Way to Grow!

Learning to behave

Some disabilities make the challenge much harder

By John M. de Triquet, MD

Teaching children to control their behavior is always a challenge. When the child also has a diagnosis of a physical, mental or emotional disability, the challenge can sometimes overwhelm the parents.

But it is important not to give up. Discipline is about setting limits, and all children feel more secure and loved when they have boundaries and clear, consistent expectations from their parents and caregivers.

While every child is different and every disability presents its own unique challenges, the following tips can help you keep the discipline process in perspective.

  • Children with disabilities have many of the same normal behavioral issues as other children – temper tantrums, talking back and whining. But the behaviors may be more frequent and/or intense because of the child’s condition or frustration with being unable to do things like other children.
  • Children need our attention, so when we heed their first attempts to communicate with us, we lessen the chances that they’ll have to exaggerate their behaviors to get a response from us.
  • Children who have difficulty communicating can be taught acceptable ways to make their feelings, needs and wants known. Ask your child's medical team for help if communication is an issue for your child.
  • It’s important to have realistic expectations for your child’s behavior. If your expectations are too high, your child’s self-esteem will suffer from never meeting your standards. If your expectations are too low, you won’t be helping your child reach his or her full potential. Having a clear understanding of your child’s temperament and specific condition can help you with this. So can your child's medical team.
  • Caring for a child with special needs can be exhausting. Remember that it is OK to step away from a situation before responding. Parents need breaks, too. This may not always be a choice. But even taking a moment for a deep breath will help you to feel calmer so that you can focus on the situation with less intensity.

Dr. de Triquet practices with CHKD Health System’s Town Center Pediatrics.