Dr. Nick Tanner’s Three Tips for Parents of Children with Health, Developmental, and Behavioral Differences


Doctor Nick Tanner

Dr. Nick Tanner

Never stop advocating.

When parents have a kid with extra needs or differences, things may things get contentious between parents schools, healthcare providers, and government agencies.  Sometimes it can feel a little like it is “us vs. the world.”

As a psychologist, part of my job is encouraging my parents to engage with these complex systems of care, help them navigate the procedural challenges inherent to these systems, and facilitate collaboration with the goal of helping patients and families thrive.

Although it’s important to have realistic expectations, the old saying is true; squeaky wheels tend to get the grease. Families and parents who are persistent tend to be more successful in getting more individualized and intensive treatment.

Though conflict can be uncomfortable, it’s important to be your child’s biggest cheerleader – never stop advocating.


Think about the long-term big picture.

Parents often and understandably get caught up in what their children’s limitations are, right now and in the present. They may lose sight of what’s important to them.

Part of my job at CRS is helping parents and families identify and connect to their values.  Most parents want their children to live vital and meaningful lives, and sometimes an extra need or illness can make it hard to see what’s important in the long run.

Identifying values is one way to help figure out the big picture. Values can act as a compass, providing direction and assisting parents to move from a place of “My child can’t do this,” “What if they fail,” or “My child will never,” to a more productive place. A place where parents can begin to ask “What can my kid do now,” “What do I hope they’ll be able to do later,” and “How can we help them get to that place.”

Think about the big picture, dare to dream, and focus on what is important.


Take care of yourself.

For a good reason, many parents do not consider themselves, or their wellbeing, a critical contributor to their child’s outcomes or a priority.

On top of the already hectic demands of parenting, families of children with extra needs also have additional requirements on financial resources and their time.

Many of the families I work with have to manage busy schedules that include juggling therapy appointments, doctors visits, school, and work.  However, there is reason flight attendants tell parents to put on their air masks before attempting to help others in an emergency – it’s impossible to help other people if you do not take care of yourself.

Research shows that socially isolated parents struggle to build fulfilling relationships with their children and are more likely to develop mental illnesses. It’s not “selfish” to take care of yourself.  Finding some time for yourself is essential.

So go ahead, make that therapy appointment for yourself, get a pedicure, or meet up with some supportive friends. It might be one of the best things you can do for yourself and your child.