7 Tips to Surviving Judgment as the Parent of a Child with Special Needs

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It’s a Tuesday morning and you head to the grocery store. You’ve specifically chosen a Tuesday morning because it’s the least busy at this particular store. You have your list organized according to the layout of the store. You spend half an hour preparing your child for what to expect on the outing. You drive there armed with fidgets and stress balls with calming music playing softly in the background. You even let them wear the superhero costume without saying a word because you know it helps them both feel braver and feel more regulated because it fits tightly.

7 tips you need to survive the judgment from others when you are parenting a child with special needsYou have done everything you can think of to ensure this grocery trip is as pain-free as possible. You park. Take a deep breath. Turn around, smile at your child and together you walk in.

You get through the produce section with all its smells and unexpected mini sprinklers without issue. You mentally congratulate yourself for remembering to prepare your child for those potential pitfalls this morning!

You get through most of the aisles without anything dramatic happening. Even the cereal aisle is navigated without distress. You’re starting to breathe a bit easier now. You can see the end in sight.

You swing by the pharmacy where the kind pharmacist is very familiar with your family. Your child knows them well enough to respond and say hello. You can see that this has raised their anxiety just a bit and as you walk away from that counter, you check in with your child to see how they are managing. You tell them that you appreciate how well they are doing. You encourage them by showing them how much of the grocery list is complete.

In the dairy section, you see signs that the tension is mounting. There’s a temperature change and the lights are bright. It’s starting to get a bit more crowded in the store by now. Your child is touching everything you pass by and has knocked an item off the shelf.

You hand your child the list and a pencil and ask them to cross off what’s been found so far. You know that in doing so, you will give them a visual and tangible reminder of how close they are to being done. You will also give them something to do with their hands.

Your child comments that the wheel on the cart is squeaky. You are reading the back of a box trying to determine if it’s gluten free so you don’t respond right away. You move on towards the checkout but your child is standing back where you were, hands over their ears, screaming. You judge the distance between yourself and them and know that you will not make it in time to stop this from becoming a huge meltdown.

As you rush towards them, you mentally play back the trip to the store. Playing detective is an important part of your job as the parent of a child with special needs. You decide based on the evidence that it’s the squeaky wheels on the cart that were the final straw so you abandon your cart mid aisle and rush faster towards your child to help them calm down.

Out of the corner of your eye, you catch glares, a man shaking his head disapprovingly and a woman is approaching you, bent on sharing her “wisdom”. You know what’s likely coming. Not “good job mama”. Not “can I help?”


You’re well acquainted with the whispers, the glares and the outright rude comments. Years ago, you may have left the store in tears over her ignorant words, but not today. Today you know that her words are more a reflection of who she is than who you or your child are. Today, your only worry is your child. You’ve got this!

Tips to Surviving Judgment as the Parent of a Child with Special Needs:

  1. Breathe.
  2. Choose and practise a mantra that you can say internally. “They cannot steal my joy.” “I am the right mom for my child.” “They do not have the privilege of knowing my child.” “This is them, not me.”
  3. Know that you do not need to respond. It is not your job to educate the world at the moment your child needs you most.
  4. Better they judge you than your child. Often, it is tempting to explain your reasons, your methods, your child’s needs to save face. Sometimes it is appropriate to do so, but if your response is only going to further isolate your child and make them feel more different, you may need to risk being judged.
  5. Surround yourself with those who “get it”. Create a network of support people who understand. Those who have also walked this road are safe to share with. They can offer encouragement in a way that no one else can. If there is not a support group in your community, find one online.
  6. Keep track of your wins. Parenting a child with special needs can be discouraging at times because it’s often two steps forward, one and three quarters steps back. Celebrating your wins will help you rise above the judgment because you will have confidence that your child is moving in the right direction.
  7. Remember that you know your child best and that your child is doing their best. “They’re not giving you a hard time. They’re having a hard time.”

Join me for a free 5 part email series, Little Hearts, Big Worries offering resources and hope for parents.

Special Needs Bundle - Save 87%!This post is part of a Parenting a Child with Special Needs series with special needs moms who share their thoughts on “managing public situations.” These articles may help you navigate your way through your next time out in public.

