5 Ways a Father Can Maximize Time With Their Child with Special Needs
Whether we like it our not, it is a given that most dads spend less time with their children due to work (obviously, there are situations where the dad stays home while the mom works full-time or the home is a single parent home). It is for this reason that when we are home us dads need to maximize the time that we have with our children.
I would like to share with you the ways that I engage that I find effective with both my older daughter Na’amah (age 6) and my younger daughter Ellah (age 5) with Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum.
Most of these points below will be relevant to a parent's relationship with their typical children also, but I’m sharing this here because there’s not a different classification of fatherhood when your child has special needs.
1. Put your phone away
Possibly the most important. My wife will vouch for the fact that I’m miles from perfect here, but one of my goals for 2016 is to be home twice a week for dinner. I work a lot of hours and put in a lot of time at the office and there have been times when weeks could go by and I would not be home for dinner except on Saturday and Sunday.
When I’m home, I try to keep my phone in my pocket. It doesn’t always happen, but I try to keep the phone put away while I am spending time playing with my kids. This maximizes my facetime with the kids (pun intended) and lets them know I’m paying attention to them.
2. Schedule time specifically for activities
Make sure the time is scheduled!
Whether you have a 40 hour work week and tons of hobbies or you work 80-90 hours a week and time is limited and precious, having a specific time set aside with your kids is very important. I try to take a couple of minutes and spend time with my daughters every night that I’m home.
My daughter loves dancing; we have a hand drum and guitar in our house that she loves when we play music, sing and dance together (some of us are better than others, one day she will really be embarrassed) and having those moments to engage with her at a set time while I am home is important.
Often what my daughter wants to do is watch videos on the iPad and sit next to me while I nudge her to interact with me; sometimes I’m the one who wants to be interacted and engaged with!
3. Rely on mom to give feedback on what does/does not go well
The things my both kids obsess over can change a lot quicker than I can keep up with. My wife spends significantly more time with them, so while I may think that a specific toy, song or show is their main interest, I could miss that they moved on a week ago and I am boring them.
Harassing either one of my kids to play with me with that “old” toy is useless, so asking my wife which toys are the current toys that they are playing with today is prudent. Like many other kids with special needs, Ellah is compulsive and very routine driven, so any toy or book that she favors, we will read or play with a thousand times.
If she’s not interested in the activity, I could be dressed like a clown and do it while standing on my head, and won't get her attention.
4. Include the other children
Making sure that I spend time with each one of my kids separately is important. They both get time with me, but I also try to spend time with them together, which is good for many reasons.
One reason in particular, is that it fosters their social abilities - playing with Na’amah helps Ellah with her speech, her social skills and learning to interact with peers who have a greater skill set than her. Na’amah is greatly benefitted by playing with Ellah because it helps her with patience, compassion and working with others.
When I engage only with Ellah, Na’amah gets jealous and wonders why her sister with special needs gets more special attention. When I play only with Na’amah, sometimes Ellah feels left in the lurch. There is a need for balance in engagement with both kids.
5. Do something that I enjoy also
Have fun! Not everything can be about ‘being the best therapy toy,’ kids need fun playing the snow, going to the park or just being silly. I need that too! When I’m having fun with them having fun, the fun is at level 11.