Did you know children with disabilities are at higher risk for developing mental health problems? Here’s how to teach children resiliency while living with disabilities.
by Anneliese Knop | Anneliese is an Associate Licensed Counselor, freelance writer, and self-proclaimed “blindfluencer”. She uses her blog to promote accessibility, for the blind and service dog users, in her community. She loves to travel, read, hike, and plan adventures for her friends. You can follow her on Twitter @AnnelieseM_DK and visit her blog Look On The Dark Side.
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Six-year-old Anneliese walked tentatively through the crowded hallway of an elementary school next to her braille teacher. As they slowed to navigate a particularly dense eddy of students, a little boy loudly chanted “four eyes!” in that unmistakable taunting tone of a child seeking attention.
Little Anneliese wore very thick glasses and carried a cane and clutched nervously at her Braille teacher’s arm because she only came to the school for Braille lessons. She did her other schoolwork at home and wasn’t used to crowds. But the comment stirred a nascent perfectionistic rebellion in her.
“Can’t you count?” she retorted. “I have six eyes, not four! I have bifocals!”
Little Anneliese had learned from her parents that children who were mean, especially to people they didn’t know, were only doing it to get attention. The best way to deal with them was to either ignore them, or make it a joke and turn the situation into a friend-making opportunity. Little Anneliese’s parents had begun teaching her crucial resiliency skills at a young age.
Ok, I’m tired of writing about myself in the 3rd person.
Children with disabilities are at higher risk for Developing mental health problems. So are Adults with disabilities, by the way. But this is a parenting blog and today I’m writing about how to help your kids protect themselves against life’s tragedies and terrors. So let’s look at the need for resiliency, what resiliency is, and how to instill it into your child.
Disabilities and Mental Health
Children with disabilities report higher rates of beingBullied, social and body image anxiety, depression,, anger, and are at higher risk of abuse than children without disabilities. Since most childhood disabilities are permanent, there’s no let-up. Bullying transforms into discrimination, and the fear of being rejected, becoming a burden, being unlovable…those don’t go away.
As a child and adolescent I struggled with making friends. Eye contact was beyond me, I felt self-conscious about being perceived as clumsy when my cane failed to help me avoid obstacles or I knocked things over, and I often felt left behind when other children ran out of my sight to play games or began driving to meet each other places I couldn’t follow.
But having a disability doesn’t doom your child to isolation, depression, and stress disorders. While children with disabilities possess greater risk factors for developing mental health disorders, parents can teach them resiliency skills that give those same children the power to overcome the inherent challenges of life on earth, plus the extra ones that come with having a disability.
What is Resiliency?
In plain English, resiliency is a person’s ability to roll with the punches. It doesn’t protect against tragedy, pain, or terror. Instead, it allows a person to maintain physical and mental integrity, and even grow through it. Resiliency is the difference between developing a phobia or not, feeling comfortable enough with disagreement to not lose a friend over a difference of opinion, a major indicator of marital success, and it is learned, not innate.
Resiliency is comprised of a combination of skills, knowledge, wisdom, habits, and memories all working within the mind and body to allow a person to fully experience and integrate pain without being overwhelmed by it.
Examples of Resiliency Skills:
1. Being able to recognize when you need a break
3. Knowing how to identify and express needs.
Examples of Resiliency Wisdom
1. An understanding of the difference between hurt and harm
2. Comprehension of the fact that excellence does not require perfection
3. Awareness that power is not a finite resource
Examples of Resiliency Habits
1. Regular exercise compatible with one’s physical needs and abilities
2. Regularly engaging in enjoyable activities such as weekly hikes, daily reading time, or monthly outings with friends.
3. Regular routine medical checkups, including dental, optical, hormonal, dermatological, and mental health screenings.
Children can begin learning these skills at almost any age. Remember when your toddler would fall over and then look at you to see if she ought to start crying about what happened? Your response to laugh and praise her for taking those unsteady steps and trying again, taught her that mistakes are acceptable, and hurt is only uncomfortable, not tragic.
Resiliency is one of those skills best learned through example. I’ve written before about how parents can model good self-care for their children by respecting their own limits and asking for help. That’s a great way to model resiliency, because self-care is a crucial aspect of resiliency. It builds reserves of strength as well as vital awareness and skills for handling pain.
Talking with children about difficult subjects at an early age may feel like depriving them of innocence, but what it often does instead is give them a framework to understand it when those painful life events come calling. And they will come, far earlier than any parent could wish. Children with disabilities, like little Anneliese, need to know about things like bullying, getting lost and not being able to see street signs or recognize people in uniform, and what to do about them.
Confidence, Contentment, and Continuance
Resiliency is what helps us keep going. It gives us the courage to lift our heads in the face of adversity, and allows us to endure temporary hardship with an eye toward the future. When existing in a state of lifelong challenge, a child with a disability can either grow up expecting every single hour to be a knock-down drag-out fight with reality, or an avenue into potential fulfilment.
Today your favorite blindfluencer would like to point out that the secret bonus benefit of teaching your child resiliency means developing it yourself. Resiliency can build up individuals and families alike.