Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative

Parenting with a disability

By Megan McQueen

As a mother who has some physical limitations, I have glimpses into the world of living with a disability. I was told when my youngest child was a baby that the constant pain I was in would continue to worsen and I would be in a wheelchair in about ten years. I began to consider the accessibility of our home and adaptations my life would require with added equipment and decreased mobility.

We all live within a wide range of abilities. Abilities can be neurodiverse, cognitive, physical, and invisible. Your specific life experience is based upon who you are through your adventures, your thoughts, and your genes. The broad suggestions I offer below may be helpful. As you are aware, only you will know when the answer fits your specific questions. Your individual situation and family life will guide your needs so you can best meet your own or your family’s challenges.

You have value and you belong. People of all shapes, colors, and abilities belong in our society. Join a parenting class, visit your child’s school events, sign up for a mom’s group. You are welcome there. Give yourself a pep talk and jump in!

Seek out a network of people who understand. Any given group may or may not be in your exact situation, but if they share similar experiences, they may be able to empathize and offer support. Try an online search of your specific condition and branch out to seek local, personal connections as well. Friends can offer suggestions regarding resources for parenting recommendations and positive adaptations. 

Frame your situation as strength-based. Will you have challenges? Yes. Use these as opportunities for your children to learn patience, understanding, and an inclusive-based look at the world. You will tap into your creativity to design the life you require. You will have a strong system of friends and family who will support your journey. Solid personal connections are one of the best indicators of health and resiliency. 

Hire out help you need. Look into your medical insurance or social security benefits to see if there is coverage for home-based help with parenting needs or a service animal to assist you. Lean on your parents with a disability group (see above) to help research supports or trade each other services you can offer. A baby-sitting trade can be invaluable when attending medical appointments, for example. 

Lean on Early Intervention Services. Many opportunities exist for children with disabled parents in the early intervention (EI) suite of services. Ask your pediatrician about offerings through EI and head start preschool programs. 

Be a “good-enough” parent. There is so much pressure to be a perfect parent! All parents need to take a step away from the pressure of unrealistic expectations. Release yourself from the negative-cycle and enjoy your time with your family! Focus on the positive aspects of your life together and have fun. Create moments of joy and play together. Your life will not be “perfect” – no one’s is. Accept that and feel comfortable with the idea of “good-enough.” That doesn’t mean you won’t strive to learn and grow as a parent, but that you also see the value you bring to any moment. Easing up on the pressure will benefit everyone in your home.

Be creative! Oftentimes, you may need to adapt something to make it more accessible for you. Cut the legs off a crib and put it on risers to make the crib the best height for you. Use a handheld shower head instead of leaning over the side of the bathtub as you would otherwise. Keep supplies organized and within reach. There are small carts on wheels that can be handy in each room. Pull them out when needed and tuck them out of the way when you’re finished with your supplies. Have craft supplies and healthy snacks for your children within their reach, so that you can rest when you need to and your children can have some of their needs met.

Talk openly with your child about your disability. Share how living differently brings you strength and an appreciation of others. You have gained much by learning to listen to your body. Talk with your children about how there are a variety of ways to live and that our diversity makes all of our lives richer. Acknowledge the struggles you (and your children) encounter because of your condition and use that to empathize with others’ experiences. Brainstorm ideas to be more inclusive at school and in your community. By fully embracing all parts of yourself, you will model important lessons for radical self-love that will bring more satisfaction to your life.

You can love and care for your children just as anyone else can. Create a joyful home full of snuggles and love for your family. Reach out for support when you need it (everyone does!) to figure out the details.

In my own life, I have gained appreciation for people navigating a disability through learning from mine. My experiences have taught me to be grateful for all that I have been able to do and recognize that it may change. It is not always easy, but I know my children have gained compassion with their opportunities to help me. Caring for others and receiving care are some of the most tender ways to live fully. My journey may not be a “typical” one, but it is valuable and a rich source of kindness for my family.

Books:

For Parents:

For Children:

Websites:

We have also created a downloadable PDF of a tip sheet.

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.

