How to Motivate Kids with Disabilities
We all know that motivated, enthusiastic children are happier and more fulfilled. But growing up with a disability can be frustratingly demotivating at times. Children might find themselves comparing their bodies with their able-bodied peers, or getting frustrated at their inability to do certain tasks easily or quickly. As the parent of a child with a disability, there are several ways you can ensure your child gets the encouragement and support they need to thrive with their disability (rather than despite it).
Figure out what Motivates your Child
Some children have internal motivation and others have external motivation. It can be very useful to figure out what motivates your child, as it can inform the way you present tasks to them.
Internal motivation is when the satisfaction of applying yourself is enough of an accomplishment that it encourages you to keep working hard. For children with internal motivation, incorporate rest periods in their day as well as plenty of variety so they maintain a productive and balanced schedule.
Doing one thing for too long—or doing the same thing day in and day out—can become boring, although keep in mind that some children may thrive on the routine itself. Either way, help your child maintain motivation by keeping an eye on what they're enjoying—and reducing any tasks they seem to dislike.
External motivation is when external rewards like good grades, praise and approval are motivators. Giving your child positive reinforcement—whether in the form of verbal praise or some type of rewards system—can help them stay motivated. Ensure they also have positive social feedback, with their hard work and abilities being recognized by their peers (perhaps in school or at a sports club or recreation facility).
Encourage your Child to Embrace Sports
Paralympian Sophie Warner swears by the benefits of sport and exercise for people with disabilities. "It's ironic," she says, "that people with disabilities are less likely to take up exercise when they are the ones who see the greatest benefits." As part of her work for the Cerebral Palsy: Advice for Parents hub for specialist lawyers Bolt Burdon Kemp, Sophia outlines some of the reasons why sports can be so beneficial:
- Reduces symptoms: Sophia says regular running and exercise helps keep her cerebral palsy symptoms at bay, including tight muscles, fatigue and balance issues. She recommends swimming as a good sport for cerebral palsy as it helps elongate tight muscles and tendons.
- Boosts mood: With the reduction of some of the symptoms of her disability comes a boost in happiness levels. "The most important thing is to find something you enjoy," says Sophia, stressing the importance of trying many sports so you can find the right one for you.
- Enables friendships: Join groups and clubs as you try out new sports and activities. Not only will you meet people who share 'being active' as a goal, but you may also meet people with similar disabilities. "It can be reassuring to compare notes and to hear first-hand experiences of people in the same situation," says Sophia.
Read more about Sophia's journey from keen runner to elite athlete in her piece about life with cerebral palsy.
Get the Family Involved
Being the only child in the family with a disability—or the only one in your peer group—can feel isolating. Help your child build and maintain relationships with the people around them by getting the family involved in treatments, therapies and sports activities. Integrate their therapy into regular family life and try to adapt treatments so the whole family can participate. Taking your child to sports clubs can be an important part of this process, as they get to spend time with others in their peer group. All this will help your child develop stronger bonds with their sibling(s) and build relationships with others.
As you look to motivate your child, remember that every child is different. Figure out what your child likes, introduce new and exciting activities into their routine and be instrumental in fostering strong relationships with the people they enjoy spending time with. Keep the support and encouragement going throughout their lives for a happier, more fulfilled, enthusiastic and motivated child.
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