A child's hand plays with a toy car while the mom is sitting on the couch giving them an affirmation with thumbs up. Plants surround them.

8 Tips for Parenting a Toddler When You Have Lupus

Parenting a young child is physically demanding, and it’s often around-the-clock work. It’s been harder on my body than I expected. I constantly find myself at a crossroads where I want to be an awesome mom to my toddler but my body just can’t keep up. There are a few things that have helped me to bridge the gap between being a fun, involved parent and employing a more lazy parenting style that allows my body to rest when needed.

Encourage independence early

Hands-off parenting is a method used by many parents who want to raise self-reliant, confident children, but it can be especially useful for chronically ill parents. In this parenting style, you give your child the chance to work through things on their own before intervening. For example, when my son would get frustrated with a toy I would let him struggle for a moment before I helped so that he could start learning to solve problems himself.

As he’s gotten older I've lengthened the waiting time before helping and I try to give him verbal instructions instead of physical help when appropriate. Now I can give him a simple tip or some encouragement and he’s often capable of figuring it out. It’s easier on my body and better for his independence.

Tell them when they’re doing a good job

Offering unsolicited praise frequently will encourage your child to continue doing those things you like instead of turning to more troublesome behaviors. Discipline – even simple time-outs – has been very physically difficult for me, so I use praise or redirection as much as I can.

Give them your complete attention – sometimes

I generally like to be close to my son, often on the twin bed on the floor of his room so that he has easy access to me. But I can’t play with him all the time. I’ve learned that providing short bursts of high-quality playtime, say 15 minutes out of every hour, can help him to feel fulfilled and be better equipped to have a little less attention for the other 45 minutes. This works well for me when I’m flaring because I know I can push through to give him my full attention for a short time and then I can sit back while he has more independent playtime.

Make your environment safe and practical

The more childproof your home is, the less you have to actively chase, correct, and supervise your toddler. We made our son’s room as childproof as possible and made our downstairs largely childproof, while the rest of the house generally requires closer supervision. This approach has helped immensely when I know I need to be “off-duty” but also keep my child safe.

Take a minimalistic approach

A toddler’s mess-making abilities are limited when they have fewer toys. We started with a heavily minimal approach and have loosened the reigns as he gets older and has learned to clean up after himself. You can still have a variety of toys but perhaps rotate 2 or 3 small toy bins frequently to let them play with different things while keeping clean up duty light.

Work on flexibility

If you're able to show your child new things in different environments it will help them learn to adapt. Showing them the library, the local kids’ gym, a park, or other new places will make them more flexible overall. Routine is important and certainly has its place, but a toddler that’s familiar with changing things up sometimes will be exactly what you will need on those days that don't go as planned.

Make a list of lazy activities

When I’m tired I like to lie in bed and sing songs with my toddler. Old Macdonald is a good one because it goes on for as long as you can come up with new animals – or don’t mind repeating them. You can also teach your child to hold a book so that you can read without putting any strain on your joints (my hands and elbows are problem joints for me). You can play telephone, make shadow animals, or throw a bouncy ball for your kid to run and get if they’ve got energy to burn. I like to keep a list of lazy day activities in case my brain fog is leaving me on empty.

Be gentle with yourself

It's way too easy to feel guilty as a parent with a chronic illness. In my experience, being present with my son and making sure he knows I love him are the most important things. I try to focus on those two areas and take a more relaxed approach with everything else.

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