How I’ve Learned to Manage Public Situations as a Special Needs Parent

Let’s face it, we all dread the thought of dealing with a difficult situation when out in public.

I know my stomach plummets when certain, seemingly insignificant, events unfold when we’re out and about.

A passing balloon. A baby crying. A sudden noxious odour. A burst of loud laughter. Someone unexpectedly rushing past.

I know any and all these things can spark a public spectacle of epic proportions in my family. Anywhere. Anytime.

It’s a parent’s worst nightmare, particularly when you’re busy, have all your kids with you and don’t have the time or energy to deal with an outburst, right then and there.

I bet you can think of more than one instance of trying to calm down your child, in vain, as those around you watched in growing judgment.

As a special needs parent I’ve had more than my fair share of public situations, like our ill-fated birthday party experience or the time I had my own mummy meltdown following a traumatic visit to the local supermarket.

It’s never easy but after more than 13 years experience, I’ve finally learned how to best manage public situations as a special needs parent.

How I learned to manage public situations as a special needs parent -

You know what I do?

I keep my eyes on my child.

That’s it.

Deceptively simple, huh? Yet, deceptively difficult to practice.

It’s taken me longer than it should have but I’ve finally let go of the embarrassment, the sense of obligation towards others and the shame of being the focus of judgment and unwanted attention. Because they’re the worst aspects of managing a public situation, aren’t they?

Shutting out the stares, the murmurs and the judgment means I can fully concentrate on the needs of my child. It means I’m not distracted or made even more anxious by the reactions of others.

It means I can give my child what they need in that moment of overwhelm – reassurance, support, deep pressure, protection and my full attention.

For too long I paid too much attention to what others thought of us, of my child and of my parenting.

For too long I felt the need to apologise to others and explain our family situation to complete strangers.

For too long I wished I could take my family out in public without fear of outbursts, meltdowns and upset.

Not anymore. I have no problem in dealing with my child’s needs, then and there. However long it takes and however strange it may look to others.

When you think about it, the strangers around us are only in our lives for a fleeting moment. In the scheme of things, drawing attention to ourselves for a while is little more than a momentary diversion for these people.

However, my kids are my world. We are in it together for the long haul. They deserve the best of me, particularly when they’re in most need of my help. Especially when they’re at their most vulnerable.

So, when they lose control in a public place, I keep my eyes on my child.

I make sure my other kids are okay and my child is in a safe place. Then, I take a deep breath, consciously ignore everyone around me and I concentrate on helping my child through this moment.

It’s not always easy but it’s always worth it.

How do you manage public situations as a special needs parent?

Parenting Children with Special Needs

This post is part of a Parenting a Child with Special Needs blog hop where myself and other special needs bloggers share our thoughts on a set theme each month. This month’s theme is “managing public situations.” I’d love for you to check out all the other posts linked up for this month!

10 Tips for Running Errands with a Special Needs Child | Every Star is Different
How I’ve Learned to Manage Public Situations as a Special Needs Parent | My Home Truths
7 Tips to Surviving Judgment as the Parent of a Special Needs Child | The Chaos and The Clutter
Dear Mom at the Park | This Outnumbered Mama

How to Teach Kids the Social Skill of Think it or Say it | And Next Comes L
Dear Mom Who Is Afraid to Leave Her House | Kori at Home
Navigating the Store with a Child with Sensory or Anxiety Issues | The Chaos and The Clutter

How to Help a Mom When Her Child Suffers a Public Meltdown I Finding the Golden Gleam

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27 Responses

  1. This is a brilliantly simple tip, that would work well for all children and parents alike. Thank you.
    Nicole @ The Builder’s Wife recently posted..Banging My Head On A Brick Wall – Women In Construction

  2. sammie says:

    What sage advice. I love how you put your kids first every single time.

