. It is very important to teach them when and how to ask for help, and that they don’t have to do everything themselves or have all the answers.
Resilience can come from an adult other than you who believes in the worth of your child. This adult may be a special family member, a coach or a teacher. All interactions make your child feel special, convey love and acceptance and provide strength. You should encourage such special bonds, as they help kids feel safe and appreciated, and give them the strength to deal with the many demands and challenges they may encounter.
You should also let your kids make mistakes. It may be painful to watch, but it helps them work on areas that need improvement and make better decisions next time. Children need to experience everyday failures and hardships and confront them when they occur, as this will prepare them for different types of challenges in the future.
You and your kids need to understand that mistakes are expected, that each mistake is a chance for growth and that pushing to meet unrealistic expectations may set them up for failure. Do not smooth the path for your kids, as they have to experience disappointment and failure. They must learn that they are responsible for their actions and that their actions have consequences. An important part of parenting is to help children experience success in areas of their life and to promote success. If children know that there are certain areas in which they excel, it may help them cope with the areas of their life that are more challenging and demanding.
Each child’s path is influenced by many factors — including family structure, values and beliefs, temperament and coping style, educational experiences and exposure to the broader community. Exposure to different types of people and experiences is vital, as kids can learn from everyone and become more comfortable with their changing world.
Sheryl Zang, EdD, FNP, CNS-BC, is an associate professor at Downstate Medical Center, College of Nursing. A nurse for 38 years, she is presently running groups for diabetic children and teens.
One of the most common concerns of parents is maintaining their children’s sleep schedule. They may have difficulty getting their kids to sleep, or children may awaken frequently during the night. Getting their kids into bed and having them stay there become a nightly challenge.
Getting enough sleep is essential at any age. Tips on helping your children get the required amount follow.
Establish a Nighttime Pattern
Nighttime routines are as equally important as daytime routines. A regular bedtime hour helps your kids fall asleep, stay asleep and awaken rested and refreshed.
This is especially important because when children of all ages don’t sleep, they may be irritable, easily frustrated and, at times, may appear hyperactive. We know from research that children who don’t sleep a sufficient number of hours per night are more likely to have a difficult time paying attention in school, have mood changes and may even experience weight gain. It is clearly important to establish a regular routine for each child and, in fact, doing so can help take the stress out of bedtime, too!
There are no hard-and-fast bedtime rules. Every child is unique and may have different needs for a sleep routine. What’s most important is to build a routine that works for your family and keeps everyone on task. In order to establish a routine, you should know how much sleep each child needs. Current pediatric sleep hours for each age-group recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine follow.
* Infants 4 to 12 months: 12 to 16 hours of sleep every 24 hours (including naps).
* Children 1 to 2 years: 11 to 14 hours of sleep every 24 hours (including naps).
* Children 3 to 5 years: 10 to 13 hours of sleep every 24 hours (including naps).
* Children 6 to 12 years: 9 to 12 hours of sleep every 24 hours.
* Teens 13 to 18 years: 8 to 10 hours of sleep every 24 hours.
Additionally, it is essential to understand circadian rhythms, which are important for all living creatures. Circadian rhythms, or the sleep-wake cycle, are regulated by light and dark. These rhythms begin to develop at about six weeks, and, by three to six months, most infants have a regular sleep-wake cycle. By two years of age, most children have spent more time asleep than awake. Overall, kids will spend 40 percent of their childhood asleep.
Suggestions to improve not only each child’s sleep routine — but your entire family’s — follow.
Role-Model a Healthy Sleep Routine
Establish a sleep routine that benefits all family members. Plan a strategy that works and is supported by another adult, if present, in the home. Set a daily routine focused on a regular, consistent bedtime, and stick with it. A good litmus test that your routine is working is that kids fall asleep within 15 to 30 minutes of getting into bed, awaken easily in the morning and are not nodding off late in the afternoon. Most importantly, you should model healthy sleep behaviors by getting a good night’s sleep, too!