Teaching during a pandemic

By Megan McQueen

Oh, teachers, I wish I could wrap you up in a big hug. This is hard. We chose a career in education because we cherish our connection with others. We want to help people find success. With very little or no warning, we left our classes to help flatten the curve. Now we are home, missing our students – our children and families, and trying to figure out how best to support them from a distance. As I chatted with a teacher friend, she cried and said, “What am I supposed to do? This is who I am and I can’t do it anymore!”

Many educators around the world are being asked or encouraged to teach from a distance. We are quickly learning how to navigate the platforms available, juggling the ever-changing expectations from our school districts, organizations, programs, or bosses, and feeling overwhelmed by the needs of our students. As we transition to working from home, a great many of us also have our own families at home that need attention. It bears repeating: This is hard. But we can do this. Educators are nothing, if not flexible. We are used to shocking news, changing our plans to respond to a need, and more joy, compassion, and heart-opening love than we knew was possible as a professional. I hope you can find solace in these suggestions that have been helpful to me the last few weeks. Although some of these strategies are specific to public school settings, most are intended to support educators working in many different settings supporting children and families, including through parenting education.

This is emergency learning. Maine’s Department of Education Commissioner, Pender Makin, was quoted as saying, “This is not remote or distance learning. This is emergency learning, during a global emergency. We need to give ourselves grace and remember, this is not what we would do if we planned distance/remote learning. We have not planned this emergency.” We need to be patient with ourselves. We are scrambling to find a quiet workspace in our homes. We are trying to quickly train ourselves to use many different digital platforms and apps to communicate and teach from. We are digging through the endless links for ideas to support children and families. We are asking our own families to please be quiet while we’re recording (just me?). Through all of the chaos, take a break. Go take a short walk, clear your head and remember your why. I’m guessing that your why was similar to mine and about building relationships. Let that be your focus. You are supporting your students, no matter their age, background, level of need, through an emergency. You are providing them with some routine and connection. Take some pressure off yourself. Show your students that you are excited to “see” them and share some humor with them.

Terrible First Time. A teacher friend was walking me through some new technology that we would be using. When I thanked her for answering so many questions, she asked me if I had listened to Brené Brown’s new podcast. My already-limited podcast time was one of the first things to disappear during my sheltering time. My friend told me to make time to listen to the first episode. I immediately turned it on. Brené talks about FFT’s (which she translates to the kid-friendly Terrible First Time). She describes the vulnerable, scared, and awkward feelings we all have when starting something new. Everyday, all day long, we are having terrible first times! We are learning how to join an online meeting, how to invite someone to a meeting, our online etiquette, how to add others to our platform, mute them all while also finding ways for them to share their voices, and trouble-shoot technology issues. I’m going to stop, because this list is stressing me out. Suffice to say, we’ve probably never spent this much time with our families either. We have no alone time and no outside support. We are all trying to figure it all out at the same time. Literally, everyone in the whole world is going through a terrible first time (but some have more resources to do so than others). I relish stories from those with more experience and remember that we will get through this and things will get better.

Care for yourself. I know there are a million directions you can be going, but take a minute to plan some moments for yourself. Usually our lives are planned out to-the-second and we are lucky to have breaks when we need them. I am finding that being outside is restorative. I’m discovering that taking small walking breaks outdoors is helpful for my mind and body to counteract all this new sitting still that is new to me. I am beginning my days with some meditation and intention-setting, which most often center around responding with love to my family. Compared to my old schedule, this all feels indulgent, which is necessary right now. I have a variety of feelings moment-to-moment and day-to-day. Just as I would talk to my students, I acknowledge that my thoughts are real and acceptable, and that they are temporary. Sometimes during meditation, I repeat to myself, “Not permanent, not perfect, not personal.” This helps me gain perspective on my situation. Find what works for you to help you navigate the flexibility required for this new normal.