How I’ve Learned to Manage Public Situations as a Special Needs Parent | My Home Truths

10 Tips for Running Errands with a Special Needs Child | Every Star is Different

7 Tips to Surviving Judgment as the Parent of a Special Needs Child | The Chaos and The Clutter

Navigating the Store with a Child with Sensory or Anxiety Issues | The Chaos and The Clutter

Dear Mom at the Park | This Outnumbered Mama

Dear Mom Who Is Afraid to Leave Her House | Kori at Home

How to Help a Mom When Her Child Suffers a Public MeltdownI Finding the Golden Gleam

To the Mom Whose Child Sabotages Mother’s Day

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

If you clicked on this article expecting cute stories of burnt toast and other breakfast-in-bed mishaps, this is not that article. If you are parenting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder or early childhood trauma, this is for you.

For most moms, Mother’s Day is a day to be recognized, to be celebrated, or perhaps just an average day. For moms of kids with Reactive Attachment Disorder, Mother’s Day comes at a price.

My first five years or so of being a mom, Mother’s Day was breakfast in bed and sweet homemade cards. Once we began our journey of fostering and adopting, Mother’s Day changed. There was still the dog-pile of little ones jumping on my bed too early in the morning to wish me a “happy ‘movvers’ day” and gifts of macaroni necklaces or handprint art. But the holiday became significant in other ways as I considered the birth parents of my children and as I came to fully realize what a tremendous privilege it is to be a mom.

After our first three adoptions, Mother’s Day was a day that in my heart and in my words, I shared with other moms as I acknowledged the significance birth moms (though I just refer to them as moms) held for my kids and even for me. Were it not for them, my kids would not have life and I would not have the gift of loving them.

And then came our last adoption of two siblings who had a complicated history and who both suffered from Reactive Attachment Disorder and early childhood trauma

Mother’s Day was no longer breakfast in bed and sloppy kisses. It was walking on eggshells and dodging the most hurtful words imaginable. It was having gifts broken and plans foiled. It was hours-long rages and buckets of tears. It was spite and venom. It was love rejected. It was dreams dashed. It was spending the day away from my kids rather than with them. It was questioning my abilities and worth as a mom.

If you are that mom whose child sabotages Mother’s Day, this is what I want you to know:

  1. It is not you they are rejecting. You are not the one who caused the trauma or inflicted the hurt. You represent the possibility of more pain if they risk loving fiercely again. It is that pain they are rejecting, not you.
  2. You love them well. If you didn’t love them so well, you wouldn’t be perceived as such a threat. In a way, their rejection is a reflection of just how effective your love is. Good job momma!
  3. You did not cause this. I’m so sorry that you have to bear the brunt of it.
  4. It’s okay for you to take a day to yourself. 364 days of the year, you give all that you have and then more than you have to give to this child. You deserve one day.
  5. I know that in an ideal world, you would want to be spending Mother’s Day with your children, but if you are parenting a child whose past causes them to sabotage this day for you, plan to be away for the day. Taking care of yourself doesn’t make you less of a mom.
  6. Stay off Facebook on Mother’s Day. Trust me on this one. You can thank me later.
  7. You are doing an amazing job. Parenting is never easy but parenting a child with trauma is hard, hard, hard and you are doing it. You need to give yourself more credit. You rock!
  8. Remember that their hurt comes from a place that is very real. This day is likely even harder for them than they are making it on you.
  9. It’s okay to acknowledge the pain that this causes you. You don’t deserve this and frankly, neither does your child.
  10.  You are not alone. There are other moms crying in their bathrooms at the same time you are.

What Mother’s Day looks like now in our house:

For a few years, we tried to continue our usual Mother’s Day traditions. It was just too painful and hard, not just for me but for my kids, both the ones suffering from RAD and for the others. For a few years after that, my husband would take the kids out for the day and I would spend the day alone which was better and not quite as triggering for our kids, but still left me feeling quite sad.

