Whether it’s a physical illness, ASD, learning difficulties, mental illness or something else, parents of children with additional needs are often left feeling isolated, broken and alone. With the recent increase in mental illness in children alone, you are bound to have at least one friend who is parenting a child with additional needs. You don’t have to know about their specific condition to be able to support your friend, and from a parent of a child with additional needs, here’s some ways you can help.
1. Don’t offer advice – when it comes to their child, your friend is the expert. I know it’s really tempting to try to fix their problem because you care about them, but questions like – “have they tried meditation”, or “is it their diet?” or “maybe you need to put your foot down” just aren’t helpful. They will have likely tried everything under the son to help their child and constant advice from people who may not understand may just make them feel like even more of a failure than they already feel.
2. “Let me know if you need anything” sounds really helpful doesn’t it. Trust me, they won’t reach out first. A parent with a child with additional needs is in survival mode most of the time. They might not think clearly enough to say, “Ah, I need sugar and Jackie said to let her know if I need anything”. Here’s some more practical ideas. Texts like “I’m at the shop, what do you need?” are great because we don’t feel like we’re putting you out if you’re already there! Leaving cake outside the front door is great! We’re not always prepared for visitors and so a simple gesture like that means we know you’re thinking of us but that we’re not expected to host or entertain.” Don’t stop inviting them to social events. Just because they may say no, we still want to be involved and we might actually be able to make it one day!
3. Forgive the silence. You may not hear from your friend with additional needs children for a while – texts or meet ups may be few and far between, but don’t take that as they’re not interested in you. I know that we can have weeks where it’s a miracle if we all make it through in one piece. When things calm down, then I can take the time to catch up on messages. Friends who regularly text me things like “how’s it going? Or “Need to talk?” or “How can I help?” are the ones who support me the most. I know they’re there if I need them.
4. Respect our privacy. Just because your friend has shared something with you about their child doesn’t mean you can or should share it with others. Even if you mean well or think you’re trying to help, children with additional needs suffer enough stigma already and don’t need to be talking points in the community.
5. More comments that should never be said to a parent of a child with additional needs; (there are loads, but here’s my top 5)
· God never gives you more than you can handle
· They’ll grow out of it
· You always get the perfect child for you
· I think it’s probably just behaviour
· Have they always been like this?
For more support for parents of children with mental health issues, please join our zoom support group - Bookings Checkout | The Parenting Place
Our next session is on Feb 3rd at 8pm