Connect. First, connect with yourself. Ask yourself what you need in this moment. Is it more water? A bike ride? A second of quiet? A good cry? Give yourself what you need. Then, think about your students whether they are children, youth, or families. Think about how you can build your connection in a new way. Send them funny videos of how you’re spending your time. If your students are older, share a meme that is making you laugh or smile. Find a small way to give them a virtual connection or hug. Are there students you haven’t been able to connect with? Be creative. Leave something at their door so they know you’re thinking of them. If your students are adults, maybe you can send them snail mail or ask another student if they know a better way to be in touch. How can you help your students connect with each other?  Your first priority is not content; it is connection. If you are struggling to make a connection with a student or for them to attend online, reach out to your district or organization. Many school districts and programs are reaching out to families that are in need and may have other ways to meet needs. You cannot do everything. I know that lost connections are one of the most painful parts of this. You worry about your families. Do your best, send them love, let them know you are available to talk with when they are available.

Care for your family. If you have children of your own at home, they may be seeking more of a connection from you as well. Get clear on how you can take care of your basic needs so that you can better care for your children. I find that if I wake early and meditate for a few minutes, sneak in a few short solo walks, I am a much better parent. Maybe you need to sleep in and drink your coffee in silence or hide some good snacks for yourself. Do what you need to so that you can help your children navigate this experience. When my husband and I are both in video meetings, we let our kids know that they will need to be independent and set them up before we start our meetings. Or, I tell my kids that I will be in a meeting, but can be interrupted if needed, but that their dad cannot because he is in an important meeting (or the opposite). There is no shame in plugging your kid into a device or the TV for a bit so you can get some work done. There are many high-quality options for screen time. We all just have to get through this. I try to notice the positive aspects of this time as well. I am enjoying having family lunches and dinners. Our family is watching movies and playing games together more often. I remember that this event is shaping our lives and I want my children to remember kindness, flexibility, grit, and feeling loved when they reflect on it. Parenting during a pandemic is new to me also, but I want to be stable and gentle when my children are calling out for more connection. We always have a choice to respond with empathy. We won’t always be able to pull that off, but we will have opportunities to try again.

Laugh at the small stuff. I was busily recording my voice to digital sight word flashcards that I could share with students. I had to re-do my recordings several times because my microphone picked up my husband in another room on his video meeting, my dog started barking at the mailman, and my phone rang. I realized that I was getting frustrated and stepped away. This wasn’t going to work at that moment. I switched to another project. What could I do? Getting mad at my family or the small quarters we were sharing would not help anything. I put on some good music and danced while checking my email. This is no different than the unplanned interruptions that happen during live classes anyway. Laugh and move on. 

There are no tricks to this. We have to feel all of our feelings, learn many new things at once, and love our people. That’s it, really. Sip a cup of tea, take a deep breath, and tackle one new thing. Laugh at your mistakes. Call your colleagues for help and a good cry. Hug your family and celebrate small moments of joy. Procrastibake. Try again tomorrow. Be patient with yourself. Think how incredible it will feel to leave your house and give your students a big hug someday.

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.

Tips for Working with Adoptive Families

By Megan McQueen

Download a copy of the full tip sheet PDF.

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For families seeking more detailed information, see our earlier blog post.

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and puppy.

Tips for Building Community with Diverse Families

By Megan McQueen

Download a copy of the full tip sheet PDF.

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diverse-families-tip-sheet-page-2

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and puppy.

Parenting During Pandemic

By Megan McQueen

Along with you, my family is in quarantine to prevent the spread of the nasty Coronavirus. Our work and school lives are disrupted, our anxiety is heightened, and we are missing our social connections. I am reminding myself of how I can help my family best through these next few weeks; creating, and noticing the small moments of joy in our days together. 

Emotions are high right now as we navigate the ever-changing news. We are worried for our health and safety, for our family members, our bank accounts, and our most vulnerable in our society. We are flooded with information. As we all navigate a new challenge together, we may need a little extra help from one another so that we don’t feel alone as parents and caregivers. Here are a few strategies to try along with me.

