Raising children is no mean feat, we all know that. Juxtaposed between happy moments and intense laughter, are days of despair and frustration. And bringing up children with a disability is no different; there are still joyous times and difficult times, it’s just sometimes, the difficult times can be a little more challenging to deal with physically, mentally and emotionally.
A quick internet search will show you that there are a plethora of websites, organisations and articles which provide helpful information, advice and services to families with children who have disabilities. But when it comes to gathering information for these families’ social support network (their friends and wider family), knowing where to look for tips on how to help can be a little difficult.
There are a growing number of ways that parents can seek information on how to help their own children who are struggling with disabilities, and some of these also focus on support for the parents as well as the child, too. Sometimes though, there’s nothing like the support of your loved ones, the ones who you’d just love to see for a coffee, the ones you can cry with, and the ones you can just talk nonsense to.
How Family and Friends Can Help
Asking for help is often not in our nature, so when it comes to supporting parents of disabled children, there is an element of guess work, a dash of kindness and a whole lot of compassion.
1. R U OK?
You will have undoubtedly heard the slogan, and know the message behind this important movement of suicide prevention. Depression is an issue that is thankfully getting more widely understood, and it’s an issue that many parents of children with disabilities face, often in silence. By simply asking, “Are you ok?”, and talking through how your friend is feeling (no matter how big or small the issue), can go a long way to making a huge difference in their ability to deal with the challenges in their and their family’s lives.
2. Help Vouchers
Even after we’ve been offered help, actually accepting it does not always come naturally. Sometimes we don’t feel comfortable putting out our friends and family, and take on everything ourselves. So, to combat this, and to show your friend you are serious about offering your help, why not create a voucher booklet that they can redeem at any time? Think about what they might need your help with and what you can offer them, and print up the vouchers to suit their needs. They’ll appreciate it more than you know.
Communication is King! You’ve probably heard it before, but it has never been truer than when it comes to supporting a friend or family member with children with a disability. Communicate often, selflessly and thoughtfully. This can simply be checking in to see how they are, asking them to meet for coffee or just saying hello.
This might seem straightforward, but sometimes all that is needed is your ear. That means really listening and being engaged in the conversation. You don’t have to offer advice or a solution, you don’t have to contribute your opinion and you don’t have to pretend to understand. Sometimes trying to relate your problems to your friend’s, or giving a piece of advice that they’ve heard a thousand times is not as helpful as you may think!
5. Remember it’s not Always a Struggle
Yes, their lives are different, and yes sometimes there are hard times, but when supporting carers, it’s important to know that their lives aren’t miserable (well, no more than the rest of us!). Don’t assume that families are having a hard time, and certainly don’t pity them – it’s just not necessary, and doesn’t make them feel better about their situation. But how will you know if they fall into the ‘happy’ category? Well, if you’ve followed the first four steps here, you won’t have to wonder!
How Strangers Can Help
Obviously, not all of us know of someone close to us that we can support in the ways outlined above. However, even if that is the case, there are still things we can do when we come into contact with families with children with disabilities.
We spoke to parents who have children with disabilities and they gave us some advice on what makes them and their child feel good when they are out in public.
1. Don’t treat them differently
Don’t stare. Don’t avoid eye-contact, or smiling. Don’t treat children or families with disabilities any differently than you’d treat a child or family without. Being made to feel different can be very isolating for these families, so if you see these families out and about, smile, say hello, comment on the child’s pretty dress, ask them if they’re enjoying the park, and just generally make them feel that you don’t see them as unlike you and your family!
Also remember that not all disabilities are visible, so there’s a lesson in itself; just treat everyone you meet with a kind heart and a friendly smile!
2. Teach your children empathy
Talking with your children about disabilities and how they should interact with children with disabilities can also go a long way to making these families and children feel like they are a member of their community. Imagine how a child with disabilities would feel if your child ran up to them pointing and asking what was wrong with him. Now imagine the difference it would make to the same child when they are approached and asked if they’d like to play.
3. Random act of kindness
Here at PakMag, we’re big advocates of random acts of kindness for the whole community, but these acts can make a huge difference in the lives of families who live with challenges. Pay for a coffee, offer to carry those heavy bags to the car or leave a gift basket on a neighbour’s doorstep, it will brighten the cloudiest of days.
If you have any tips you’d like to share about your experience and how you’ve been the supporter or the supportee, head over to our Facebook Page and send us a message. We love to hear from people like you and will be highlighting local families in 2018 and beyond.
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