12 Comments Every Parent of a Child With a Disability Wants to Hear
Unfortunately, humans have a tendency to “stick their foot in their mouth.” What was intended as a compliment may come across as offensive or a side jab. Parents of kids with disabilities sometimes hear such comments more often than we would like. Perhaps it is because people don’t know what to say.
Comments like “I could never do what you do” or “God only gives ‘special’ children to ‘special’ parents” can be pretty unnerving to hear, especially when we hear them as often as we do. While I truly believe most people who say things like that mean well, perhaps what would be more helpful than a list of “what not to say” is a list of “what to say.”
If you have a friend who parents a child with a disability, here are 12 comments every parent wants to hear.
1. You are a good mom/dad.
Whether a child has a disability or not, parenting means questioning. We question everything from the foods we feed our kids, to the right age to begin potty training (did you know some people do it from birth?) to parenting styles and everything in between. Add a disability and those questions increase exponentially. Should we be trying that therapy? Should we go see that doctor? Should I be trying this supplement? Not to mention the hours upon hours of research. At the end of the day, most parents make choices based on what they believe is best for their child and their family. So when you see your friend frazzled over some new treatment, or learning sign language to communicate with their child, a “you are a good mom/dad” goes a long way.
2. Is this difficult for you?
It is tempting to think, “I could never do it.” Here is a secret: if you think your friend is doing something really hard, chances are they may feel like they’re in a little over their head too. So rather than “I could never do it,” ask instead about their struggles, and really listen. Show you care by asking questions that let your friend know you are there for them.
3. Tell me how I can help.
I don’t know many parents who could not use a little bit of help. If they have a child with a disability, chances are beside the many things all parents do, they also have therapy appointments, doctor appointments, medication to administer and for some, behaviors to manage as they learn how to best help their child. An offer for help goes a long way. If you want to take it a step further, be specific about how you can help. If you need some ideas, here are a few.
4. Your child is just a child.
So often the world points out how our kids are different. Let your friend know you see their child as just a child. After all, kids with disabilities are kids first of all.
5. You handle your child’s meltdowns so well.
Meltdowns happen. Our kids cannot control when they feel overstimulated and they cannot communicate what they need at that time to help their senses become regulated. Public meltdowns are hard on the kid experiencing them and on the parent, as onlookers tend to judge and label us as “bad parents.” What a difference it would make if a friend witnessed a meltdown and after the child is safe and regulated, someone said, “you handle your child’s meltdowns so well.” Your friend may shrug and not feel they do, but such words of affirmation may be what they really need to hear after such a highly emotional experience for all involved.
6. You do a really great job at weighing options.
When your friend shares about a decision they made regarding their child, whether you understand it or not, chances are they spent a lot of time weighing their options, the pros and cons. A little affirmation that we do a good job goes a long way. I have yet to hear someone who is not disabled say we made the right decision when my daughter, who has cerebral palsy, began using her wheelchair full-time now that she is in middle school. She can walk independently, so to most people the wheelchair seems like a “step back.” I wish people would ask questions rather than give their strong opinions, because several months into the year, we know it was the right choice.
7. Tell me about your child’s condition.
If you do not have a child with the same disability as your friend’s child, chances are you may not know much about the condition. It’s OK to ask. Most of us wish our friends asked questions; we really do want to share with you. Also, wanting to learn more about our kids means you care about them. Just ask.
8. You are strong enough.
So often we feel we are not strong enough. We fight so many battles and our kids often face discrimination. It can be exhausting. Remind us we are strong and we can do hard things.
9. You are a great advocate.
Chances are your friend’s child has an IEP. Chances are the IEP is not always a pleasant experience. Chances are at some point your friend may have had to fight insurance, and they have spent days on the phone, talking to several people, appealing decisions and gathering documentation from their child’s health care practitioners. Sometimes it is the dance studio who won’t take a child because the child has a disability, so we do whatever we can to bring attention to discrimination. Let your friend know you see their efforts.
10. You are not alone.
Here is a little secret — many parents of kids with disabilities feel isolated and alone. Show up. Just show up. Let your friend know they are not alone. You’ve got their back.
11. I want to celebrate accomplishments with you.
For some of our kids, milestones take longer. While moms celebrate when their 1-year-old begins to walk, for some of our kids that first step may come when our kids are 5, or it may never come. But all our kids reach milestones, and while some may seem insignificant to most, they are a big deal for us. Let your friend know you want to hear about those milestones, and you want to celebrate them, too.
12. You are doing a great job.
I am fortunate to have heard a few people say this to me, and each time it means a lot. Even when I do not feel like I am, hearing someone else say it gives me the encouragement I need.
Are you a parent of a child with a disability? What else would you like to hear from a friend? let us know in the comments below.
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