Protect yourself. Beyond the necessary health precautions that we are learning, take steps to protect your emotional health as well. Stay off your phone for the first hour you are awake to avoid starting the day feeling overwhelmed. Instead, read a book, meditate, snuggle with your children, take a walk, or sneak in some quiet work at home time if that is an ideal time. Avoid “panic scrolling” through social media and news headlines. This is a wonderful time to begin or restart a gratitude practice for yourself and with your children. Give yourself grace. You may be grappling with balancing working from home and parenting at the same time. Be gentle with yourself.

Reassure your children. Depending on the age of your children, provide helpful news for them. This npr comic may be helpful, or this BrainPOP video (K-3). Older kids (3rd grade and older) may appreciate the Newsela site. Be honest about what you know, but keep it simple. Acknowledge the fearful feelings they may have and empathize with them. Let them know all of their feelings are okay and share your feelings as well. Be sure to talk about how you and they can manage those feelings (e.g., “When I feel worried, I think about what we are doing to help others. Sometimes I don’t want to talk about it, but I might want a big hug.”). Also share ways in which people are helping each other through this. As I talk with my partner, I am careful to save dire information for when my kids are out of earshot. When I hear positive stories and find fun videos of people making the most of their quarantines, I share those with my kids. 

Create fun moments of joy. Do not feel the need to begin full-fledged homeschooling right now. You may be working from home, going to work, or caring for someone. Take this pressure off yourself. Many school districts are sharing resources to continue learning at home and some are even starting to support children and youth through distance learning. Build some of these ideas into your days. Also, brainstorm a list of things your family would like to do. Bake (why didn’t I buy Nutella at the store?), hike, play a family game, read a book together, build a fort, watch a movie, have a dance party. My kids pulled out the sidewalk chalk and filled our street with art. Later, as I was walking my dog, neighbors told me that seeing their artwork made them smile. 

Design a routine for your family. Kids (and adults) thrive on routines. This quarantine is a bit uprooting for us. If your children are old enough, they can help create a routine. I made a list that had several required items (caring for pets, chores, outdoor activity) and my 9 & 12 year-olds filled in the table with the times they would like to complete these tasks. There were choices for other projects such as creative time, academic time, and screen time. Their learning is self-paced and initiated by them. They may research someone they are interested in, work on a science project, jump on an online academic site, virtually visit a museum. We try to keep up the reading that kids are missing during their school day as well by building in some reading routines before bed, after lunch, before naps, or during breakfast. Self-paced or self-directed learning may not work for other children, depending on their age, energy level, and learning needs, but you might find that your children like to choose some of their own activities each day, too.

Connect with friends and family. We are social creatures and isolation is difficult for us. I love the idea of friends cooking the same meal (over Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime), sitting down at the same time and eating “together.” One of my kids wandered around the house, chatting about nothing with their friend on FaceTime. We are missing the chatting and small talk with our friends and colleagues. We may connect online for professional meetings, but remember to build in the time for bantering as well. My parents and children usually FaceTime weekly, but I imagine this will become more frequent. We are also going to take advantage of being able to connect with our family that lives in other time zones much easier now that we are all home throughout the day. 

Help each other! Some of the most challenging parts of this quarantine is our disconnection and the feelings of helplessness that may come along with that. Having social support is one of the biggest predictors of resilience. We need others to talk through challenges, brainstorm, and problem-solve. We can become anxious when we lose or have a change in our social lives to some extent. But, we can be creative about how we help each other. Do you know a mom who has young kids and a partner who is a healthcare worker in quarantine? Leave some fancy chocolates on their doorstep. Offer to pick up some items at the store for an elderly neighbor or a friend who has young children. Your children can also benefit from finding ways to help. Mail your kids’ sweet artwork to cousins and grandparents. Paint rocks to leave out on neighborhood walks. Send thank you cards to hospitals and grocery stores. If your kids are old enough, perhaps they can walk a dog for a neighbor, mow their lawn, take out their trash bins, or weed their garden.

This is our opportunity to slow down our lives a bit and make choices about how we spend our days. Take advantage of this time to strengthen your family. Most of us cannot and should not go out in public. We can still find ways to connect with each other and spend quality time with our own families and networks of friends. Minimize the time you spend offline as much as possible to help your mental health and stay present with your family. How else are you helping your children and your family navigate these days? 