Then, I decided to make Mother’s Day more focused on others. I began making a nice brunch for my mom and my mother-in-law and keeping the focus on them, making it more of a grandmas’ day. This helped my kids somewhat. They were still triggered, but not to the same extent. I have since continued that tradition and added reaching out to a single mom each year and inviting them and their kids to the brunch. I find that by keeping the day focused on others, I don’t fall into the trap of feeling sorry for myself as easily. I do still feel nervous leading up to Mother’s Day and I have to work hard at not comparing mine to others (see #6 on the list), but the sting isn’t as strong as it once was.

P.S. If you want to be able to celebrate a Mother’s Day, make a secret one another day. Ask your spouse or a close friend to create your own special day midweek. Just be sure not to tell your child about it.

Join me for a free 5 part email series, Little Hearts, Big Worries offering resources and hope for parents.

What I Wish You Knew About being a parent to a child who has RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder)What I Wish You Knew About Parenting a Child with RAD

Recognizing the Signs of Reactive Attachment DisorderRecognizing the Signs of Reactive Attachment Disorder

Nutrition for Childhood Trauma

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

Obviously, good nutrition is important for all children. For children who have experienced trauma either prenatally (such as prenatal exposure to drugs, alcohol or stress) or in early childhood, good nutrition is a critical component in their brain function and healing.

The importance of nutrition in children who have had early childhood trauma along with practical, specific tipsChronic stress can actually impact the way a person digests and absorbs their food so in children with higher cortisol levels due to early trauma, supplements may be needed.

When a child eats regularly scheduled nutritious snacks and meals, their blood sugar levels remain constant. This allows an optimal opportunity for learning and for regulating moods.

Dehydration causes all kinds of problems including decreased cognitive function, headaches, fatigue, poor concentration, increased anxiety, and mood swings. Getting enough water and reducing or eliminating caffeinated and carbonated drinks impacts everything from sleep to emotional regulation to playtime.

Ways to improve nutrition in children with trauma:

  • set a timer to remind yourself to give your child small healthy snacks
  • have a regular schedule for mealtimes so that they know what to expect
  • give each child a water bottle and keep it filled all day
  • remind them regularly to drink their water
  • model healthy eating by eating breakfast, lunch and supper yourself and drinking enough water

If you suspect that nutrition may be playing a role in your child’s behaviour, keep a food journal for two weeks. Document everything your child eats and what time and record behavioural challenges that correlate within a two hour window. Look for patterns.

If you see patterns that seem to correlate with behaviour issues, try eliminating that food from your child’s diet or try an elimination diet. Foods that are commonly associated with changes in behaviour are gluten, dairy, sugar, colourings, and additives.

Omega-3 fatty acids are especially important for children who have FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder), ADHD or trauma. Studies show they reduce symptoms of anxiety, impulsivity, inattention, and learning difficulties. Omega-3 can be introduced through fish oil capsules, seafood, flaxseed oil capsules or flaxseed, raw almonds, raw walnuts, soybeans, spinach, and chia seeds.

Adopted children and food:

Food can be interlinked with trauma in children who have experienced neglect or were born into poverty and went hungry. Providing a feeling of safety in regards to food can take years. It is important for children, especially those who may not have had consistent access to food in their past to know that their physical needs will now always be met. Telling them that there will always be food for them is not enough. Show them where the food is in the house. Choose some food that they can have unlimited access to. In our house, this is fruit and vegetables, but when our internationally adopted children first came home, we also provided them with a box of snacks such as granola bars and nuts that they could have whenever they wanted. We always kept their water bottles filled so they would know that clean water would never be something they had to go without. Having very set snack times and mealtimes also helps to establish trust in the area of food.

Some children who have experienced neglect or hunger will hoard food or will eat to the point of being sick. Generally speaking, those types of behaviours will lessen once food is consistently provided but for some children, these behaviours can be long lasting. The brain is a powerful thing and sometimes even years after hunger, children will be in fear of being hungry and be hoarding food or overeating. If this is the case for your child, you need to talk to a doctor or mental health professional, particularly one who specializes in adopted children.

Malnutrition is also a consideration in adopted children who have experienced hunger. They will need supplements and a nutrient rich diet. They will also need healthy fats to help with their brain development and function. You may wish to consult with a nutritionist.

Adoption Nutrition is a website specifically for information for adoptive parents on nutrition. It also includes lists of what internationally adopted children may be deficient in depending on their birth country.

