The fine line between stimulating your child with special needs and overparenting

Disponible en Español aquí

Since the minute your child is born or diagnosed with special needs, you’ll start hearing about the importance of stimulation and early intervention. The more your child is exposed to learning experiences, the faster he’s going to grow and advance, and the more typical he will be.

But, if you take this advice to the extreme, you’ll be overparenting instead of stimulating.

So what’s the difference?

  • You’re stimulating when you plan on natural and fun routines for you and your child. Schedules are great, but they must be flexible. Children learn through play, but when playing stops being spontaneous, kids feel pressured and unmotivated, and their fun is ruined.

  • Therapies are an important part of early intervention, but their goal is often misunderstood. Therapies are not meant to fix a child, but to get at the best of his unique abilities. You’re overparenting when you try to schedule daily therapies, instead of applying natural techniques into your daily routine of your child. Therapy will help correct and prevent delays, but can´t speed up your child’s growth or heal a disability. Your child doesn’t need to be fixed or cured. He needs to be accepted and empowered to be the best he can be, just like any other kid.

  • You are overparenting when you start planning the future with unrealistic goals based on sporadic cases. It’s true that some people with special needs such as Down syndrome, autism or cerebral palsy have achieved amazing goals. Their lives are empowering and inspiring to other families. But that doesn’t mean you should start thinking about what university your child should go to. Live the present to be ready for the future. Your future is built every day, and if you focus on the future, you’ll be wasting the present.

  • Love is to believe, accepting our loved ones with their weaknesses and strengths. Follow your kid’s interests; give him the opportunities he needs to develop his natural abilities. Don’t focus on the result, but on the main goal of helping him grow his personal talents with no competition or pressure. Overparenting means trying to enroll your child in stuff he may not be ready for, or that he doesn’t like, for the sole purpose of demonstrating to yourself and others that he can achieve every typical activity. That behavior will only bring frustration to your child, and make him feel like you don’t accept him for who he is.

Dreams help us grow as a family, but you can’t set dreams for your child. You can guide him and give him the tools to succeed, but in the end, he’ll be the one who’ll follow his own dreams, and you and he both can feel proud of them.

Kids with special needs may need additional services, attention and supervision, but they also deserve the opportunity to demonstrate all that they are able to do. No matter how simple their triumphs are, those little victories will keep them motivated and developing a healthy sense of self-esteem. Life should not be a competition, but a permanent celebration of our own talents—and that’s true for every one of us.

Help your child, but don’t deprive him of the opportunity of learning from making his own mistakes.

Be close enough to give him a hand when needed, but at the same time, far enough to let him feel trusted and loved.

The best gift we can give to our children is to teach them how to fish, and then let them choose their favorite fish and decide how they want to cook it—all by themselves.

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