The term special needs covers a wide variety of potential issues a child might have that separates him or her from the norm. Technically, those differences can be above or below the norm in a number of areas. Some children are born with special needs, while others develop them after an illness or accident. A child can have special needs that impact him or her in movement, sight, hearing, cognition, behavior or a combination of these.
What we rarely discuss in Christianity is the impact a child’s special needs might have on his or her faith journey. Every child is different, but these are some things to consider as you help your child with special needs build a strong faith foundation and grow to his or her godly potential.
Most young people with special needs will eventually reach the age of accountability. Assuming the average twelve year old is about the age of accountability, estimates are that as many as 80% of people with special needs will eventually be able to reach the age of accountability. They will be able to make an informed decision about being baptized for the forgiveness of their sins and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Assuming your child will reach that milestone will help you make better choices to help him or her grow spiritually.
Spiritual growth milestones may be reached later, sometimes years later than for the average young person. Some young people with severe cognitive impairment may not reach the age of accountability until they are in their 20’s or even 30’s. Others may struggle with maintaining spiritual disciplines or exhibiting Christian character traits like self control until they are older than average. That’s okay. Your child – every child – has a unique timetable and your goal is to help your child reach those spiritual goals at the correct time for him or her. Just don’t underestimate your child’s potential.
No matter how severe your child’s special needs may be, he or she has been given potential and at least one gift from God to use to serve Him. Over the years, I have heard so many stories of people who were non-verbal and wheelchair bound who still impacted people’s lives and ministries in amazing ways….often because of their personalities that shown through. You may have to be creative to help your child find and use those gifts to serve God, but it is possible.
Your child may need special strategies to help him or her obey God and do the things God wants him or her to do. Children born with fetal alcohol syndrome, for example, have erratic memories. They need visual cues to help them remember things on those difficult days. Adding visual cues for spiritual things like scripture reading or prayer can help. In general, the special strategies your child needs to navigate life may also need to be adapted to help him or her navigate the spiritual aspects of life.
Your child will need your advocacy at church, especially in Bible classes. Unfortunately, many churches do not have people who are trained in how to minister to kids and teens with special needs. Some children with special needs can participate fully in Bible classes and activities. Others will need special strategies or extra help to be able to learn and grow. You may have to guide ministry leaders and Bible class teachers or suggest resources to help them minister to your child in ways that are spiritually productive. Don’t be afraid to intervene if you see your child is being placed in a corner and ignored. Ask that your child be taught using strategies that will help him or her best learn what God wants them to know.
The way your child worships, serves, and learns about God may look different from other children, but it is just as important and impactful. Depending on your child’s special needs, he or she may never “look” like the average Christian. Maybe your child sees the world a bit differently or interacts with it in a unique way. Those differences can actually make your child’s light shine brighter than that of the average child. That brightness can mean your child may end up having an amazing positive impact on God’s Kingdom…if he or she is given the teaching, opportunities and guidance needed to reach that potential.
Your child may have questions or doubts that stem in part from their special needs. Children with special needs may wonder why God made them different from others. It is important you help them understand the concept of God’s original perfect plan and how sin brought a lot of issues…including illness and genetic imperfections into the world. They need to understand more than anyone how much God truly loves them…especially when they are lonely, frustrated or discouraged. They need to hear Bible stories of people God used in spite of their frailties. They need to know God can and will use them to serve others and share their faith, just like all of His people. They need to appreciate that their special needs may actually give them special opportunities to minister to others in ways an average person may not be able to do as effectively. They need to understand the reality of Heaven and the hope for the future it can give.
They will need Christian friends and mentors who can see past their special needs. A mother of a child with special needs said she found there were three basic ways people tended to interact with her son. Either they avoided him entirely, they wanted to interact but were very uncomfortable (although willing to learn), or they treated her son like any other person in their lives. Those, she said, were the people who founded it easiest to be a great friend or mentor to her child. Look for those people. Seek them out. Make them a part of your child’s life. It will take intentionality on your part, but the results can be beautiful and lifelong.
Understanding how your child’s special needs can impact his or her faith is crucial if you want to help him or her build a strong spiritual foundation and grow it his or her godly potential. As with many things in parenting, it will take extra time and effort on your part. The rewards in this case are eternal, however, making it more than worth the extra effort.
Although next week is the official start of Fall, many of your families are already in a routine of school and whatever activities are still happening. Need some ideas or encouragement to navigate the “new normal” of this Fall? Here are this week’s social media challenges.
