Best for kids with developmental delays

Gentle or strict? What works best for kids with developmental delays?

Gentle or strict? What works best for kids with developmental delays?

Best for kids with developmental delays, A child is diagnosed to have a developmental delay when he/ she does not achieve the critical milestones at expected times in the process of development. Delays can occur in the development of speech and language, motor, cognition and social functioning skills.

Read a detailed blog on Respectful approach to parenting.

Best for kids with developmental delays

Stepping into parenthood

Every parent takes up a new role in life with the birth of the child. Majority of the individuals find parenting more challenging in this fast-moving society. Parents get perplexed in handling their child’s aggressive behaviors, tantrums, obsession with the internet, sleep disturbances hindering mental and physical health, etc. In addition to these, parents of children with developmental delay face unexpected challenges.

Stepping into parenthood

When parents discover that their child is differently-able, their life journey enters a different path. Loaded with numerous queries, the endless search for information, emotional instabilities, meeting multiple professionals, handling mixed attitudes of society, etc. – the path might become hard; till they are on the trail of the right professional. All these factors along with managing a family and/ or career can be stressful at times. This stress might be reflected in the parenting style too.

The stage of confusion

The thought process of these parents might be dominated by the question- ‘Gentle or strict? What works best for my kid with developmental delay?’, as they want their child to be pleasant and successful. Let me share some observations from my experience in the field of rehabilitation.

During my sessions of assessment and parent counselling (the first step of management), a trend among the majority of parents have been observed wherein, knowingly or unknowingly they overprotect their children; as they do not have enough idea regarding the potential of their children. It can also be because parents cannot keep patience. Another trend is treating their child with developmental delay as the center of the family who is not subject to different rules in the family- some parents do not admit this fact!

The stage of confusion

By following these practices, parents deny their children the chances to make mistakes, rectify them and learn from mistakes. I have also come across parents who follow the conventional ‘strict strategies’ which ultimately denies the child’s opportunity to explore the surrounding world hence restricts overall development. It takes a while for parents to perceive the fact that the level of cooperation and independence that a child with developmental delay achieves is directly related to the approach that parents take with him/ her.

Read a detailed blog on A worried mother

How to be in the right track? – Approaches to parenting

Let us move on to facts based on research which analysed the influence of parenting on children with special needs.  Three major approaches to parenting- permissive, authoritarian and positive have been identified (Dyches, Smith, Korth, Roper, and Mandleco, 2012).

Read a detailed blog on Something on slow parenting.

Permissive parents are accepting and not demanding. They create loose expectations and system for their typically developing children. Some parents do this deliberately, in the hopes that allowing children to behave as they wish will help them improve their thought process and become independent. In doing so, the parents believe that their children are free to approach them as friends and confidants. Other parents follow permissive parenting as it is convenient to do so- they lack the physical or emotional capacity or energy required to set and implement consistent goals and rules.

Parenting styles

Discipline is irregularly enforced in home environments which follow permissible parenting as children are given lots of freedom and hardly any boundaries. This definitely hinders the decision making ability of children; even while choosing a toy/ food item. Children may not learn how to keep themselves safe and healthy and may fail to learn or value social rules.

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Contrarily, authoritarian parents are more controlling of their typically developing children. They set rules for their children to pursue and expect their children to understand and follow those rules completely and without any fail. Such parents hardly consider their child’s personal interests or potential. Adopting this discipline style makes the parents comfortable applying physical punishments if children do not follow the rules and to remind them not to break those rules in the future. These parents provide children with less freedom and more restrictions.

Parenting Approaches towards children

Children may become inhibited and gloomy people who lack the ability to express themselves. They cannot develop independent judgment skills which lead to overly dependent adulthood. Hence, authoritarian parenting also hampers the overall development of typically developing children.

It’s evident that neither permissive nor authoritarian discipline styles are good to implement as both are different extremes of discipline. Parents, whom I have come across in the journey of rehabilitation, have implemented both these styles. They implement permissive style (especially if the child is has autism spectrum disorders) so as to avoid conflict and tantrums. Authoritarian discipline style is being implemented as a part of over-protecting their child (especially children with motor or intellectual delays) . But, the major flaw that I notice is that parents barely have any idea on where and how to implement these principles; which leads to imbalance and disagreement between the principles of both styles.

