Today’s article is brought to you through the generous support of our friends at the Jockey Being Family Foundation, who share our vision to provide education and support to strengthen families.

Raising a child with prenatal exposure often changes how we look at our parenting. When you have a child who struggles with the impacts of prenatal exposure, you learn how to shift your mindset and find alternate ways to set your child up for success. The brain damage from prenatal exposure has severe impacts, including challenging behaviors, learning struggles, and emotional effects that can stick with our children for a long time. Success for a child with prenatal exposure might have a different feel than for a typically developing child, and that’s okay. Each of our kids deserves to taste their sense of success and feel supported on the way.

Why are they “Parenting Disciplines”?

We lay a strong foundation of support for ourselves and our family by shifting our mindset from “won’t” to “can’t” as we consider our child’s ability to learn new skills and behaviors. We call these “parenting disciplines” because they are the “big picture” view we can take to structure our daily life. We can create a tone in our homes that supports us to support them better. Many of us already have these disciplines in place to run our homes – and that’s great. This article can be a “tune-up” if you run a scheduled home.

However, many other parents struggle to set routines and maintain them. Some don’t see the need for structure, preferring a more spontaneous or free-flowing home. Indeed, a routine can feel like monotony and drudgery. We also understand that the aftermath of the last two years, trying to survive life amid a pandemic, makes it hard to rein it all back in. Retraining ourselves and our kids to live on a schedule can be brutal. We hope that this information will help you tighten up your daily schedule. Establishing (or re-establishing) a structure that serves your family well is a discipline you need when parenting a child with prenatal exposure.

4 Parenting Disciplines for Raising a Child with Prenatal Exposure

We have the privilege and responsibility of setting the tone in our homes. When raising a child with prenatal exposure, we must consider their needs as we determine what that tone is. Scaffolding our kids with routines and structure requires a disciplined approach. Teaching them to scaffold themselves as they grow means we must talk about it, act upon it with them, and model it for them in our actions.

1. Prioritize Sleep

It is estimated that about two-thirds of kids with prenatal exposure have sleep issues because of the impact of the substance on the developing brain. These sleep issues include:

  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Night-waking
  • Early rising

It would be easy to enforce a strict bedtime for just the kids. After all, once they are in bed, we still have work to do before falling asleep on the couch during the evening news. However, we’re not doing ourselves any favors like this. Facing the new day with tired eyes and groggy brains makes it hard to stick to a morning routine. We cannot support our kids well when we are trying to parent from a place of sleep deprivation. Practicing the daily discipline of prioritizing sleep is beneficial for the whole family – not just our kids with prenatal exposure.

How To Prioritize Sleep

You have likely heard these tips before. They bear repeating because sleep is an essential foundation for health, brain development, and behavior support. Here are a few reminders for prioritizing sleep for your whole family.

Enforce a consistent bedtime. While each person’s sleep needs are individual to that person, there are general recommendations appropriate for every age and stage. Many reliable resources can help you determine how many hours of sleep each family member needs. The goal is to support your body for the healing and refreshing it needs overnight. Even if your child still experiences nighttime sleep interruptions, a consistent sleep schedule can ease the struggle for you all.

Enforce a consistent nighttime routine. Whether your family reads before bed or enjoys a calm-down app together, make sure you consistently do your routine. Create a predictable pattern that you all follow – in age-appropriate ways. Work a gradual slowing down of the daily pace into that routine. Even after your kids are in bed, keep your nighttime routine consistent. As challenging as it might be, try to stop screen use about an hour before “lights out” to allow your eyes and body to ease into rest.

2. Establish Routine

All kids benefit from a routine. However, our child with prenatal exposure will significantly benefit from the support of a regular, consistent schedule that is predictable and easy to follow. It’s easy to forget that we adults also benefit from a predictable, scheduled day and week. The repetition of that routine is also beneficial for a child with prenatal exposure.

Providing visual schedules for our kids with prenatal exposure is an added layer of support when we are establishing routines. When our children are very young, we can do this with simple images. Some families take pictures of the child doing the task and print them to create the schedule. Others use fun clipart or magazine cut-outs. As our kids grow, teach them to use checklists. Model the support of list keeping and visual schedules for your family by hanging a family calendar, job charts, and weekly menus.

3. Move from Abstract to Concrete

Our kids are very concrete in their thinking. They need literal and specific language. We can help them learn the skills they need by using concrete language and direct communication. Again, visual schedules and wall calendars will strengthen this movement from abstract to concrete. Additionally, a predictable structure to the day – and the individual segments of the day – will help our kids succeed.

The side benefit of moving from abstract to concrete is that our whole family can join in the shift and learn clear communication skills. Here are a few suggestions for making family communication more concrete for everyone:

  • Try labeling – Put tags or descriptions on drawers, closets, pantries, and storage bins.
  • Give clear directions – Use straightforward language about specific tasks and consider how to break them down into shorter, manageable parts.
  • Be literal – Avoid symbolism, euphemisms, metaphors, colloquialisms, empty threats, and other vague sayings or phrasings. Be concise and direct.
  • Set a timer – Our kids can learn time management by using smart speakers or alarms on their iPods or phones to move through their day. We can model this with them easily as many already use our phone alarms daily.
  • Use cash – Keep money management simple and direct using a cash system. Debit cards or gift cards are too nebulous.

4. Focus on Your Children’s Strengths

This is a parenting discipline from which all our children will benefit! Our kids each have something that makes them unique and special. We can figure out what that skill or character trait is and then find opportunities to highlight it. It’s so easy to focus on the challenges of raising a child with prenatal exposure. When we model a mindset of seeking the positive and calling out the beautiful in each other, we validate each child’s preciousness and build a family culture of support and nurture.

Parenting Tips for Kids with FASD

Take the Long View When Raising a Child with Prenatal Exposure

Our kids will not outgrow prenatal exposure’s impacts on their brains. But with some parental discipline and a long view of the support they need, we can set them on a path of success. Their success in adulthood will be all the sweeter when we take the journey to grow with them.

Which of these parenting disciplines is a strong one for you? Which is most challenging? Tell us about it in the comments!

Image Credits: USARJ NCO CORPS; Daniel Novta; bfishadow