The bad news is that being a sensory parent can feel traumatic. The early years are often fraught with typical baby, toddler, and child rearing challenges — only magnified. Sensory parents often over-accommodate to try to prevent what we know is coming: the meltdowns, the tantrums, the opposition. Our parenting gets judged and misjudged by strangers, those who love us, and ourselves. Life can feel suffocating and impossible (cue the dramatic music). But, what we tell ourselves and what we tell our children matters. Those messages of “can’t” or “won’t” or “I’ve got it harder” become self-fulfilling prophecies and it becomes impossible to see outside that sensory bubble.
The good news is that despite what you might feel, a sensory parenting experience is not outside the norms of any parenting experience. Being a sensory parent has some unique knowledge and experiences but it has a lot of normal parenting moments too. Here are some typical parenting moments to consider:
- We love our kids beyond measure
- Parenting is hard
- Children are confusing!
- We have to adapt our parenting style to the needs of our children
- Our children are like us in some ways but different from us in others
- Our children use us to self-regulate and almost without fail we will get better results when we remain calm in the midst of their challenging behaviors and strong emotions
- We question ourselves
- Our children seek to control and manipulate us – they are programmed to do this
- We will parent more effectively if we practice self-care, self-compassion, and strong boundaries; putting on our own oxygen mask truly does help us save them
- We will be influenced by how we were raised
- We will make mistakes and so will they
- Yes, not everything they do is a reflection on us. It’s not all personal.
In my practice as an occupational therapist, I see parents who take a typical childhood challenge and chalk it up to a result of special needs their child has or had early on, whether or not the initial challenges still exist. That is not a judgment, it is a fact. Our work as parents is to help our child take ownership of their challenges (whatever they may be), without protecting them forever (think loving push) and to learn how to tolerate their discomfort so that they can do the same as they get older. Of course we want to protect them, they are our babies! But when they are no longer babies and they are facing peers, teachers, employers and this wide, wide world, they need skills they can rely on, and THIS is where parents truly come in.
Being a sensory parent means becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable, challenging yourself and your child to try different approaches, and learning to see your child in a whole new way. It’s not unlike parenting a child without sensory challenges, because we never know what we’re going to get when we commit to the children we are given. To all parents, and especially to parents of children with sensory processing disorder, I say, “You CAN do this! It’s parenting. And here you are.”
For help along your sensory parenting journey, please contact me to set up a parent coaching session. I love to brainstorm with parents of sensory kids, because I get it. I’ve been there. And it’s hard. As I’ve been told, we are not meant to do this alone, and I’d love to be your partner along the way.
For occupational therapy services, you can set up an in-take call and I have resources in our store that might be helpful. Your child doesn’t need to be a client in order for you to contact me with questions. I look forward to hearing from you!