Family Bonding When Your Child Has Special Needs

Hello! My name is Dr. Jennifer LaTreill, postdoctoral resident at here to talk to you today about family bonding within families who’s child has special needs. Family bonding presents a unique challenge for many families that also have a child with special needs. Routines are often essential with such families; however, it may also diminish the opportunities for establishing and maintaining the emotional attachment within the family that is essential for a healthy, well-balanced dynamic. Parents, as well as siblings, of the child with special needs strive to create a safe and accommodating environment that allows the child to thrive. Appointments, assessments, and on-going therapies can act as a deterrent for the essential bonding among the additional family members. Do we dare admit that the special needs of a child may impact the family’s ability to maintain positive interfamily relationships?

Problem: Losing Touch with your Individual Identity

With the increasing demands of the child, parents often lose sight of themselves as people, not just parents. Individual people with their own needs and desires that are equally important and necessary for the well-being of the family. While self-care is essential for all individuals, caring for a child with special needs adds additional layers of pressure to adhere to routines and responsibilities.


Problem: Losing Touch with Intimate Connections Between Parents

It is not surprising that such additional layers may create conflict within relationships or simply place the needs of the intimate relationship at the bottom of the daily to-do list.

Solution: Communicate

As such, couples with a child who has special needs may have an increased need for open and honest communication, free of judgement for their distress regarding caring for their child. Coping with the special needs of your child may prompt feelings such as denial, despair, guilt, and even depression. Remember, it is okay to experience stress and frustration with the child’s needs; you are not alone in these feelings. However, being able to confide in your partner regarding such thoughts and feelings may be essential in maintaining the bond that will allow the child to grow into a well-adjusted individual. Too often we forget the emotional benefits of simply conversating with our loved ones regarding our thoughts, especially if such thoughts are seen as taboo, such as disclosing that your child’s needs have become overwhelming.

Solution: Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Share the workload, listen to one another, and provide your relationship with the nurturing it requires. It is easy to become fully immersed in caring for the child that is the center of your universe, however the couple’s health is equally as important and requires similar consideration. Developing and maintaining the emotional intimacy between you and your partner also facilitates bonding with the child, therefore heightening the family bond and attachment. Positive, secure bonding within the family also facilitates a strong self-esteem and sense of security within the child as well as the feeling of belonging.
Solutions: Self-Care

While self-care is vital for the success of your parenting journey, it is also important to prepare yourselves regarding the pressures of society. All too often parents get overwhelmed and trapped by how you “should” parent based on mass media or others’ input, when in reality others often don’t understand the unique challenges that accompany children with special needs. Be careful not to fall into the trap of listening to everyone else’s expectation for what family bonding “should” look like.

Solution: Embrace Different & Let go of Shame

Accept and appreciate that all families are unique and different. What helps your family thrive and grow might look different than your neighbors, best friend, or sister’s family. For example, if your child is overwhelmed by theme parks, that’s okay! Enjoy a nice quiet staycation in your backyard instead. Be creative, flexible, and do what feels right for your family.

Most importantly, remember that ‘different’ does not mean defective, inferior, or problematic! And make sure to explain that to your child as well. We often compare ourselves to others and so do our children, so help them understand that while your bonding time may appear different, the meaning is the same: To spend quality and enjoyable time with one another. While other kids may go to outdoor firework displays, you stay home and watch silent fireworks on your living room TV and, again, that’s okay! There is no need to overwhelm your child or yourselves by forcing a “normal” activity that will only prompt anxiety and sensory overload.

Remember to be patient with yourself, your partner, and your child and focus on what truly matters: Building a strong, loving, emotionally healthy family.

If you would like additional support with parenting during COVID-19, check out some of our other blogs  and consider speaking to one of our licensed therapist, who can give you specific recommendations and support at  .