By Guest Author, Katie Emanuel.
My oldest son was 3 1/2 years old when our family moved across the country and found ourselves a thousand miles away from friends and extended family. As our family has grown over the years, we have had countless specialist appointments, ER visits, hospitalizations, and therapies. At one point in time, we had sixteen appointments a week without family or babysitters to help. This was tough, but we learned so much, and, over time, we developed a system that works well for us! I hope that some of our tips will help your family, too!
1. Have a whiteboard or notebook on hand and draw expected behaviors for your child prior to your appointments.
These can be simple, stick figure drawings of a smiley face, walking feet, inside voice, etc. This helps set expectations and provides a visual for you and your child to refer to before, during, and after the appointment.
2. Listen to calm, soothing music in the car.
Once you have your visuals, load everyone up in the car and turn on soothing music. Think “spa music” when you’re creating a playlist. This creates a calm atmosphere that helps everyone get in the right headspace for an appointment.
3. Share your children’s needs with others.
When going to a new place, share the special challenges your children face with the staff. Smile when you speak with them, and keep it simple:
“My child has social/behavioral challenges/delays, so if anything seems out of the ordinary, please don’t be offended/concerned/alarmed” – insert whichever descriptors work best for you.
By addressing behaviors that may present during your appointment ahead of time in a positive, authentic way, you reduce the opportunity for stress, stares, and glares from others who may not understand your child has special needs.
4. Have clear, concise rules for expected behaviors.
Ours are “Calm body, quiet voice, obey Mommy and Daddy.” We review them each time before we go out, and have fun with it! If they need a little extra encouragement, that’s ok! Simply remind them and verbally or visually acknowledge when they follow a rule. Be consistent and include expected behaviors on your whiteboard whenever you can.
5. Breathe and let go of perfect.
Perhaps this should be listed as number one because it is so important! Expect to face challenges and to hit some speed bumps during your appointment. Leave perfect at the door and take a deep breath.
Affirm yourself and your children when you make it through a stage of the appointment and…
6. Finally, celebrate everyone’s successes!
Share with your children the actions and behaviors you are proud of. Point out the expected behaviors they followed on their whiteboard and hug them even if the appointment didn’t go the way you had planned. There’s always a next time! Practice makes progress, not perfect. And every bit of progress is a win!
I’d love to know your thoughts! Which of these tips was most helpful to you? Would you add anything to it?
Katie Emanuel is a soul seeker, special needs mother, and avid believer in the human spirit. You can follow along her beautiful journey over at Wonderfully Made. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.