When our children are babies and toddlers, it’s natural for us as parents to be a constant helpful presence in their lives. But parents of children with disabilities can find it especially hard to let their children do more things on their own as they get older. That’s why when they are still young it can be helpful to think about how we can gradually help them become more independent as they get older.

We are not just preparing the way for them. We are also mentally preparing ourselves to take a step back and let our children explore new things or try new challenges. By confronting our fears and practicing positive steps, we can make the transition easier for ourselves and our children.

Things to ask yourself

  • What is challenging about letting a child who has disabilities or vulnerabilities grow up? What are your fears or worries about it? How have other parents in similar situations handled it?
  • Are there small steps you can take now to encourage your child's independence? What are they? How would it feel to try some of them?
  • How can you continue to grow and change in your role as parent? How would that help your child, yourself and your family? What might stand in your way, and how will you work to overcome those challenges?

Positive steps to practice

  • Recognize your child's strengths, talents, and interests and work to build on them for the future.
  • Try to understand how other people see your child and learn from that—they may see strengths you can’t see.
  • Despite your child’s disabilities, set expectations for her to be a contributing member of your family. Give her chores at home, like the other members of your family. Treat her like the other children in the family as much as possible.
  • Don't underestimate your child's normal desire to grow up and move on.
  • Don't confuse your own needs with your child's needs; sometimes a child is actually ready for the next step, and it’s the parent who is afraid of moving forward.
  • Find opportunities to let your child make choices about little things.
  • Let your child know that you are there for her for as long as she needs you, but that you hope and expect your child to learn to become as independent as possible.

By Rosemary Alexander, PhD, Texas Parent to Parent