10 hurtful comments from relatives about your child with special needs

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One of the painful parts of parenting a child with special needs is dealing with comments and questions from concerned family members.  Most of the time, these remarks arise from love for the child and consideration for the well-being of the whole family.

But the questions and comments don’t always come out that way, and the fallout may shatter family relationships.

Tact and gentleness are necessary when discussing disabilities and developmental delays – especially in children, because the long-term prognosis is often unknown.  Here I’ve collected some real-life quotes along with some suggestions to soften the dialogue for more constructive purposes.

1. “It’s just a phase.  You’re over-reacting!”
Instead: “You seem to have a lot of concerns.  If you want to talk about it, I’m ready to listen.”

2. “She looks normal to me.  She just needs a little help with _____.”
Instead: “What type of support does your child need?”

3. “Maybe if you didn’t _____, then he wouldn’t _____.”
Instead: “What can I do to alleviate some of the stress?”  Or offer to do something specific for the family, such as mowing the lawn, making dinner, taking the child outdoors to play for 15 minutes, tidying up the toys – whatever you are capable of doing at that moment.

4. “Can’t you just…?”
Instead: “I guess there are no easy answers in this situation, but you’ll always have my love and support.”

5. “Haven’t you tried _____?”
Instead: “I keep hearing about new therapies.  Is there something I can research for you?”

6. “Does he talk yet?”
Instead: “How are you?  Tell me about the wonderful things that your child has been doing lately.”

7. “I’m glad you’re finally doing something about your child.”
Instead: “I can see that you’re working hard to do what’s best for your child.  It’s been difficult for me to observe everything that’s happened, but I’m here for you.”

8. “Did you read the Newsweek article/see the story on the news about _____?”
Instead: “I want to learn more about _____.  Could you recommend some reliable sources of information?”

9. “Why are you so sensitive about this?  I’m only trying to help.”
Instead: “I love you and I love your family.  What can I do to help?”

10. Silence – no phone calls, e-mails, birthday cards or holiday visits.
Instead: Pick up the phone and say, “How are you?  I was just thinking about you today.”

Have you received well-intended but hurtful comments from family members?  What would you rather hear instead?

Karen Wang

Written on 2012/07/26 by:

Karen Wang

Karen Wang is a Friendship Circle parent. You may have seen her sneaking into the volunteer lounge for ice cream or being pushed into the cheese pit by laughing children. She is a contributing author to the anthology "My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids With Disabilities"