The best life ever!

Five tips for positive parenting

Yesterday I was working with my son on a social skills app. This has become a daily part of our routine.

Those with typical children may take for granted the social skills that our kids struggle with and must work to learn. I spend a lot of time and effort with my boys who have special needs working on what doesn't come naturally so that they can have what I feel will be a better life.

As usual, I was proven wrong by my son. Just because these kiddos have to go to therapy, countless appointments, and work a little harder at things, doesn't equal unhappiness. This may be the life your child is used to and has grown to love.

This time he was struggling to name three things that are in a refrigerator, three things that are green, and three things for which you use a key. I was giving prompts and cues and he gently said, "Mommy, I am having the best and most fun life ever!" Did I just hear that right? You mean that he's happy just the way he is?

I asked him what he meant. He proudly said, "I love my therapists and the people who come and help me to learn. I am SO happy!" My son does not prefer social activities, has only one friend, doesn't relate to most people he meets, yet he's having the best life ever! Reality check for me! While I may look at and sometimes focus on his weaknesses, he has embraced them and loves the wonderful person he is becoming. I felt embarrassed for myself.

Read more: Child Behavior: Help your child develop social skills

While I understand that children with special needs often do not prefer to work on areas in which they are weak, we must sometimes force them to in order to interact with their peers and be functional members of society.

As I state in my book, “The Pocket Occupational Therapist”, for caregivers of children with special needs, there are many times we are asked to list our children's weaknesses. The plethora of forms we must fill out all ask us what goals we would like to focus on. This means analyzing weaknesses and listing those things we'd like for our children to be able to do.

Here's a helpful list I put together to help focus on the positive traits of your child with special needs. 

1) Make a list of your child's strengths. The list could include anything you love about your child or what makes him/her unique. List things that your child brings to your family and to the world. Ask someone else who loves your child to list their favorite things too. There's nothing more special to a child than telling them what you love about them. It's a wonderful confidence booster.

Read more: Ten tips for playdates with kids of all abilities

Read more: How you can find support with a SEPTA

2) Make a book with your child about what makes her special. This should include pictures, words, drawings each of you make. Make it in your child's favorite color. If possible, make it into an actual book. This can be done via many websites or at your local office supply store.

3) Compliment your child daily and in front of someone else. It's amazing how much praise from our parents means to us!

4) Encourage your child to tell you when he's done something he's proud of. Jump up and down or give a high-five. Let your child know how proud you are of what he's done. Make eye contact with your child to show him you're actively listening.

5) Create a special handshake or gesture that is unique between the two of you. This could be a wink, special nod, a sign language gesture, etc. Be creative and do this often.

I am working on doing the activities above with both of my boys — won't you join me?

Cara N. Koscinski is an occupational therapist and a mom to two sons with special needs.