> 3 Ways to Encourage the Mother of a Child with Special Needs
Due to the increasing number of children diagnosed with some type of special needs, chances are that you know (or will soon know) a mom who is parenting a child with special needs.
So when your friend’s child is diagnosed with special needs or you meet a mother who is parenting a child with special needs, you can encourage her when you notice her feeling “fainthearted”–to use the word included in 1 Thessalonians 5:14.
The Bible is clear in its instruction to encourage one another, and in this verse Paul gives instructions for Christian conduct: “…encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”
“The fainthearted” means those people who lack resolve, and coming from one who know whereof she speaks, that term can definitely be used to describe how a mother in the throes of parenting a child with special needs can feel.
Here are 3 ways (but certainly not the only 3!) to encourage a mom parenting a child with special needs.
1.Take time to be a friend.
A mother parenting a child with special needs often avoids certain social situations because she knows the demands of the situation can be too much for her child to handle. Or, if the mom does decide to participate in the social situation, she may have to spend the duration of the event monitoring her child’s behavior or social interactions rather than chatting with the adults.
Over time, the mom may begin to feel isolated due to this kind of separation from friends or peers. Taking time to be in your friend’s life and interact with her will help decrease her feelings of isolation. A friendship with a mom parenting a child with special needs will be different, but you will probably find she will deeply appreciate your efforts.
Here are several practical ways to be a friend:
- Be flexible and creative in ways to help your friend escape physically or emotionally for a moment.
- If you see your friend hanging with the kids, go hang out with the kids too. Maybe you can even sneak in a word or two of conversation, but I assure you that your act will not go unnoticed by the mom.
- Call at random times, even if she never seems to be able to talk for more than 2 seconds–or doesn’t answer–or has to wait 2 days to return your call.
- Text a word of encouragement, prayer or just a check-in hello.
- Listen. Without advice. Without judgment. Without interrupting. Just listen.
2. Have gracious speech.
We have all been there: You want to say something encouraging to someone, but you get that socially awkward feeling of not knowing what exactly to say and then just quickly deciding it’s best to say nothing at all.
Maybe you do say something–and immediately realize it was the worst thing possible. In the worst way possible. At the worst possible time.
In these moments we desire to have gracious speech–speech that can help us be a friend to anyone–even a king. According to Proverbs 22:11, “He who loves purity of heart and whose speech is gracious, the king is his friend.” Gracious speech can earn the favor of the king, but even more importantly, it can be used to encourage and win the favor of the fainthearted. While we may recognize the importance of learning gracious speech, many times we don’t know how to encourage the fainthearted people in our lives.
So here are some do-and-don’t tips for using gracious speech to encourage a mother parenting a child with special needs:
- Do be open, but sensitive.
- Do start conversations, not just about her child but about anything–even the weather.
- Do tell your friend the things you are struggling with; it may not only be helpful for you but also allow her to feel more able to open up to you about her struggles.
- Do think about what you say. Not to be guarded, just sensitive.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you sincerely want to listen to the answer.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about your kids; your friend wants to know what’s going on in their lives.
- Don’t complain about having to do things with your child that a parent of a child with special needs would love to have the opportunity to do.
- Don’t boast in your child’s accomplishments–save that for grandma! You can tell your friend about your child’s activities and accomplishments without boasting. For example, talking to your friend about needing a bigger shelf because your child has SO MANY gymnastics or soccer trophies is pretty insensitive.
3. Sincerely compliment your friend’s child, and let your encouragement positively reflect on your friend.
Ephesians 4:29 teaches about words of encouragement, saying, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
Unfortunately, moms of children with special needs receive way too much “corrupting” verbal and non-verbal communication through negative comments, stares, or disgruntled sighs that tend to come as a reaction to her child’s behavior. Chances are that the mom already feels inadequate and that she should always be doing more for her child. She has also probably been working for months–or even years–with her child to change the behavior that causes negative public reaction.
Help balance out some of the negativity your friend has received from the world by giving her a positive compliment about her child and/or how she is doing raising him/her. Compliments are a good way to build up a mom parenting a child with special needs. In fact, as the verse from Ephesians mentions, a sincere compliment will be to this mom like a gift of grace.
While your compliments should be sincere and in the moment, just to get you thinking, here are some examples of compliments to build up a mother parenting a child:
- “Your son has made good progress; I can tell you are working hard with him and getting him the help he needs.”
- “Your daughter has beautiful eyes; they look just like yours.”
- “Your child has a sweet spirit; I can tell he is loved well in your home.”
- “Your child is so determined; I bet she gets that from you.”
> What about you?
Are you parenting a child with special needs? If so, please use the comment box below to pass along what is encouraging to you.
Do you have a friend parenting a child with special needs and have questions about how to interact with her? Feel free to ask a specific question in the comment box below, and I’ll let you know what’s helpful from my perspective.