Children with medical needs or other special needs are heavily reliant on their caregiver in many cases. In the majority of situations, this is out of necessity and not preference. Most parents would love their children to be able to play on their own for a little while so they can take care of household chores, make phone calls, and take care of other tasks. I’ll share a few ways myself and other Moms I know have increased their child’s independence. I hope they work for you as well!
- Assistive Items – Hypotonia causes our son to frequently lose his balance. In order to mitigate the inevitable falls we do two things. We have a large play mat, approximately 3 yards x 1.5 yards, where he can fall with minimal harm. There is also a pair of spandex-like pants he wears which are sewn together in the middle down to just past his knees. These support his legs and hips and increase his stability as well as prevent him from doing things we would like to discourage like scooting on his butt instead of crawling.
- Baby Monitor – Have you gotten rid of your baby monitor? If you haven’t, it’s helpful to allow your child to play away from you but still allow you to hear them clearly. We’ve chosen not to use video, but that’s certainly an option. If your child does not communicate well verbally the video will help you figure out what’s wrong. For example, are they angry at a toy or are they angry they fell and bumped their head?
- Watch from a distance – Depending on the structure of your home this may be difficult. We have an open floor plan so I can watch my son just as well as if I were in the same room as him from the kitchen. There are very few places he can go I can’t see him, and in those places I can still hear him clearly (the baby monitor comes in upstairs where the floorplan isn’t open). This also works if you watch them play outside through a window.
- Help, but walk away after – Your child may still need help from time to time. Special needs and medically complex children seem to need help most the moment you walk away. If you do need to help your child, go and help but then return to whatever you were doing. This will let the child know you’re there if they need you, and you’re busy enough they need to take care of themselves when they don’t.
It takes a while to transition your child into being comfortable playing without you. When you finally manage to make the transition you and your child will both be significantly less stressed. You’ll be able to take care of chores like vacuuming and laundry while they’re entertaining themselves. It’s amazing what you can accomplish and how much better you’ll both feel when your child is more independent.