Step 4: Give Responsibility
Five Steps to Raising a Child with a Disability: Give Responsibility
By Kelly Bonner
Responsibility is a very important quality for a child to gain and usually grows as the child does. I remember being so excited when I was finally old enough to be given the responsibility of mowing the yard. Until then it had been my older brother’s chore and I was left with the seemingly meaningless task of the dishes. Who wants to do the dirty, stinky dishes when the sun is shining and the yard is calling? As a parent of a child with a disability, it may be difficult to find appropriate chores for him or her to do around the house. However, it’s important for your child to understand from a young age that they are a vital part of the community, whether they are with family or in the classroom. They should not think their sole purpose is to receive; instead they should also be contributors. These experiences will help them realize that as they grow up they too, are a vital part of society. By helping to carry some of the responsibility in the family they are learning a very important lesson of giving back.
Many children feel entitled to certain things. This sense of entitlement will not benefit them in real-life situations. The more they learn to do their part now, the easier they will find their role in society later as an adult. Teaching your child to take initiative in finding that role outside of the home will be even more important. I’ll share on example.
On our traveling track and field team, we have a great deal of equipment. More often than not, when we get to an event, the new athletes just head towards our destination without carrying a single thing, not even their own equipment. Oftentimes, they are so used to being the “kid with a disability” that they assume someone else will get their equipment for them. The problem is they are forgetting every athlete on our team has a disability as well as some of our coaches. That doesn’t excuse them from carrying their load. It’s often kind of humorous the first time we have to call the athlete back to the trailer and tell them to grab their things. Their eyes get all big and you can see the shock on their faces and the excuses starting to form in their little heads. Then we have to gently, or not so gently depending on their age, talk to them about what it means to be on a team and how they are old enough to take responsibility for getting their own equipment down to the field. The same can be said of them carrying their own luggage through the airport. We typically have about three coaches on the team who can walk; the rest use a wheelchair, and we travel with 10 to 15 children. There is no way we could exclude everyone who uses a wheelchair from carrying anything and rely on only those three coaches.
The first few times some of the rookies might struggle, but if us coaches just give in and do everything for them they will never learn to be independent members of society. This past year in particular, I watched an athlete who was one of the oldest in age yet newest to our program struggle through every airport. He had brought so much stuff with him expecting that someone else would be carrying his load. At first he was pretty put off with us for making him carry his own stuff, but as the trip continued and he noticed all the other children carrying their luggage, he began to understand. .Now, don’t you think this is a lesson he would have rather learned at home in the comfort of his family instead of in front of his peers?
Responsibility is a good thing. Your child might be quite young or their disability may really limit what they are capable of doing, but I believe with a little creativity you can figure out a chore that is age-appropriate and doable for them. Maybe they can set the table, stir the Kool-Aid, or put the dishes in the dishwasher? Yes, perhaps it would be a lot faster if you just did it and you might have to reload the dishwasher more often than not but that’s not the point. The point is that your child is learning that he or she has a role to play -- that there are things they can do regardless of their disability to help the family out.
As I mentioned before, my husband uses a wheelchair. But he is still my husband and a gentleman at that. When we go on a date out to dinner, he still opens the door for me. It may be slightly more challenging for him, but it’s still completely within his capabilities and a gesture that I appreciate. In the South where he was raised, a gentleman always opens the door for a lady; so why should he be any different? Moms and dads of boys out there – regardless of their disability – are you teaching them how to open the door for a lady? If you aren’t—why not? Let them play their normal societal roles as much as possible. This will only help your child to fit in instead of stand out even more. You never know, he may thank you for it one day when it wins him a smile from the cute girl in his class.