Special Needs Parenting

Mom and Baby
One of the most difficult tasks of parenting any child is discipline. This difficulty is magnified when parenting a child with special needs. How do you strike the proper balance between correction and mercy, especially with a child who may not understand their actions or the need for correction? In church we refer to this as the proper distinction between Law and Gospel, even though as parents, on a day to day basis, we don’t always think about it in those terms. The Law, of course, shows us our sin, while the Gospel shows us Jesus. We deal with this constantly in our homes, from the littlest matters to the biggest issues, even though we may not realize it.

With our children, whether they are typical or have special needs, we tend to err on the side of Gospel. With special needs children, however, the need for Gospel is even more important. Why is this the case? The burden of the Law is a part of the special needs child in a way that typical children just don’t experience. Whether a special needs child has a physical disability that makes doing simple, childlike tasks like running impossible, is medically fragile and unable to participate in everyday activities, or has mental challenges, the result of sin in the world, and thus in their lives, is present every moment of every day. There is no escaping the effects of the Fall when you are burdened with those effects in your daily life. This makes the Gospel especially important, whether it’s extra love and grace from mom and dad, an extra reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, or even unlimited grace when dealing with a true discipline issue. This extra grace is also especially important when dealing with issues such as tantrums or meltdowns that a special needs child may not be able to control. Even when a parent wants to discipline for such outbursts, it’s important for them to remember daily, even when it’s difficult to do so (and sometimes, it really is!), that Jesus’ blood covers those sins, too.

Children who are different, for whatever reason, are also going to feel the weight of the Law from the world even more than we can imagine. Even when the world is wrong in their judgements, it’s still going to be there. “Why can’t you act like your brother or your friend?” “Stop doing that.” “A good spanking will fix that problem.” These are all comments that strangers may make, to the parent or the child directly, or passively within earshot. Even well-intentioned comments, and even comments at church, can be inadvertently cruel, and leave the hearer, parent or child, feeling hopeless and broken. It can be tempting to join the crowd, and discipline immediately and firmly for whatever the perceived wrong is, because it’s easy as a parent to be embarrassed, either by the child’s actions, or the stranger’s intervention. Again, though, this is a time when it’s appropriate to share the Gospel instead, since the weight of the Law has already been handed out, often incorrectly. You can never point your children to Jesus and His saving love too often!

As parents, we are blessed to be able to share the Gospel with our special needs children. We may grow frustrated with them, and the world may condemn them for things that are out of their control, but we can share always God’s love with them. We can daily remind them of their baptism, and the fact that Jesus died for them. We can gently correct them where correction is needed, but always remember what a privilege we have in sharing the Gospel with them every day of their lives!

By Amanda Markel

Photo credit: “#ds37 – Mom and Baby” by Sharon Drummond licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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Special Needs Parenting — 2 Comments

  1. Our baby, not so now, has surpassed, the odds, placed upon him. From 2-5, Occupational therapy, speech therapy, EC Special Ed, oi vey. We rejoiced, when we went from 20-25 frustration tantrums, down to 10 per day! He couldn’t hear, we watched, how painful, it is painful for them, in therapy. He surpassed all the odds, with lots of painfully hard work. He is now a student at a Lutheran Prep School, has a 3.9 average, & is more verbally eloquent, than most post grads, I know. It’s gutting, to be a parent of special needs, no matter what. Mercy, is what that child’s parents need, when they walk into His House. We hear the most vile & wicked things, outside it. It is a balm, to not have to, when we attend the Divine Service!
    Never assume, it’s a parent problem, with the wee one, in front of you or back of you. Should one choose to say so, you may be the reason, that family, stops attending. We had to, once.

  2. Oh, thank you for this, Amanda! Our youngest, who suffers from a neurological condition, is painfully aware of the Law. He says as much before, during, and after his inappropriate behaviors, words, and meltdowns. In his better moments it is easy to forget how hard he works to keep things “under wraps.” It is heartbreaking for us as parents to hear our son get frustrated with himself and cry over the knowledge that, in his own words, “He cannot help it.” He’s come a long way with therapies, medicine, diet modifications, and so on. But sometimes our son’s right; he just can’t help it.

    Therefore, our son doesn’t need more Law heaped upon him; he needs the Gospel. Thanks be to God our son is aware of his need for the Gospel. He recently demonstrated this by typing up Ps. 23 (all by himself) so he could hang it by the head of his bed. His reasoning was, “So I don’t wake you, and so that it will be the first thing I see when I wake up, even in the middle of the night.”

    “Lord to whom shall we go; you have the words of eternal life.” Our son, even in his weakest moments, is likely unaware of the number of times he has shared the Gospel message with us, his parents. As hard as his bad days are for all of us, we do have so much for which to be thankful!

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