Next Step Therapy Blog: ‘Get Yourself A Mom’s Helper’

Tracy 1Tracy Cowles, CEO and owner of Next Step Therapy, submitted the following article – “Get Yourself A Mom’s Helper.”

As discussed in previous posts, parents of children with special needs often find that their child requires so much time and supervision that even the most basic of daily tasks becomes impossible. Getting a shower, shaving legs, house cleaning, and laundry tend to become stressors that require tremendous planning, maybe only occurring during naptime or when a spouse is home.

Hiring a babysitter is not an option for some families, either because of the cost, or the difficulty that you have finding someone mature and trustworthy enough. A child with major medical issues cannot be left with just anyone.

My suggestion to you is that you consider the concept of a “Moms’ Helper.” This is different from a “babysitter,” is utilized differently, and requires different qualifications from the candidates.

A Mom’s Helper is someone who comes to your house and watches/entertains your child, WHILE YOU ARE STILL HOME. It is a volunteer position, not a paid one. So, okay, of what value is this? Well, think for a minute. If someone came to your house and had eyes/hands on your child at all times, what would you do for those two hours? Would you make phone calls? Would you bake? Would you read a book? Would you take a nap? Remember, you are within shouting distance if you are needed. What could you get done if you had two hours of uninterrupted time when you were not fully responsible for the child? What if they came twice a week, and you had FOUR hours????

Everyone would utilize this “free” time differently, and there are no right or wrong ways to use the time. It would be about what YOU would like to do to feel more in control.

Your first question is most likely, “Now, who in their right mind would volunteer to come to my house and watch my kid?” Believe it or not, lots of people, potentially. High school students these days have less and less experience with little kids. In order to achieve “experience” that could lead to actual paying babysitting jobs, you may find teens willing to spend time with your child, in exchange for a letter of recommendation. In addition, many high school related programs REQUIRE that their students perform a certain number of volunteer hours. Those programs include Honors Societies, Senior Projects, Eagle Scouting, and church Youth Groups. It might not be nearly as hard to find a teen as you think. You might even have a niece or nephew who would be interested.

Likewise, college students who are majoring in child development, education, special education, physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, psychology, social work, and medicine are REQUIRED to spend hands on time or observation time with various populations. Any college student going into those types of fields needs to see, first hand, what a special needs child looks/acts like. It helps them to decide if they are on the right career path. It also looks great on their resume.

Finally, there are a great many people in this world who are “empty nesters” with kids and grandkids far away. A quick look around almost any church or social organization will reveal several people who don’t work, work part-time, or are retired and WISH they had something important to do.

This volunteer project is clearly good for mom, and can be wonderful for the volunteer. It can also be a phenomenal experience for your child. All children at some point need to be able to separate from their parents and be tended to by another adult. Of course, this is true for school, but it’s also true for haircuts, dentist appointments, hospitalization, and tests. You might be around, but they may not be able to see you. Teaching your child to let you out of their sight and allow another person to care for them is crucial to their development.

In addition to learning to separate, though, every time your child spends time with someone new, they are introduced to a new voice, new vocabulary, new body language, and often new ways of doing things. Think about it…..if you sit down with your child to do a puzzle, you might focus on naming the items pictured. Another person might focus on getting the pieces in. While you are saying “horse,” they are saying, “turn it, turn it.” Very educational!

So, how does this work?

1. First, decide what you would do with “free” time. Having a plan will help you to follow through with the concept and take the first step.

2. I recommend that you don’t advertise this “position” you have open, either via print or by announcing it in a group setting like church. Unfortunately, it is always the one person you don’t want to volunteer who does (isn’t that just life???). You may also get too many responses to deal with. This should be a controlled, word–of-mouth search. Each person you consider for staying with your child should be someone you know, or someone that can be vouched for by someone you trust.

3. Don’t be afraid to find more than one Helper. It gives you more flexibility with days and times, and doesn’t leave you hanging if someone is sick or can’t come.

4. During the first visit, give your volunteer the entire house tour, pointing out exits, animals, the telephone….just in general giving them an idea of where you will be and how to get to you. During this first visit, stay in the room with your Helper and child. Explain your child’s diagnosis, symptoms, strengths, and weaknesses. “Bryce has Cerebral Palsy, which means……” “Sometimes Bryce cries as much as twice an hour for no known reason. To comfort or distract him, we do…..” This is a time for training, sharing expectations, and setting rules. In general, the Helper may not leave the premises without telling you, is never to leave the child alone, and is to yell for you in the event of injury or seizure. Your Helper should not be on their phone or texting. As an aside, I would not allow a Helper to diaper/toilet my child, bathe them or allow picture taking which could end up on a social media site.

5. On the second visit, explain to your child (no matter what age or what ability level) that their new friend is coming over, and that while they play together, you will be doing some jobs around the house. When the Helper gets there, ask if there are any questions, or anything that needs clarification. If not, tell your child you will see them shortly, and remove yourself to the next room. Listen as they interact, but don’t be too quick to rush back in there. A little crying with your departure is natural, and you want to see what the Helper will do to distract your child.

6. Assuming the first two visits go well, start doing things all over the house on subsequent visits. For this situation to be its most valuable, you don’t want to end up sitting in the room visiting with the Helper for two hours. Not the plan!!

7. Remember that this is your house, and your precious child. YOU set the rules. If, at any time you feel uncomfortable with a Helper, for any reason, do not be afraid to tell them that they aren’t needed anymore.

Repeat the above steps as necessary until you find as many Helpers as you need/want, and until you find the right fit. Don’t be afraid to consider males as well as females. Don’t start using the helper as a maid – that is not what they signed up for. Don’t be surprised if the Helper becomes attached to your child, and eventually works up to a paid babysitter status.

Finally, although it pains me to say it, be very, very careful about child molesters. They are well known for seeking out special needs kids, particularly those that are non-verbal and can’t tell on them. They are also well known for seeking out overworked/overwhelmed moms and getting access to the children by offering to do kinds things, like drive a child home after a sporting practice. Be careful.

If you try this concept, please comment later to let us know how it went (positive and negative experiences!)

~Tracy


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