  3. Miss 20 was the queen of tantrums as a tot, and all I could do was bodily pick her up (all the while she was thrashing, screaming, snotting and kicking), carry her to the car, push her down into her car seat with my knee, strap her in, and drive home. By which point SHE was calm, and I was the miserable snotty mess!!!
    Janet Camilleri aka Middle Aged Mama recently posted..Bedroom Update: A Velvet Headboard

  4. Renee Wilson says:

    Ahh very very good advice. I will definitely keep that in mind during our next meltdown. It’s so easy to get distracted by everything around you when you should be focusing on the little one in need in front of you. #teamIBOT

  5. Renae M Eddy says:

    Such great advice! Love it!

  6. Kori says:

    It sounds so easy but it’s so true! It took me years to just focus on my own daughter.

    • Kirsty says:

      I know, it sounds simple but it’s so hard to follow through. I still have days where I struggle with this but my kids matter to me more than the opinion of strangers – remembering that truth definitely helps.

  7. Such a great way to respond to a difficult situation – we let the opinions of others affect us way too much. Nobody knows the story behind a tantrum or “misbehavior” so who are we to judge – and if we do judge, why should you have to suck that up. Keep ignoring the audience and focus on your main characters – they need you to cheer them on x

    • Kirsty says:

      So true Leanne – we are so quick to judge but take so much longer to understand the true nature of a situation. It’s hard being human sometimes.

  8. I took the chance to go back and read two of the posts you highlighted and wondered how you view yourself now. I say that because from my view, it seems that the time and experience that has elapsed, along with the many changes you’ve made for yourself and the kids growing older, that you have made HUGE progress into this ‘parenting kids with special needs’ arena. My gosh, that was not mean to sound patronising but praising. You are doing this so amazingly well and offering all of your wisdom gleaned through the toughest of times. Go Kirsty! Be proud. Thank you for linking up for #lifethisweek 22/52. Next week’s prompt: View From Here.
    Denyse Whelan Blogs recently posted..Hobbies. #LifeThisWeek 22/52. 2017.74.

  9. I love this Kirsty. When kids have a meltdown, there’s always something behind it that needs attention, not covering up to make other people feel better with it. I have become better at riding through it instead of losing it myself. It’s hard work though x
    Alicia O’Brien recently posted..My hobbies

  10. inthegoodbooksblog ( Michelle) says:

    Great advice Kristy. I too often worry about what strangers think of the way I parent, but am trying to let go of that as it is just unhealthy.

    • Kirsty says:

      I had to let go for my own sanity but it’s still not easy being judged. But I love my kids far more than the opinion of strangers so that helps me on the tough days.

  11. Such a great insight and tip for parents with special needs children. Thanks for sharing and linking up with #MummyMondays.

  12. Really great advice. It takes confidence and determination to ignore the stares of onlookers. You are absolutley right in that you have to give your attention to what will help your own child in that moment – trying to manage your own embarrassment at the same time, just makes you less able to support your own child well. It took me a long time to stop being embarrassed by the things that happened when we were out in public – in fact I’m not sure I ever got there fully. We haven’t had one of those moments in a long while thankfully. #spectrumsunday
    Lynne (Raising my Autistic son) recently posted..Does my child have special needs?

    • Kirsty says:

      It’s much easier to write this than to live it but I know we’ve had better outcomes when I’ve been able to block everything out and just focus on my child. I have to admit, some days it’s much easier to do than on others!

  13. Really good idea and I will check out the linked posts too. I have adopted children who light look 7&8 but they are more like 3&4 so in many ways they are special needs and I also have to keep my eyes on them all the time. #SpectrumSunday

    • Kirsty says:

      It can be hard to deal with, especially when your kids look old enough to “know better” but are affected by sensory issues, etc. I hope it helps x

  1. September 18, 2017

    […] you need to explain yourself and your child to everyone around you, particularly when you’re out and about. If our kids meltdown in public or display odd behaviour, it’s hard to ignore the looks and […]

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