Having a child changes your life forever. As a new parent, you are learning of the unique responsibilities, emotions, and experiences that parenting brings. Though parenting can bring rich fulfillment and beauty, it can also bring challenges, especially when you have a child with special needs. Placing your child in therapy can optimize their development while setting them up for success in the world. However, you may have so many questions such as:
How and why are my actions affecting my child’s development?
What can I do to help?
As a Board Certified Music Therapist, I’ve witnessed how therapy impacts my clients in a variety of ways, some very successful, others not so much. At the end of the day, I have found that a huge determining factor in each participant’s success was their at-home support as well as the parent’s level of participation in their care.
It can be daunting as a parent, who is already spread so thin, to take on any more responsibility. Therefore, I want to discuss 5 ways that you can now be a part of your child’s therapeutic progress. In order to do this, I’ve spelled a simple-yet-not-so-catchy-and-pretty-bland way to remember these steps… PARCC (Patience, Acceptance, Reinforcement, Consistency, Care).
No type of therapy should be a “miracle drug” or a “magic trick” that evokes progress over night. Therapy takes time and time requires patience. Practicing these skills will eventually make them second nature for your child! This is especially important when working with individuals with special needs (including those with mental health needs). Please remember that when you sign your child up for therapy, this is an ongoing process that does not have a prescribed time limit. Your therapist can discuss any concerns you may have and will be flexible if you have financial or scheduling concerns. Remember, if you practice patience, successful outcomes will arise when you least expect them!
Often times, this can be the hardest for parents of children with special needs. Acceptance of the participant’s circumstances and needs is vital for therapeutic success. Consider that when a fully developed adult starts therapy, they need to accept why they are there in order to move forward. Unfortunately, children don’t always get that luxury, so it is even more important that you are supporting, accepting and nurturing your child. Embrace their imperfections and you will see many more beautiful moments throughout their development. Remember that everyone is “different” in unique ways… being the same would be boring!
“Reinforcement” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the act of strengthening or encouraging something,” or, “a thing that strengthens or encourages something.” Any time your child is successful (especially in tasks that directly relate to therapeutic goals), BE EXCITED! I encourage you to be silly-over-the-top, happy! Smile, giggle, tickle, and love them. Use words that are direct and concise (ex: “Great job going potty!” or, “ Wow! I love how you said ‘thank you’ so nicely!”). This conveys to your child that you value their success and are proud of them. This healthy support will strengthen your relationship with your child. Remember, the more love and pride you share with your child in response to desirable behaviors, the more likely they are to continue to develop their skills!
Let’s say you’re taking piano lessons. You go through the motions by showing up to lessons, but put no time into practicing at home. In this situation, it is highly unlikely that you will ever improve because muscle memory is key to success on piano. Now let’s think of that example in relation to therapy. You’re child is developing a therapeutic relationship with another individual, someone who you trust with your child’s care. Therapy sessions are not lessons. Your child is learning life skills, not leisure skills. In order for your therapist to maximize your child’s success within the context of a stable, evolving and therapeutic relationship, your child should be consistently attending therapy. Unfortunately, this pressure sometimes falls on the caregiver (you!). Remember, the more consistent your child’s attendance, the greater progress you will witness!
This is something that I not only strive to teach those I work with but also remember for myself. I cannot provide the highest quality of services for your child if I am not at my optimum health (mentally and physically). Similarly, you cannot care for child to the best of your capability of you are struggling with your mental or physical health. Strive to give yourself de-stress time every day, even in small intervals. A little is better than nothing. You’re child will sense your happiness and feel more loved. Plus, all five of these steps will be easier to put into practice! Remember, you cannot care for others until you care for yourself!
I sincerely hope that these five steps aid you and your child on their ever-evolving journey of development. If you are lost and need guidance, do not hesitate to reach out to your child’s therapist as they can provide you with the necessary tools for success. Remember PARCC and you will soon see progress with your child. Allow your love to make a difference!