In all the fundamental ways, parenting a child with Down syndrome is the same as parenting a child without this condition. All babies, toddlers, and older kids crave attention, affection, fun, learning, encouragement, positive reinforcement, a balance of help and independence, and love. All children experience—and act on—a wide spectrum of moods. And all kids bring joy, amazement, worry, frustration, and endless other emotions to their moms and dads.
Of course, the developmental disabilities that come with having Down syndrome present additional challenges. There may also be associated health conditions and concerns. Every child with Down syndrome is unique, and the severity of physical and mental disabilities varies widely. It’s important to find the right pediatrician, therapist, and other specialists for your family who have experience with patients who have this condition.
And raising any child is as scary as it is rewarding. There’s no official child-rearing manual, but if you use the following advice for parenting a child with Down syndrome as the foundation for your care, you should be doing a great job in the ways that matter most.
Tips for Parenting a Child with Down Syndrome
- Educate yourself as much as possible about your child’s condition using contemporary, reliable sources. A few good places to start your reading online include National Down Syndrome Society, National Association for Down Syndrome, and Down Syndrome International. The more you know, the better equipped you are to raise and advocate for your son or daughter.
- Join in-person or online groups for parents of children with Down syndrome. They’re a great source of real-world support and advice.
- Treat your child like you would treat any other child. Refer back to those things all kids crave that were mentioned in the first paragraph, and provide them in abundance.
- Set high expectations and goals for your child and help him or her meet them with encouragement, guidance, and—yes—the opportunity to make mistakes along the way. But be flexible about goals, willing to adapt and change them when necessary.
- Don’t disparage or punish mistakes; explain what went wrong, be supportive, and help your child find another way to be more successful.
- Regularly seek out and participate in social opportunities for your child. It’s so important developmentally, and just for fun! If you find a local group for parents of kids with Down syndrome, this can be a great source.
- Assign your child chores at home that are appropriate to his or her developmental age.
- Keep up with what’s happening at your child’s school, be involved, and always be your child’s greatest advocate. Reinforce the material your child is learning in school at home.
- Encourage your child to pursue hobbies and get involved with extracurricular or enrichment activities.
- Foster a support network of family and friends for your own benefit. Every parent needs some help or a break sometimes. Neglecting your own self-care won’t do you or your son or daughter any favors in the long run.
- Remember that Down syndrome will not define your family or your child’s life. Stay focused on that life, not the label.