Be well! 

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and puppy.

Parenting Adopted Children

Photo by Simon Rae on Unsplash

By Megan McQueen

As my sister prepared to adopt her daughter, our family excitedly gathered clothes, books, and toys for her. My sister shared photos and advice that she received from her case workers. She read about how best to transition a child to a new home and planned as much as she could for a new addition to the family. As delighted as we all were, we also wondered about additional considerations my niece would need because of her past experiences.

Welcoming a child to the family through adoption or fostering is exciting! Adoption might come with other feelings as well, including doubt, love, grief, and joy. Each child brings their own personality, needs, and quirks that we as parents and caregivers learn about as we get to know our children. You may have a lot of information about your child’s experience and you may not – and that’s okay. You can still build a trusting, loving attachment relationship and we can help build their resilience. Depending on the age of our child when they join the family and their experiences before adoption, adopted children may have missed important developmental milestones or faced trauma. Of course, you are able to raise a happy, well-adjusted child – especially with extra knowledge about child development.

Whether you are preparing for adoption or have already adopted and welcomed one or more children into your family, try these strategies at home: 

Learn about child development. Find reputable resources, such as Just in Time Parenting (which is available in English and Spanish). Learn about different stages of child development – those leading up to your child’s time joining your family as well as your child’s current age and stage. This website shares research, activities, advice, and fun from birth through age five. Some of the tips provided are simple games to build coordination. For example, 25-26 months olds can play with a spoon and pan to copy sounds you make drumming. This builds rhythm, coordination, and builds your relationship. 

Focus on building a positive, trusting relationship. At seven months old, Just in Time Parenting reminds readers that babies are learning about different people. They may have developed caring, trusting attachment relationships with their caregivers before coming to your family or they might be developing these relationships for the first time. Even with trusting relationships, children at this age may cry or scream with other people (including family members they know and love!). This is normal and part of the process of learning who they can trust. Again, babies that may not have attached to a loving parent or caregiver before this age may be dealing with trust, attachment, and abandonment issues that will require extra patience, effort, and time to build those healthy relationships.

Value play time together! Children and adults need to play. The time spent together will build your relationship and many skills. Gross-motor (large muscles: leg & arm muscles & balance) and fine-motor (small muscles in fingers) skills are built through running, dancing, skipping, drawing, painting, and building. Children will solve problems, use their imagination, and build a strong connection with their playmates. Play time is also an opportunity to work through issues they may have faced, such as a stressful separation, a long plane ride, or difficult doctor visits.

Join a parenting class. Connect with other families, build confidence, and establish better relationships with your children as well as with families in your community. Learn ways to raise confident, kind, independent children.

Seek out any needed medical support and therapy for your child. This may mean dentist appointments, occupational therapy, play therapy and speech and language support. Ask your pediatrician about Early Intervention services that may be useful. Boost your child with experts to prevent or minimize issues later in childhood. 

Advocate for your child. Ask your child care providers to share signs of emotional distress they may see so you can bring them to the attention of your child’s medical team or social workers.Educate the people in your child’s life (daycare providers, grandparents, or teachers) about your child’s specific needs and how best to bolster them so your child is surrounded by people who can care for them in the most meaningful manner. For example, tell caregivers that you are working to build trust with your child. If they refuse to share a toy, use this as an opportunity to build empathy. Talk to your child about how they feel when they want something someone else has. How does it feel when that person shares? How does it feel when that person won’t share? How does it feel when you share with someone? These conversations will boost relationships and build social and emotional skills. 

My niece has brought much joy to our family and we have all learned from her. One of my favorite lessons she has shared is unconditional love. We accept her for who she is and do our best to support her. Our utmost goal has always been to meet her needs. She is perfect as she is and our job is to love her; just the same as for all the other children in our family.

Tips for parents and caregivers:

  • Parent children based on emotional age.
  • Instead of “time out”, take a break together to help build attachment.
  • Be consistent and predictable.
  • Model and teach desirable behaviors.
  • Be patient (with yourself and your child).
  • Remain calm and help the child regulate herself before discussing consequences.
  • Allow extra time transitioning between activities.
  • Create a “safe place” for family members to calm down and take a break.

