Kids can be messy, kids can be funny; they cry, they scream, they laugh and they play—and they play some more. But when we’re raising a child with a disability, sometimes we can get caught up in the “why” of what we are doing. We structure their play to work on their fine motor skills, to stimulate language, to build their social skills. We’re so focused on helping them develop through play that sometimes we forget to let them play just for the sake of playing.

It is important for you as a caregiver to spend time with your child in a loving—and carefree—way. Just because our kids have a “label,” such as a diagnosis or a disability, doesn’t mean they are that label. We need to remember that this is their childhood and they should be able to do the things that all kids do.

Does that mean the toys and activities they enjoy need to be the same as their same-age peers? No. But no two children are exactly alike, anyway. Different kids enjoy different activities, sights, sounds, games and toys.

But the goal is the same. We want them to enjoy play time, being with their siblings, parents and friends, just like any child. Like all kids, they should be able to enjoy childhood to the fullest extent possible. And we let them do that simply by letting our kids be kids.

Meet your child where he is

Your child needs to have you as a loving parent who sees him for the person he is. Meet your child at his developmental level. If your five-year-old loves the sound of a baby rattle, let him explore shaking and playing with it. Get some cheap shakers at a music store, or make your own with rice in some plastic eggs. The point is to notice what they are interested in and help them just have fun with it.

Take time to play and set aside some of the daily stress that having a child with a disability can bring to your everyday life. Learn what is fun for both you and your child.

It’s OK to say, “today we are just going to play.” No appointments, no research, no developmental experiments, no what ifs. Just you and your child, in the moment and having fun.