Navigate Life Texas: Resources for kids with disabilities and special needs

Navigate Life Texas: Resources for kids with disabilities and special needs

Disciplining a Child with Special Health Care Needs

12/20/2016 | Published by: Beth Coke

I am not the best disciplinarian. As a matter of fact, I am a pushover. Puppy dog eyes and a well placed “sorry” in a tiny voice are very effective with me.

When I gave birth to my twins, the farthest thing from my mind was discipline. I was worried about making it from one day to the next. But there came a time when everything had settled down (well, as settled as our life gets) when the question of discipline demanded an answer.

There are a few different definitions of discipline, but, for me, the meaning of discipline is the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior. It is not about punishment.

Early on, I met with another mom whose daughter had cerebral palsy like mine. I was so excited to speak with someone who had been there and done that. I was anxious to meet her child and maybe see what the future had in store.

The short time she spent in my house was eye-opening. Her daughter hurt her—pulling her hair, taking things out of her purse, hitting, kicking, even trying to bite her. And it was accepted behavior. There was no effort made to correct her.

Maybe her child couldn't help it, but she understood where the fruit snacks in her mom's purse were and how to get them. She understood spoken language. It made me wonder if she could have been taught the word “no” and what difference that might have made in their lives?  It raised that question of discipline again.

I understand blaming yourself for what happened to your child. I blame myself every single day. My husband and countless doctors have told me that it is not my fault, but I had one job: To get my babies here safely—and my body failed us all. I think it is truly something only a mother can understand.

And I understand that by blaming myself, I also have a need to "make it up" to my daughter. So letting her get away with things seems the natural course.

The problem comes when she has to deal with others. While part of me wants to condone how my kids might treat me, I couldn’t let them hurt other people. If I condone my child treating me badly, then I am also condoning that behavior toward others.

Their big sister did nothing wrong, so why should she be bitten or hit? Their attendant, teacher, doctor, therapist, etc., didn’t do anything to deserve being struck.

I have had other parents of kids with disabilities tell me I am terrible for disciplining my child. I have had others ask me how and why I do it. I do it for that mom that came to my house, for the parents that can't be the disciplinarians. For my child who needs boundaries even though life hasn't been fair.

I do it because there has to be a line drawn on what is and isn't acceptable. I do it because I will not let her hurt her siblings, herself, or others. I do it for my kids and for all of our kids.

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