Children’s Books:

Web Resources:

For a downloadable tip sheet for parenting educators, see this blog post.

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and puppy.

Tips for Co-parenting After Separating

By Megan McQueen

Download a copy of the full tip sheet PDF.

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coparent-tip-sheet-page-2

For more detailed information about working with families with foster children, please refer to our earlier blog post.

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and puppy.

Parenting Children with Disabilities

A young child with a hearing aid playing.

By Megan McQueen

When my nephew received a diagnosis of a rare genetic syndrome, our family was grief-stricken, scared, confused, and also relieved. Doctors tested for multiple issues, some of them grave. We knew this would lead to more questions, life-changing effort on his mother’s part, and constant anxiety. Our love for him was steady – we all quickly gained perspective and gratitude for healthy days.

A diagnosis of a disability in your child can flood you with many emotions including anger, denial, sadness, and grief. Parents may also feel relief. You may have felt that something was “off” and your child was struggling or you were failing as a parent, when in fact, there were underlying issues leading to your child’s overall needs. Cope with your emotions and understand that there is no shame in how you are feeling. Raising a child can be stressful and considering extra ability issues may be overwhelming at times. Find healthy ways to manage your stress: walk with friends, join a social group, trade baby-sitting with a neighbor. Work with your emotions so that you can reach full acceptance of your child and be willing to ask others for help. 

Make a plan with your medical team to support your family. Here are suggestions to get you started.

Focus on what your child can do. This one goes for all parents! Focusing on the positive developments in our children will be uplifting for us and them. We see more of what we look for, so keep your eye out for growth and moments of joy. Connect with your child and express your unconditional love for them.

Seek out early intervention. Childrens’ needs vary widely based on their diagnosis and often within the disability. You know your child better than anyone else and can help figure out how your child fits in with their diagnosis. Ask your pediatrician about what services are available to help your child. Early intervention can make crucial differences for young children. 

Write down your questions. Oftentimes, you will feel as though you have more questions than answers, especially when searching online for advice. Keep a notebook or a notes app on your phone to record all your thoughts and questions so that you can stay organized when you’re meeting with professionals. It also may help to have someone attend doctor’s appointments with you so they can record information and you can focus on the conversation and your emotions.

Find a support network. Reach out to a support network that “gets it.” Every parent can share stories about their children, but sometimes you need a group that understands just what you’re going through. Connect with other caregivers that have children with additional needs. Look for online groups specific to your child’s diagnosis and also seek out families in your community that can share insights to your local resources. Many school districts have a special education parent network.

Provide a variety of social opportunities. Nurture friendships with many different children. Look to your neighbors, schools, daycare, even friendly families you meet at the park. Diverse friend groups offer glimpses into other worlds and promote accepting, inclusive relationships for everyone. Give your child opportunities to problem solve and struggle a bit to build their resiliency and independence skills. 

When I become overwhelmed with sadness about my nephew, I remember that strength comes from love. He and I are both stronger when we focus on the love we have for each other and our time together. You may not be able to change news from doctors, but you can always choose love, kindness, and tenderness.

Children’s books:

Books for Parents:

Online Resources:

  • Common Conditions The CDC has compiled information about a variety of disabilities and disorders.
  • Early Intervention Information about Early Intervention services, including contact info by state.
  • Global Genes Resources for rare diseases and disorders.
  • Search your child’s specific diagnosis for a research-based organization

For a downloadable tip sheet, please visit our other blog post.

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and puppy.

Tips for working with foster families

By Megan McQueen

Download a copy of the full tip sheet PDF.

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foster-family-tips-for-ed-page-2

For more detailed information about working with families with foster children, please refer to our earlier blog post.

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and puppy.