So, ‘…which is the right approach?’ is a frequently asked question. In order for children to learn how to judge and formulate successful decisions by themselves, they must be granted the appropriate amount of freedom and the right amount of limitation necessary for safety. This is the basis of ‘positive parenting’ (authoritative discipline style).

This combines the better aspects of both the authoritarian and permissive styles while avoiding the more extreme aspects of each. Like permissive parenting style, positive parenting style gives importance to responsibility, involvement and nourishment. But unlike permissive parenting, positive parenting doesn’t let children get away with misconduct/disobedience; instead, they take a rigid stand, expecting their kids to behave appropriately. Thus, positive parents fall in the middle, maintaining a balance by granting their child self-will; at the same time maintaining discipline.

From theory to practice

When I discuss the principles of positive parenting in the counselling sessions, many parents have commented, ‘It is easy in theory, difficult in practice’. Let’s see how this theory can be put into practice. The cornerstone of positive parenting is the affectionate and supportive bond between parents and children. Both parents must take efforts in developing a loving environment for their child.

From theory to practice

This paves way for creating ‘quality time’ filled with play activities and interaction. The ‘quality time’ can be made uninterrupted by staying away from your gadgets. Board games, solving puzzles together, playing with a ball, treasure hunt, etc. are common and simple play activities which involve abundant language stimulation. An average child needs multiple exposures to learn a new word.

Best for kids with developmental delays

Children with developmental delay (especially language impairment) need even more exposures. Playtime opens wide range of opportunity for children to learn words. Parents can present a new word by reading books about it, using it in sentences and conversations, doing arts and crafts related to that, etc In case of school-going children, new words can be  introduced by games like ‘word building with alphabet models’ or ‘I spy’.

Multi-sensory stimulation (visual, auditory and kinesthetic) happens when a child learns through play activities. Parents need not forcefully make their children sit and learn the language. Th can avoid the restriction on time to be creative; which improves the child’s cognitive skills.

Parents get a chance to track the interest of their children based on these creative tasks.  Following adequate reward system improves the child’s learning process.  Traditions like family movie time, balcony/ garden dinner, water pool play, video calls with friends and relatives, etc. can be planned on different days of a week.

Role of parents in developmental delay kids

Parents can thus express their unconditional love and acceptance of their children. There will not be room for sympathy for their child’s developmental delays. This approach helps children to feel secure, and important. Children thus get training on systems followed in their own family, and parents need not forcefully implement rules and restrictions on children. Caregiver’s investment of time and attention for their children forms the basis of children’s healthy self-respect. Parents can finish household chaos and pending office work (if any) early so as to plan the ‘quality time’. Limiting the duration of social media usage also helps parents to spend more time with their children.

Best for kids with developmental delays

Now let me discuss how parents can criticise or correct their children in case of misconduct. There are two ways of commenting when a child does any disorderly conduct.

  • The first one is, “YOU are wrong/ naughty/ bad”.
  • The second one can be, “The ACTION that you did now is bad” or “This is a POOR SELECTION” and “LET US tries the other way”.

In the first type, children are conveyed that they are ‘bad/ naughty people’. But in the second type, parents convey a different message which criticises the specific misconduct of the child; at the same time does not question the child’s personality.

The theory ‘action speaks louder than words’ can also be applied. Parents should remain constant in their words and deeds. Make sure that a rule/ system is followed by all the members of the family without any fail. This can be applied even for carrying out a daily routine.

Practicing these tips religiously helps typically developing children to follow discipline in their adolescence too. To strengthen the parental skills, the parents need the support of the multidisciplinary team, which includes their speech and language therapist, occupational therapist, psychologist and special educator (depending on the services that the child requires).

The teamwork helps parents to choose the right techniques for successful parenting. So parents! A small change in your approach can bring fruitful results in your children! Happy parenting!

Best for kids with developmental delays


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