Join me for a free 5 part email series, Little Hearts, Big Worries offering resources and hope for parents.

This is part of a series with other special needs moms. This month’s topic was food or mealtimes. You can click on the links below to read their tips and experiences.

Food Issues: Are They Behavioral, Sensory Related or Medical? | Every Star is Different

How We’re Gradually Introducing New Food Into Our Son’s Restricted Diet | My Home Truths

Nutrition for Childhood Trauma | The Chaos and The Clutter

30 Things SPD Parents Secretly Wish You Knew About Their “Picky Eater” | Lemon Lime Adventures

Mealtime Strategies for Kids with Hyperlexia and/or Autism | And Next Comes L

How to Help a Non Verbal Autistic Child at Make Meal Time Choices| Kori at Home

The 7 Food Battles Not Worth Fighting About With Your Picky Eater with Special Needs | Finding the Golden Gleam

Create Your Own Feelings Jenga Game

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

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Giving kids a vocabulary rich in emotion words is one of the best things you can do as a parent. This is particularly true if you are parenting kids who have experienced trauma, have anxiety or are on the autism spectrum. This Jenga Feelings Game is perfect for helping kids talk about their emotions and experiences, building their vocabulary of emotion words and improve their communication skills.

Feelings Jenga Game is perfect for therapists or parents working with kids on their emotions and expressing their experiences.I love finding ways to make this kind of teaching fun. Presenting a therapeutic activity as a game is a great way to help your child feel relaxed. Being relaxed is an important element to learning. It means your child can access all of their brain instead of being in their “lizard brain” which happens when they are feeling under stress or for any other reason are in fight, flight or freeze mode.

One of my daughters played a version of this in therapy and as soon as she told me about it, I knew we could easily make one to play at home too. We have since invented different versions of the game. Some of my kids have an easier time talking about their feelings and past experiences than others so I have found ways to adapt it accordingly. The key is to make sure they feel comfortable and relaxed. This will ensure that any learning is effective and will make it more enjoyable for everyone.

To create this Feelings Jenga Game, you will need a Jenga game. You can use a permanent marker to write feeling words on the side of the wood blocks in the game or I have created printable feeling words that can be cut out and attached to the Jenga blocks with double-sided tape or glue. In the printables, I have also left some blank so that you can add in any other feelings words that you would like to focus on.

How to play Feelings Jenga:

Once the blocks have feeling words on them, set them up as you would in a regular Jenga game. There are two variations to the set up. You can face the words in so that you can’t see them or you can face the words out so that most of them will be visible during the game. For kids who are particularly apprehensive of not being able to see the words on the inside, you can have them do the set-up so that they know what even the few hidden words are.

One way to play this game is to have to describe the word that you pull out before placing it on top. This is a nice introductory way to play and especially good for kids who don’t have a strong emotion word vocabulary.

Another way to play this game is to have the person who draws the block have to describe a time or experience in their life when they felt that particular emotion. You can expand on this by having them explain how that felt and how they coped with that positive or negative feeling.

For kids who are just starting this game or who are less comfortable talking about their feelings, it will be less difficult if the words are visible because they can pull ones that are easier for them to talk about. As they grow more comfortable with the game and with expressing their feelings, they may reach a point where they are comfortable pulling out blocks even when they can’t see what the word will be.

If you know that this particular child is too vulnerable to be able to discuss certain emotions, it may be best to not include those words in the game the first few times you play. Ease into things at their pace.

This Jenga Feelings Game is perfect for helping kids talk about their emotions and experiences.This game allows children to express their experiences and feelings in a non-threatening way. Of course, modelling is another great thing about the Feelings Jenga game because it allows you to participate and model how to talk about feelings and times in your own life when you have felt those things. The child you are playing with may be able to relate to those experiences and have a “me too” moment, which can be very powerful.

This game is great for communication skills, lowering anxiety and normalizing talking about emotions and life experiences, both challenging and successful.

Subscribe for your free printable Jenga feelings words and you’ll also be signed up for our free 5 day email series Little Hearts, Big Worries.

Special Needs Bundle - Save 87%!