I know that most parents are cringing right now--especially those who have children with special needs. After all, we all want our children to by loved and accepted, right? As parents/teachers/siblings, we fight for people to be nice to our kids. So, why in the world would a mother of a child with Down syndrome be asking people to stop being nice to her kid? Doesn't she realize that most parents just want people to be nice to their kid? Doesn't she know that her child won't always be four and cute?
Yes. I know all these things. Let me explain....
In addition to being the mother of a child with Down syndrome, I am the sister of two young men with special needs. I am also a teacher of young adults with special needs. I understand that the world is cruel and hurtful to those that are different. I've had words with both children and adults about the way they have treated someone I love. I took on a local mall when they kicked my students out for carrying clipboards---something they needed to help them engage with the community. I've cringed when little children ask me why Sara talks funny or doesn't follow their directions.
During my thirteen years of teaching, I have learned that one of the best things a parent can do for their child with special needs is to treat them the same way they treat their other children. If your other children do chores, your child with special needs should also do chores. (Of course, they need to be appropriate to their functioning level.) I get that not all kids will be able to do the same chores. But they can do something! If your other children sit quietly in church, so should your child with special needs. They should sit as quietly as they are able. If all your children sit at the kitchen table and do homework after school, ALL your children should be there.
Now, I know that parents of children with special needs go through stages of grieving. I know that a lot of times, parents are battling the medical issues, insurance companies, school districts, and financial issues that often come with children with special needs. I know that a lot of times parents are just trying to keep their heads above water. I certainly don't have it all together. But, like our children, we need to do the best that we can and be as consistent as possible. We need to expect more from our kids!
After years of teaching, I am pretty good at picking out which children are treated just like their siblings and which ones are treated differently because they are "special." I already know what parents will say when I ask them about chores at home. I know which ones will list off things their young adult is expected to do and which ones will look appalled that I suggested their "special child" should be helping around the house. I've also sat with parents who say "I know I've been too permissive and spoiled him. What can you do to fix that?" Let me tell you right now---those things are HARD to fix at 18. I don't Sara to be that young adult! The one that has gotten her way for so long that she feels entitled to do whatever she wants; when she wants.
So, this brings me back to the title. Stop being so nice to my kid!! Nothing drives me crazy more than people who give in to Sara because she's cute and charming and "special". I'm her mother and if I say "no," the answer is "no." She may not like it but she's learning. She won't always be four and it won't always be cute. I'm not talking about my sister who buys her ice cream or my mom who loves to buy her new clothes. I'm not talking about my friends who will take an extra minute to sit and listen to Sara's story that makes absolutely no sense.
*I'm talking about the lady at the bank that was going to give her the whole bucket of lollipops because she wanted them. If the other children only get one, she only gets one. Yes. She's crying but she'll get over it. Her mom said "no."
*I'm talking about the lady at the museum who let her cut in front of ten kids that had been waiting forever. If the other children wait in line, she can too. No. She doesn't like it but she's learning. Her mom said "wait."
*I'm talking about the man in the airport that lets her dig through his backpack. Would you really let anyone else do that? I doubt it. Her mom said "no."
*I'm talking about the people at the baseball game that feed her because she asked for their nachos. Most people don't share their food with complete strangers. She's had dinner. She's not hungry. Her mom said "no."
I really am glad that people love Sara so much. Her charm will take her far in this world. A sense of entitlement will not.
So, here's my advice:
*To the moms out there: Stick to your guns. Raise your child the way you would raise any child. Don't be afraid to speak up and put your foot down. (I need to get better at this.) No one is doing your child any favors by letting them have and do whatever they want. People may not get it. (I swear people think I'm mean sometimes when she cries and I don't give in.) They don't need to. You are responsible for your child. They are not.
*To our friends and family: Thank you for loving Sara. Thank you for laughing with her and playing with her. Thank you for spoiling her. Thank you for treating her just like anyone else's child. Please! If I say no to something, back me up. If you wouldn't let your child or any other child do it, don't let her do it! I'm not being mean. I'm trying my hardest to do what is best for my little girl.
*To the strangers out there: She's awfully cute. I know! Thank you for engaging with her and not ignoring her. Thank you for saying hello! Thanks for making her laugh. Please treat her like you would any other child. Please say no to her if she's invading your space or your possessions. Please don't feed her your food. Please ask me for help if you need it. Please disengage when I tell her to say goodbye to you. Please acknowledge and respect the boundaries I set for her. I know she's cute and engaging and charming but I doubt you'll feel that way when she's 14 and still trying to sit in your lap!
Seriously! Stop being so nice to my kid!