Thursday, October 25, 2012

Shedding the Masks

Boo!  It’s Halloween, the time to put on a mask while facing all the other masked boogie men hiding in the dark.  Regardless of how you may feel about Halloween, it is interesting to ponder how the rituals around this day parallel our daily lives. Many of us live with and are governed by our many fears, for example, the fear of the unknown, our mortality, what others may think, and how we are measuring up to the world’s standards.  In order to cope, we don, what we feel is an acceptable mask to interface with the world.  It is very uncomfortable to wear a mask and a costume all day so when we arrive home we stuff ourselves full of candy, or something else we find satisfying, to relieve our anxiety and reward ourselves for making it through yet another day without being seen for whom we really are….or so we think.

Interestingly, the young child is exquisitely genuine.  They say what they think without editing their thoughts or their words.  If you ask them their opinion they will indeed tell you the truth.  In our attempts to socialize them unfortunately we sometimes teach them that they are not okay being who they are. Eventually they too don a mask and costume and endure the cumbersome weight of being inauthentic.  It is very tricky business to socialize a child while allowing them to be themselves and accepting them for all their quirks and imperfections.  I think this process is particularly difficult for the parent of a child with disabilities.

 Parents desperately want their children to be accepted and happy. In our attempts to make this happen we often inadvertently send messages to the child that they are flawed, weak, incapable and powerless.  There are no easy answers for this conundrum but hopefully the following tips will provide you with some food for thought.

Tips for empowering special needs children:

  • Evaluate your feelings about your child and their disability.  Have you really accepted their disability or are you, due to your own grief process, still trying to fix your child and make them better?
  • Seek support.  The process of accepting the loss of your dream of the perfect child is extraordinarily painful.  Many parents will deny that this is difficult but their denial speaks to their lack of acceptance of their loss.  As a result of the denial one is unable to truly meet the needs of their child. The process of truly accepting your child’s disabilities is difficult.  There are many others who have experienced this path who have developed support groups. They, as well as counselors, are eager to assist you.  Take the time to find them and nourish yourself.
  • Allow your child the gift of struggle and failure.  It is through struggle that we grow strong and through failure that we learn.  A child with a disability needs an enormous amount of strength.  If we hover or attempt to anticipate our child’s every need, we disempower them and send the message that they are weak and can’t possibly make it in the world without us.
  • Focus on your child’s strengths and gifts. 
  • Enjoy your child.  Slow down and give your child and yourself the time needed to explore the world and rejuvenate.  Sit down and play with your young child without teaching or directing their play.  Sit with an older child and wait and see if they will invite you to join them in their activity.  If not, just quietly sit with them.  Do this on a regular basis and observe how powerful an experience this can be in strengthening your child’s sense of self and your relationship with them.
  • Be honest with your child about their disability. By not being honest and not discussing the disability you foster shame.  You are giving your child the message that there is something to fear and hide.
  • Seek authenticity in your own life’s journey.  Shed the masks and costumes and relish in your flaws, gifts, and idiosyncrasies.  These so called imperfections are the foundation of your uniqueness and when you allow them to be visible to the world you become exquisitely unique, likeable and approachable.

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