Co-parenting After a Separation or Divorce: For Parents

Photo by Blake Barlow on Unsplash

By Megan McQueen

When I was teaching, I often supported families as they navigated a transition from parenting together in one house to co-parenting in different households. I reminded families that children are resilient and there were ways to support them through the process. Families are also resilient! Caring for yourself and holding your family in your heart will help guide you in making helpful, hopeful decisions for your loved ones.

Going through a separation or a divorce can be traumatic for both children and parents. Take steps to temper the stress. You may be navigating feelings of grief, anger, disappointment, or maybe even relief, freedom, and joy. Many children and adults have many different feelings and that is okay. Lean into your support network for help managing your emotions. Find a trusted counselor who can help you through this process. By caring for yourself, you will model important habits for your children. You will also be a stronger, more present parent if you can maintain your focus on your childrens’ needs when you are with them.

There are tools you can use to put your child at ease and build their resiliency as you move through this transition. 

Focus on the positive moments. Talk with your children openly about the strength of your family. When processing a traumatic event in my life, I learned the phrase, “Strength comes from love.” This has become my mantra when facing challenges large and small. Relationships may affect me deeply at times, because I am loving deeply. I don’t want to change that about myself. Remembering my love as my source of strength becomes powerful. We must learn to accept things out of our control (while working toward improving them, if possible). We cannot be positive about everything, of course. It is important to acknowledge our true feelings and deal with them. But try to reframe things when you can. As Neil Barringham says, “The grass is greener where you water it.” 

Build a social network. Find people who care for you, share your joy, and listen to your struggles. Realize that each family member will need people for these roles. Help your children connect with counselors, teachers, cousins, and friends. You may need to seek out new or different resources as you navigate new economic situations and possible new legal territory. There is no shame in asking for help. You are caring for yourself and your family and allowing others to do the same.

Teach your child healthy ways to process their feelings. Give your kids quiet time with you to connect. Even if the separation happened a while ago, kids may unknowingly have feelings of resentment or abandonment that it might help them to work through. Try the “Rewind, Remind” technique adapted from The Whole-Child Brain. You can go back through a stressful story and retrain your mind to think differently about a situation. Talk through a stressful event and tell your child that they can pause the story whenever they would like to by saying “pause.” They can fast-forward to another part of the story until you arrive at the end when there is some closure. Then, go back to a part of the story that was skipped and talk through why that part was difficult. Notice any physical changes – increased heart rate, shallow breathing, etc. and talk your child through calming exercises. Breathe deeply together. When calm and processing the challenging parts of the story, you are telling your brain that you are safe, even though this hard thing happened to you. This resiliency-building exercise can be used for all kinds of difficult life events or future challenges you’re anticipating. 

Show interest in your child’s life when you’re not together. Ask about how they spent their days apart from you. First, center yourself so that your conversations are genuine and do not seem that you are digging for information about their other parent. Ask open-ended questions such as: What was the best part of your day? What was your not-the-best part? (Some families call this the Rose and Thorn or Highs and Lows). If you are not getting many details back from your child, try questions such as: Did you go anywhere in the car? What did you do after lunch? Or you can play games such as Guess Which is Real. Your child can tell you two things that happened and one they make up. Your job is to guess which is which. This is a fun way to cultivate connections and build your child’s ability to remember and recall.

Maintain consistent boundaries and expectations at both homes. Kids thrive with structure and routine. As best as you can, talk with your co-parent about what expectations are important to keep in place at both homes. Try to maintain consistent guidelines and routines. 

Just as your marriage or partnership did not fail, it just completed its time, your family is not broken; it is evolving. As difficult as this period may be, know that you are not alone. Many other couples have had to navigate this transition and you will also. Keeping your childrens’ needs as priorities will help guide you through this time. 

Books:

Picture books:

Middle grade: 

Adult: 

Web Resources:

  • Co-Parenting The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Parenting Advice contains ideas specific for co-parenting.
  • Co-Parenting Tips for Divorced Parents The Help Guide focuses on mental health and wellbeing as they explore tips for parents.
  • Family Resiliency The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Parenting Advice site shares research-based ideas for building resiliency.

Please visit our tip sheet for more suggestions about co-parenting.

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and puppy.

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