Positive feelings toward the child with intellectual and developmental disabilities may be associated with a broader optimistic outlook. An optimistic perspective on life may help promote well-being and safeguard caregivers from the deleterious effects of stress and depression. Optimism may also predict how parents interact with their children, particularly when children exhibit challenging behavior. High parental optimism is also associated with decreased likelihood that children with intellectual and developmental disabilities will develop severe behavior problems because parents may be better able to interact with their children using positive and effective strategies. Thus, supporting parents to develop skills and strategies to interact positively with their children may increase their sense of optimism and self-efficacy in their role as parent.
Some Tips to Optimistic Parenting
- Explore your thoughts and feelings before, during and after meltdowns: Practice noticing these experiences so you can see later if they help or hurt your parenting skills.
- If your spouse or partner doesn’t help – ask why: Just as your thoughts and feelings interfere with good parenting, so might your spouses’ self doubts or doubts about your child. This involves the seemingly obvious but often very difficult issue that confronts most couples – “communication.”
- Believe you are a good parent: When you add up all you do for your child, the positives far outweigh any occasional lapses you may experience. Focus on the positive.
- Believe your child can change: All of our experience tells us any child can improve his or her challenging behavior. It helps to believe this and expect more from your child.
- Take care of yourself: You can’t help your child if you are hurting. Give yourself permission to occasionally be “selfish.” (extremely difficult for me:))
- Leverage – don’t multi-task: Doing two things at once means you may be doing two things poorly. If you’re stretched, try to combine activities with your child that achieve multiple goals (for example, having your child help set the table, which gets the chore done but also provides a learning experience).
- Parent in the moment: Keeping reminding yourself to focus on what is happening right now with your child (for example, having a good bath) rather than other things (for example, thinking about what to make for dinner while bathing your child).
- List three good things that happen each day: We sometimes have a tendency to focus too much on negative events (for example, a bad tantrum in the car) rather than on the positive ones (for example, playing nicely with siblings). Each night practice reminding yourself of the good things that happened that day.
- Express gratitude toward those who help you: One of the most powerful exercises in becoming a happier person is expressing gratitude. Thanking those who help you with your child (including your spouse or partner, if appropriate) will make you feel better and will make the other person feel better as well.
- Sometimes bad is OK: Feeling bad sometimes is inevitable for everyone. Accept the fact that there will be “down times” and don’t fight them. As they say, “What doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.”
Source: Optimistic Parenting: Help and Hope for You and Your Challenging Child by V. Mark Durand, Ph.D
Photo: Bitten Munthe-Kaas
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