Raising a Child With Down Syndrome: Helpful Tips
When children with Down syndrome cannot express themselves or understand others easily, they become frustrated. Many children with Down syndrome can also be social and affectionate, but they may not know how to play efficiently with peers. This can be very upsetting to the child with Down syndrome and can cause misbehavior. Children with Down syndrome can also struggle to calm down and feel better when frustrations come up. This can worsen behavior problems. Your style of parenting is not the reason behind these problems, but you can make a difference by making changes in your parenting style. While there are many things that experts and professionals can help with, simple daily actions you take at home can also have a huge impact. Here are a few tips for raising a child with Down Syndrome:
Be consistent & Keep Your Eye on the Long-Term Goals
Behaviours can change quickly, but the hard part is changing behaviours for the long-term. That’s why setting up a realistic plan to implement behavioural change and encourage adaptive behaviour is important. Making some changes now can lead to a big difference in your child’s future life. Even if you don’t see dramatic improvements right away, remembering the importance of the big picture can help you cope with daily frustrations. A child’s behaviour can reveal to us that they don’t have a skill that they need, or that they are frustrated or physically uncomfortable, or countless other important cues. Understanding that your child is trying to communicate something can make it easier to deal with difficult behaviour.
Same Ideas, New Approach
Use a new approach for the same ideas you would with a neurotypical child—and modify it to make it the right fit for your child. Many of the behavioural techniques that work with most children are also effective for children with Down syndrome.
Give simple, Clear Directions
Language is often difficult for children with Down syndrome. The more complicated your speech, the less likely your child is to do what you want. So directions should be specific,
directive (a request, not a question), and contain the fewest steps possible.
Establish a routine, and stick to it
Every morning, most adults do their routine in the same order. For example: use the bathroom, take a shower, get dressed, have breakfast, brush teeth, get lunch ready to take to work. Having a routine makes life easier! The same is true for children with Down syndrome, but routine is even more important. Your child is likely to do best when the day’s structure is the same as it was the day before.
Use Visual Schedules
Many schools use this approach. An instance, an after school routine depicted visually is one which tells the child that after she gets home from school, she needs to hang up her coat, have a snack, play, read a book, and then eat dinner. This chart is easy to make and is easy to follow. Something like this might help your child move more smoothly through their day.
Plan Well For Difficult Situations
As a parent or caregiver, you know your child best. You probably are aware of some things that are difficult for your child. Anticipating these events can be helpful and you can help your child prepare for changes in order to reduce his or her worry or behavior problems. One way of getting ready for what’s coming is called “Social Stories”. This technique involves describing coming events for your child using a book format. This is done through pictures, but may also involve some words. Social stories will help your child prepare for difficult or complex events such as having blood drawn, going to a new classroom, or having a birthday party.
Make Time For Fun Stuff
When children are having behaviour problems, they tend to get lots of negative attention. It is important to have positive interactions with your child, even when things are at their worst. Make time each day to read a book, play a game, draw, cook a fun dish, or watch a video with your child, even if things have not been smooth sailing around the house.
Reward Good Behaviour
Set up a system to reward the behaviours you want to encourage. Start by answering these questions:
What are two or three things you would like your child to do more often? Could your child do these things if he or she were willing?
Does your child need to be rewarded right away to understand the connection between completing a job and getting a prize?
Can he understand being rewarded later on for something he did earlier in the day or week?
(This is quite difficult to do!)
What does your child like that could be used to reward? Stickers? Coins to buy something later on? Time to play a game with a playdate? Choose a few behaviours that are important to you, and use a planned chart to help your child achieve them. (See next)
Making a good-behaviour chart
Children with Down syndrome often respond to visuals better than being told what to do. Make a chart with pictures of what you’d like your child to do and put it up where he or she can see it, maybe on the bedroom wall or refrigerator. You can draw the pictures, cut them out of magazines, take some photos, etc.
Furthermore, your child’s healthcare providers, school system, and community resources are available to give you information, services, and support. These techniques can help improve your child’s behaviour. Some are ideas you might feel comfortable trying out on your own keeping in mind your child’s unique, while for others, you might want to ask for help from a professional. Acknowledge that parenting is a difficult job and give yourself credit for all things you are doing well as a parent!