One of the toughest challenges of being a parent is the constant struggle to give your kids just the right amount of help. You don’t want to smother them with unneeded help and attention. But you also don’t want to ignore a problem until it grows into a huge issue.

It’s especially difficult when dealing with a child that can best be described as “quirky.” Maybe they’re constantly energetic, have trouble focusing or have emotional problems that make it difficult for them to function at school. How do you raise a child with problems that might be beyond your expertise?

Get Your Child Tested

The first thing to do is to get your child properly screened by a professional. Nearly every school district provides a free pre-school screening for little or no cost. These tests will help identify children with problems such as Autism and ADHD and that identification is the first step in getting help. 

School districts and communities often have free help for children with these diagnoses, and if the problem is severe enough, they can help with directing parents to doctors with special expertise in these fields. But no matter what the result of the tests, you’ll now have a baseline you can work with to help with your child. These tests will also get you into “the system,” if that is what your child needs. There is an amazing amount of help available, but experts need to know about you and your child in order to provide that help.

Stay Connected with Other People

Another important ingredient is social interaction, and not just for your child. If your child is struggling, he is probably also having problems making and keeping friends. So once you have a better grasp of what his challenges might be, then it’s important to find some social activities that match your child’s personality and challenges. An extremely intelligent child who has trouble making friends would be perfect for an after-school science camp. While a child with ADHD would likely enjoy an activity that involves a lot of movement, along with a fair amount of supervision.

But it’s also important for the parents to connect with parents struggling with the same issues. Spending time with parents that understand your daily challenges can be a lifesaver. And often you’ll find that they have some great suggestions for your family, because they’ve dealt with many of the same problems already. It can be lonely raising a child with special challenges and there will be times when you’re feeling as if you’re doing it all alone.

Be Realistic about Your Child

It’s tempting to want your child to be the best at everything. But even if you love sports, they might not be the best fit for your child. Or your little one might be a better fit for a casual league instead of organized play. If your child has trouble staying focused, insisting that she participates in complex activities in which she has to sit still may only make her withdraw even more. No, you shouldn’t shy away from a challenge. But you need to be realistic about what is possible at this point in your child’s development.

Be Honest with Your Feelings

There are days you are going to be depressed or angry or feel overwhelmed. It’s okay to admit that and to allow yourself a bit of time to process your feelings. Always putting forth a positive face to the world (and especially to your child) can overwhelm anyone. Feeling that way doesn’t mean you’re not a great parent. It just makes you are human.

Leave Time for the Rest of Your Family

Parents with a challenging child can become consumed by the day-to-day issues. It’s easy to spend so much time on that special child that you neglect the other parts of your life. That’s one reason that the divorce rate for families with special needs kids is so high. No matter what else is going on, carve out some time for loved ones. Take a date night, take out your other children on special one-on-one nights and don’t lose track of longtime friends. No matter what the challenge, your child needs not just your support, but also the example of what it looks like to have a full, well-rounded life.

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