helicopterThere are many negative connotations associated with the term “helicopter parent.” By definition a helicopter parent is “a parent who take an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child or children.” As a parent to two children with special needs, I don’t see being overprotective as a bad thing. Having an excessive interest in their life seems perfectly fine and helpful in many ways.

Parents of children with special needs follow their own sets of rules. Instead of focusing on the helicopter parent as someone with unnecessary fears who gives their child instant gratification and solves every problem for their child, let’s look at the characteristics of an actual helicopter pilot and see how these top qualities are an asset in parents of children with and without special needs.

According to a recent article, the top six qualities of a great helicopter pilot include:

1. Has Strong Communication Skills

While a helicopter pilot needs to effectively communicate with copilots, passengers, and air traffic control, a special needs parent needs excellent communication skills with doctors, school system staff, insurance companies, therapists, and even complete strangers. Special needs parents also require strong communication skills for connecting with their child.

2. Is Able to Handle Pressure

Both a pilot and special needs parent must handle the pressure of difficult decisions, stay calm during a time of crisis, and be able to survive stressful situations. Pressure for a special needs parent can come from dealing with finances, lack of services, sleep deprivation, and the desire to provide what is best for your child. Pressure can also come from managing relationships with a spouse/partner, family, and coworkers.

3. Uses Good Judgment

Young children are curious little creatures with no filters who love to ask questions in public – which can sometimes be uncomfortable. Usually it is the parent who cringes as their child blurts out a question or comment about a person with a disability. I’ve been there myself, face turning bright red, palms sweating as my child points and asks questions.

To the adults who are embarrassed by some of the things their children may say, here are four tips I have used to talk to my children about disabilities.

1. Let them be curious. 

Kids are naturally curious. They ask question after question. As the mother to a 3-year-old, I’m pretty sure I hear, “Why?” over 300 times a day. When children see someone with a disability, they are going to ask questions. “Why can’t she walk? Why does he look like that? What is wrong with her?” Questions are OK. Do not get mad at your child for being curious, and do not shoo them away. Allow your child to observe. What might seem like forever to you is probably a 10-second look from your child.

2. Keep it simple. 

Depending on your child’s age, a simple response is typically all that is needed to satisfy their curiosity. To my 3-year-old I might say, “It looks like her legs do not work the same as yours.” To my 6-year-old I might say, “She could have been born like that, or maybe she had an injury. It looks like she needs the wheelchair to get around easier.” Usually that is all the explanation they need.

3. Follow up with the positive. 

Kindness

 

Kindness is a mindset. It’s a quality children can learn through modeling, practice, and acknowledgement. Here are three simple things every parent can do to teach their child to be  kinder, more understanding, and more compassionate.

 

1. Model Kindness

As the adult, modeling kindness is crucial. Let your child catch you in random acts of kindness. Let your child observe you opening doors, helping others, and speaking kind words. While we are all born with an empathetic soul and inherent kindness, the act of being kind should still be explicitly taught. When you see others being kind, point it out. When you do something kind for others, explain to your child why you did it.

2. Practice Kindness

Like any learned behavior, kindness should be practiced daily so that it becomes habit. As you continue to model kindness, your child should begin to practice it as well. Have patience with your child as they learn to make the right choices and encourage them through the process. Be mindful that acts of kindness look different at each age level. Let your child know that how people treat each other is important.

3. Acknowledge Kindness

Recognize every time you see an act of kindness, no matter how big or small. You should also point out rude actions and explain why they are inappropriate. Children do not need to be rewarded for being kind, but simply acknowledged. Praise them with an explanation to help reinforce the positive behavior.

Being a positive role model who practices and acknowledges kindness will help your child become more caring and compassionate.



I have been a middle-school teacher for more than 14 years. In those 14 years, I have sat in on hundreds of special education meetings, including both individualized education plans and 504 meetings. It was not until I attended an early intervention meeting and a 504 meeting as a parent that I realized just how intimidating those meetings can be.

The experience of sitting on the other side of the table taught me how I could improve the special education meeting for the families of my students. I hope my fellow teachers will consider the lessons I learned from the other side.

1. Have patience.

From the teacher’s perspective, they’re pulled out of the classroom to attend the meeting. This requires them to leave lesson plans for 30 children with someone else. Teachers often feel anxious to get back to the classroom and continue teaching.

From the family’s perspective, we value the time of everyone in the room, but we also need enough time to ask and answer an abundance of questions. We’re there to advocate for our child, to understand his/her present level of performance, to discuss annual goals and to understand the support services provided. We need the team to have patience with us as we absorb the information presented.

Teachers, please understand that we, too, have other obligations. We’re taking time out of our day to best meet the needs of our child.

2. Have empathy.

For teachers, these meetings are just one part of a work day and not something that involves much of an emotional investment. But understanding what a parent might be feeling at these meetings can be helpful. As a teacher, I always sat comfortably and confidently in special education meetings. As a mother, I felt intimidated, overwhelmed, confused and even slightly powerless.

Teachers, when going into a special education meeting, please think about the family’s feelings first. Think about the pressure on the parent. Think about the gamut of emotions they might feel as they enter the meeting.

3. Stop staring.

As a mom of two children with special needs hospital visits are unfortunately inevitable for my family. Whether we’re there a few hours or a few days, there is always a period of reflection after my child is discharged. Here are three thoughts from our last visit:

1. The hospital staff doesn’t know how truly amazing they are.

Doctors, nurses, child life specialists, the maintenance staff, food service, cleaning crews and every other hospital staff member probably do not know the difference they are making every day. I’m sure they are reminded from time to time, but they are all truly amazing. They get up early, stay late, and give their best each and every day. The nurse who did a heel poke on my baby for her newborn prescreening has no idea that she saved my child’s life. The doctor who took the extra 10 minutes to talk to my daughter about her stuffed animal doesn’t know that she named the bunny after him because he made her smile. The nurse who reassured me at 2 a.m. that my daughter is doing great and her vitals look good doesn’t realize she helped relieve my anxiety. Thank you to each and every one of you.

2. There’s a chance it can get better.