Make the Bedroom a TV-and Tech-Free Zone
Multiple studies confirm that once TV is on in the bedroom, it is turned off later than it should be, limiting sleep hours. Additionally, artificial light exposure between dusk and the time you go to bed makes it more difficult to fall and stay asleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), melatonin — a natural hormone that helps you fall asleep — is reduced in the presence of blue light emitted from TV, cell phones and other technology devices. Reducing melatonin levels makes it harder to fall and stay asleep. The best practice from an early age is to avoid technology in the bedroom.
Set the Right Sleep Environment
Important to a good night’s sleep — for infants, children and adults — is setting the right temperature. For optimal sleep, it is important to keep the temperature cooler and constant. Bedrooms should be kept at a slightly lower temperature than the living space rooms, ideally between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, the NSF recommends that you consider investing in a humidifier during the colder months and/or a dehumidifier during the hotter months, depending on your climate, for a healthier sleeping environment. For good sleep for all, keep bedroom humidity levels around 50 percent year-round. Most importantly, silence is the best sleep aid. Noisy neighbors or a noisy house may keep children awake, so using a white noise machine or soothing quiet music to lull kids to sleep may be helpful.
Deal With Sleep Troubles
Signs of sleep struggles may indicate a problem to take to your healthcare provider. If your child has trouble falling asleep, wakes up frequently at night, snores loudly, has trouble breathing or has loud and heavy breathing while asleep or stalls and resists going to bed, consult your provider. If your child demonstrates behaviors such as being overtired, sleepy or cranky during the day, be sure to schedule an appointment with your provider.
Serve Bedtime Snacks
Sometimes a snack an hour before bedtime will help children sleep. Extra fruit or vegetables or foods that combine protein and carbs — such as toast with natural peanut butter, or cereal and milk — form amino acids that act like tryptophan, the chemical that makes you feel sleepy after a turkey dinner. Other foods that aid sleep include yogurt, cheese and bananas.
A predictable bedtime routine is likely to calm your kids (and you!), and help them drift off to dreamland more peacefully.
Christina Calamaro, PhD, CRNP, is a practicing PNP and a researcher in sleep and pediatrics.
Approximately one in six children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with special needs — ranging from mild disabilities such as speech or language difficulties to more serious disorders — according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Down syndrome, the most common genetic condition, currently affects more than 400,000 people in the U.S. According to the CDC, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects 1 in 68 U.S. children and is 4.5 times more common in boys than girls.
The four main classifications of special needs follow.
If your child has been newly diagnosed with a special need, it’s normal to feel a range of emotions — including denial, fear, guilt, disappointment, depression and grief. It’s not uncommon to feel isolated and alone. However, it’s important and encouraging to note that we live in a world where many familiar faces with special needs thrive.
Consider Andrea Bocelli, the world-famous singer who is blind. Stephen Hawking became a brilliant neurophysicist in spite of a debilitating neurological disease and being confined to a wheelchair, unable to speak. Cambridge researchers have hypothesized that Albert Einstein may have suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome, although at the time he was simply labeled eccentric. For every celebrity with a special need, there are many more unrecognized heroes among us who live with special needs.
Choose the Right Healthcare Provider
One of the most critical decisions you will make for your special needs child is choosing the right primary healthcare provider. It is essential to select someone with whom you are able to develop a collaborative, respectful relationship.
Seek a provider experienced in treating kids with special needs. If possible, look for someone close to your home, as frequent trips are to be expected. When considering healthcare practices, try to find one with a designated person for referrals and service/care coordination with specialists in the area. Don’t be afraid to ask about seeing other specialists such as those in occupational health, psychologists and physical therapists. You will probably need frequent notes for teachers, permission to administer medications at school, insurance reimbursement forms signed, etc. Look for practices with flexible hours and ask about after-hours emergency procedures, especially if going to an urgent-care facility. Having a provider who has admitting privileges or a close working relationship with area hospitalists will help you have seamless care transitions.
