Practical Parenting Tips for those with Physical Limitations
by Jennie Macdonald
As someone who suffers from two chronic illnesses (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) that include fatigue and joint pain as my two major limitations, I understood the extreme need to be efficient with my time and energy in my early years of parenting. For me, a main priority was to keep my house in order while conserving enough strength to be as involved and engaged as a parent as I could be. I found that some days it was necessary to let certain household chores slide so that I could simply play with my child. I also developed some strategies to get things done around the house, while training my daughter to be responsible and engage in age appropriate activities that encouraged the use of fine and gross motor skills. Here’s a few tips I picked up along the way:
If your child is walking/climbing, put a small stool next to the tub to allow your child to climb in and out as much as possible on their own to avoid extra lifting.
Use a removable shower head to rinse with, to avoid the repetitive motion of filling a cup. If your child is afraid of the shower sprayer, be sure to use limited water pressure and allow them to use it on their own to grow accustom to it.
A gardening mat(to kneel on) can be a great asset to save your knees at tub time. Your local dollar store or Walmart sells them at a reasonable cost.
If you are unable to kneel down, use the stool that your child climbs in and out of the tub with to sit on next to the tub.
Allow the child to do as much as they are capable with at their age. Don’t underestimate their ability to scrub their own knees and feet! My daughter was able to wash herself by age 18 months with just a little verbal direction. Then I only needed to wash her hair which, for the most part, she could scrub on her own once I put the shampoo on her head. Also, letting them dry as much of themselves off and get dressed is helpful as well.
Do your best and forget the rest!! I adopted this motto as my overall health declined and I was unable to meet my own personal expectations of “clean”. My Type A, perfectionist personality coupled with lack of energy and chronic pain forced me to develop innovative ways to still keep things clean and tidy.
Keep as many of your kid’s toys in low, easy to reach, decorative bins or baskets. If they are accessible to them, as they learn to follow directions, they will be able to crawl or toddle over to either take out or put away their frequently used toys. You can also rotate what toys are kept in this accessible bin to limit boredom. Have your children get in the habit of cleaning up after themselves as soon as they are able to…it’s a great characteristic to instill early on!
Be mindful of your child’s hight and use this to your advantage. They are much closer to the ground than you are, therefore they are able to pick up dropped items or things on the floor much easier than you and save you some unnecessary bending or reaching. And be sure to praise them for all their extra help!
By about age 2, children begin sorting things into piles or categories. Pay attention to when your child begins doing this with their toys and encourage them to work along side you in the kitchen as you put clean dishes away. They are perfectly capable of sorting the silverware by putting it into the drawer. Just be sure to remove sharp knives first! As they get older, they can begin putting away other items kept in the lower drawers and cabinets.
Dusting can be much less daunting when you let your kiddos get all the items in their reach. Just give them a damp cloth or a small dusting wand and away they go! You’d be surprised at how well they can do when you just show them how.
Cleaning the tub can be difficult for the average person let alone someone with a physical limitation. An easy tip I picked up early on was to put a little “child friendly”, moisturizing dish soap into the tub water. Give your child a scrub brush or scouring sponge and let them scrub to their hearts content. They will love the extra bubbles and swishing them around with a “special” scrubber will be an exciting activity once or twice a week. This was an amazing revelation for me to get a clean kid and tub and not have to exert any extra energy. Using “tub time” as an opportunity to wipe down the toilet and sink while the kiddos are contained and entertained can be a very efficient use of your time as well. Make cleaning a fun time together. Put on some music and keep a positive attitude about it…they will learn to be as excited about cleaning as you are(even if you have to fake your enthusiasm)!
Outings and play dates:
Any opportunity you have to get out of the house with your kids, DO IT! Even if it’s simply eating outside on a deck or porch, there will be fewer messes to clean if the crumbs are left for the birds.
Though it may seem to take some planning to get to the park for lunch and playtime, it will provide a new activity for your kids and wear them out so that bedtime is a bit easier. Meeting a friend there will also offer you some adult conversation. On rainy days or during the colder winter months, plan to meet up at a friend’s house at least once a week. You can either rotate who you visit or get together with someone that understands your limitations and doesn’t mind helping with the meal prep and clean up. Just bring a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter as a peace offering. Your kids and you will have some socialization and your house will stay clean on those days.
When getting your child in and out of their carseat, remember to utilize your child’s independent phase and let them “do it by self”. They are quite willing to climb in and out of their seat if you encourage them to. If they are too short to get up to the seat, place a small stool on the floor of car. This stool can also be used to help them step into the car as well. Many kids are even able to buckle and un-buckle early on. If they are encouraged to do things when you are with them and at the proper time, they will feel validated and independent.
To avoid lifting your toddler as much as possible, invest in a children’s table and chair set. IKEA has a side table that is the perfect hight to pull kiddie chairs to and is only $7.99! Once your child is walking they will be able to come and sit at the little table for meal times and snacks so that you don’t have to lift them and strap them into a high chair.
Setting and clearing the table are other things your child can do to help on a daily basis. Get them started with age appropriate items first, like silverware or condiment bottles and work them up to clearing their own plate and other items.
Plates and silverware that can be thrown away will certainly limit what needs to be washed and put away throughout the day and save you the extra bending to the dishwasher or standing at the sink.
Allowing your child to use a light weight sweeper or hand held vacuum can also be a big help with cleaning crumbs after meals. My 18 month old LOVED doing this and she felt like such a big girl! Swiffer products work great for this. They are light weight and easy for them to push around.
Be sure to brush off the guilt that may be associated with having to ask your child to help out. Honestly, these are tips that any parent could use to encourage their child to clean up after themselves as well as be a contributing member of the household and, in turn, society. Any time I received a complaint about housework, I simply respond with, “If you make a mess, clean a mess”. This is how a family works together to keep a house in order. It really should involve everyone.
The biggest thing that may need to be adjusted when using these tips, is a perfectionist mindset. By allowing your children to help around the house, it is most likely that a few crumbs or dust bunnies will get missed in the process. However, your house will be kept up better than if you had to do it all yourself and hopefully you will have conserved some energy so that you can play a game with your children or simply be more involved in what they are doing and who they are becoming and not stressing about housework.