Monday: Want to start your day off great? Say a prayer and read the Bible verse for the day from the Bible app on your phone before you even get out of bed. Want to lower your stress during the day? Meditate on that verse all day. Pray in the moment or while you are waiting in the carpool lane. You may just find spending a bit more time with God each day can make a huge positive difference.
Tuesday: Have you ever craved something? This sandwich from my college years has me running to this cheese shop whenever I’m in town. Just thinking about it makes me want one so badly! That craving is what you want your kids to develop for reading God’s Word…the Bible. It starts with being excited about reading it yourself, reading it to them with excitement and explaining to them how exciting it will be to be able to read it independently as they grow older. Being in scripture daily will make it a lot easier for them to stay connected and obedient to God, so help them crave it.
Wednesday: Just because something is labeled “Bible” or “Christian” doesn’t mean it’s accurate. The maker of this Noah’s Ark toy probably had no ill intent, but either through ignorance or “practicality” created a replica of Noah’s ark that is inaccurate. It’s not necessarily a huge deal with a toy, but many times inaccuracies cause problems. Teaching your kids to check everything by the actual Bible will prevent them from being swayed by a lot of inaccurate information that could negatively impact their faith.
Thursday: Did you know the supposedly ideal tithing amount for Christians is not in the Bible? Why? Because God wants us to be generous with our money, helping others and sharing our faith with it. Generosity often starts in childhood. Watching how parents hoard or share. Whether they give willingly and generously…or not. It also begins with teaching them good stewardship skills like budgeting and staying out of debt. Even teaching the difference between needs and wants can help your kids grow to be the generous Christians God wants them to be.
Friday: Want to let your kids know how much you love them and are proud of them? Need to have a delicate conversation? Find those types of conversations are often interrupted with protests from your kids? Write them notes and leave them on their pillows to find. Even kids who don’t like “mushy” stuff will read and often save those notes to read again later.
How was your week? Need encouragement or ideas? Here are our social media challenges for the week.
Monday: To your kids life can feel like a maze. They need your help learning how to navigate it. Not to run it for them, but to teach them how God wants them to run it. That will take a lot of time and effort, put you have to do your part if you want them to have the best chance of spending eternity in Heaven.
Tuesday: What will your kids remember about their childhood? Probably not always what you think. What they often remember and unintentionally copy are your attitudes and actions. Making sure you are accurately reflecting God’s image makes it more likely they will. Struggling with a sin? Get the help you need to conquer it or your kids are likely to repeat the pattern. Do what you can to give your kids a godly pattern to copy.
Wednesday: Freedom means different things to different people. The Bible tells us we have freedom in Christ. Unfortunately, liberal theology is teaching that freedom means we no longer have to worry about obeying God’s commands…except to love one another. That’s not what Jesus taught. Loving God includes obeying Him…even when we don’t understand or like those commands. Teach your kids how to obey God. It will make a huge positive difference in their faith journey.
Thursday: Are your kids distance learning from home or homeschooling? Our Teach One Reach One Ministry website has tons of free lessons and activity ideas to add learning about God to your child’s day. With lessons for kids and teens, there’s something for every age. www.teachonereachone.org
Friday: Do your kids know you love them? Maybe, but they still need to hear you say the words. They need hugs. They need you spending a lot of quality time with them. They need to know you like them and enjoy doing things with them that they love to do. These are the things that really help your kids know you love them.
How stressed has COVID parenting made you? A lot depends upon what extra stressors it brought to your home. Regardless of where you live, you are probably spending more time with your kids than ever before. You may be noticing areas where your kids desperately need your help and guidance. You may also be dealing with job changes or loss, illness and other family stressors.
If you are a Christian parent, the events in the world around us should be concerning you. We live in a world that has lost its moral compass and appears out of control in multiple ways. If your kids don’t build an unshakeable faith foundation, they will most likely end up becoming part of our secular world, rather than shining a light to draw others to God.
When stress builds up, we need to find healthy ways to release it. If we don’t, we can develop all sorts of mental and physical ailments. I vividly remember a college professor going through the stress point list and informing us we should start seeing our hair fall out in clumps from the stress we were experiencing. And those stress points were from “good” stress!
Often people choose unhealthy ways of dealing with stress. Usually these involve doing something we believe will help us forget the pain our stress creates. However drugs, alcohol, excessive eating and other similar behaviors usually only add to the stress our bodies are feeling and come with their own additional negative consequences.
