So much is written on the mother-child bond, but what is a father’s role in this equation? Fathers are also essential to the healthy development of a child and have a great impact on the emotional and intellectual growth of the child. Father’s bring a different style to parenting to the family from communication styles to more active play and help to prepare our children for the reality of the world.
When a family has a special needs child, having two parents is even more essential as each partner looks to the other for support. Parenting stress can not only affect the psychological well being of an individual, but it can also affect the marital relationship between spouses. It is a sad reality that couples of children with special needs face a much higher divorce rate than the rest of the married population and it has been noted that more than 30 percent of fathers of special needs children experience symptoms of depression so severe that they warrant clinical attention.
Support groups provide a safe environment to bond and share experiences with others that are sharing your same struggle and while there are many support groups for mothers of special needs children, there is only a small number of support groups focused on fathers. Attending a support group or even starting your own can be an empowering tool to help fathers feel like they have a community of support and provide a source of strategizing and gaining support for challenges.
So what can we do to help our special needs children? Parents report feeling closer to their children when they focus on positive behaviors that their child engages in and providing positive reinforcement rather than focus on negative behaviors. These parents are often more likely to act in ways that encourage those positive behaviors to occur again. It is also important to remember that special needs children are beautifully unique and it is important to focus on your child’s strengths and positive behaviors and help to promote these qualities and strengths. So on Father’s Day, we want to say thank you to all of the fathers that hung in through the tough times and are still hanging in there….you are greatly appreciated.