It is a good idea to write down questions before your visit. Ask to record the conversation on your phone so you can refer to it later. If that’s not possible, ask the provider to speak slowly and allow you to take notes. Request reputable references to gain further information about your child’s diagnosis. Remember that you are your child’s best advocate, and you have the freedom to disagree with your provider or ask for a second opinion.
Know Your Rights and Options
It is important to know your rights under U.S. law. The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) gives children with special needs protection by mandating that schools must help them be prepared for further education, employment and independent living. Free education must be accessible in the least restrictive environment. Appropriate evaluation is mandated with parent and teacher collaboration to determine the best student placement. The law also requires informed consent, “stay put” rights (requiring parents to be notified of any change and allowing the option of remaining until a dispute is settled), parental access to education records, parental participation in all meetings, due process and mediation. The law also has protections for confidentiality of information, transition services beginning at age 16 years, discipline protections and prohibiting the school from forcing your child to take a medication.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits schools from discriminating against children with disabilities and requires accommodations as needs arise. It also supports the right for needs outside the school day, including extracurricular activities, sports, music lessons and afterschool care, affording special needs children the same opportunities as other kids. It applies to playgrounds, band programs, assemblies, field trips, clubs, after school/summer programs, bus transportation and graduation. The Americans with Disabilities Act states that schools must meet the needs of children with psychiatric problems.
An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a legally binding document that tells you the special education services for which your child is eligible. It allows for accommodations, which may include a change in timing, formatting, setting or the way material is presented. The law requires parents to be notified any time the IEP is changed.
The Department of Education’s website has a disabilities information center with many resources to assist you. The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research has a central focus on the whole person with a disability, researching advancements to improve quality of life and function. The Special Needs Alliance provides a connection to free attorney services that practice disability and public benefits law.
Siblings of kids with special needs are at greater risk for having special needs themselves. The CDC has a campaign and website called Learn the Signs, Act Early, focused on helping parents identify developmental milestones and seek early intervention. The National Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY) State Resource Sheet identifies the name and telephone number of your state’s contact person for programs for infants and toddlers with developmental delays and disabilities.
Give Yourself and Your Family a Break
Joining a support group is one of the most important things you can do, online or in person. The NICHCY has listings of parent groups and programs for which your child may be eligible. Parents Helping Parents is a parent-directed, community-based nonprofit helping to connect parents of children with special needs to other parents, resources and services.
Another critical element as a parent is to care for yourself. Many times, people want to help but don’t know how. Be clear about your needs. Ask a friend to bring a meal when you are having a hard day. Invite another mom for a pedicure. Have a date night with your partner. Don’t feel guilty taking time away. Know that you will make mistakes. You will have bad days and meltdowns. Forgive yourself and move on.
Look online at the ARCH National Respite Network Resource Center, which helps connect families to safe, competent respite care. Remember that siblings need respite care, too. It’s normal for siblings to sometimes be jealous, and have conflicting emotions toward a sibling with special needs. Allow them to express their feelings openly and honestly. Encourage sibling bonds with other supportive adults to make it easier when emotional burdens are too great to meet all children’s needs at the same time.
Above all, remember that you are a superhero, even when you don’t feel like one. Every day you are providing care, giving medication, managing specialists, calming meltdowns, finding the special blanket or toy. You never give up hope and you encourage your child to do what others have deemed impossible.
Being a parent of a child with special needs can be super-rewarding. Remember to celebrate the small accomplishments. Take a picture of a good moment to have a ready dose of encouragement when you need it most. Don’t let insensitive comments dishearten you, and don’t compare kids. Your child is unique and special. When other parents discuss their children’s accomplishments, focus on your child’s personality strengths and the way your child encourages and completes your family.
Jessica Peck, DNP, RN, CPNP-PC, CNE, CNL, is an Associate Professor at Texas A&M University and has been practicing in pediatrics for more than 20 years. She is currently the secretary for NAPNAP.