So what are some healthy ways to get some stress relief when you are feeling particularly stressed about parenting your kids? Here are five of our favorites.
Pray. Prayer is great for stress relief. God loves to listen to His children. He can handle our emotions and the thoughts we may be struggling with in our stress. Christians have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who can speak for you when your stress is so overwhelming you don’t even know what to pray. Although, you won’t hear God’s physical voice in reply, God can guide you using scripture, people and circumstances to see His answers to your questions.
Read Psalms. If there is an emotion expressed to God, it is probably reflected in one of the Psalms. There is something comforting about reading the Psalms – especially those that reflect emotions similar to those you are experiencing – even if the cause of them is different.
Phone/Text/ZoomSomeone. Your best choice is often an experienced Christian parent who knows and loves you and your kids. It is even better if they have raised children to adulthood who are active, productive Christians. Barna studies have found there are definite similarities in parenting with parents who raise active, productive Christians. Learning what they did can save you a lot of time and heartbreak. No parent is perfect, but these parents have more helpful answers than most. If you can’t find that parent, find someone who has learned from their mistakes…these lessons can help you avoid the pitfalls that caused them trouble. If you don’t want advice, but just need someone to listen and be emotionally supportive, make that clear. Otherwise, expect to get lots of advice!
Exercise. A long walk or run can relieve stress, curb anger and clear your mind. You can even combine it with praying. The fresh air can also clear the mind and give you healthy doses of vitamin D.
Do Something Productive. One of the side effects of parenting stress is often a feeling of failure or frustration. You may be feeling you can’t do anything right or that you keep making the same mistakes. Learning or doing something productive can remind you that you are able to grow, learn and succeed. Don’t try something overly difficult. Cook a new fun dish or learn an easy craft. Keep a journal. Producing something can help center you – even if the results aren’t perfect.
Parenting stress waxes and wanes over time. Right now, your parenting stress may be extremely high, but it is very likely a year from now, you may feel a lot less stressed than you do now. Don’t let today make you despair about tomorrow. Avoid stress relievers that are harmful, because they will inevitably make most situations worse. Use godly, healthy stress relief strategies. Put your faith in God and keep that hope for the future bright.
Can you believe September starts next week? The weather will begin changing soon for many of us. Apples are beginning to ripen – which means homemade apple butter in our house. In a couple of weeks, we will be six months into our COVID experience. How well are you and your family coping? You may want to search past blog posts for ideas to help. Here are our social media challenges for this week.
Monday: This was Joshua’s family motto. What’s yours? You might not have it on the wall of your home. You may never tell your kids “This is our family motto”, but they know. They know what you value more than anything. Why not be intentional? Pick a scripture. Talk about it frequently. Find ways to live it out as a family. Center your family around God.
Tuesday: Do your kids know they can have fun and obey God at the same time? That disobeying God is about meeting our selfish desires and not about any higher purpose? The world will tell them God is a meanie who doesn’t want them to have fun or to do what they want to do. They will hear over and over that disobeying God is the enlightened thing to do. That rejecting God and His commands will make them happier. Teach them the truth and show them the results of the lies.
Wednesday: Even if your kids are involved in distance learning, they still have things that happen they will need your help processing. If your kids are in some form of “regular” school, they also need help processing life. Get in the habit at the end of each day of everyone sharing something – a blessing, a question or a concern. Some days they may struggle coming up with something – especially if you haven’t encouraged them to talk about their day before. If you and your spouse share when they get stuck, it can help. Once they realize you will really listen, they may begin opening up a lot. (So avoid doing it right at bedtime if you want to stay on schedule.) Getting your kids to open up to you will make it easier for you to give them the support and guidance they need.
Thursday: Toasties and chips? Sammies and fries? Different cultures use different words or have different meanings for the same words. Your kids are in a different culture than you because of the age difference. You need to understand the words they use. You don’t need to necessarily use their slang (it really annoys some teens), but you must understand it. Ask, google do what you need to do to stay fluent in their language. It changes rapidly but can cover all sorts of issues your kids or their friends may be having. Understanding what your kids are saying can be an important parenting tool.
Friday: Art is a great way to help kids process their emotions or for you to learn about their heart for God. Go to Parenting Like Hannah (.com) for recent blog posts on the real emotions behind anger and using art to find out more about your child’s heart for God.