5 tips...

What to say to parents of a child with a disability


I just read a post by Tatu and thought that listing up a few things to say to a parent of a child with a disability would help a bit.

A while ago I wrote a blog about what to say to parents with twins because I am convinced that giving a positive advice about „what to say“ is more helpful than „what not to say“, as it gives you the chance to say the right thing.

I decided to follow a great article by a parent of a disabled child, to give some advices about what to say.

If you ever happen to be in a situation like the one described in Tatu’s post, it can happen that you feel uncomfortable and that you don’t know what to say.

If you are a stranger to the family, a friendly smile is great. Recognizing the family as real people is enough. But if you would like to know them better, or you’re already friend with the family who has a sick child or a child with disability, avoiding them is the worst thing you can do. As friends or family you should try to recognize them as parents who are experts about this child and avoid any kind of „good advices“.

Here are a few hints about what you could say.

1) For those who are close enough and feel that they have the right to know more, you can ask questions like: “I notice James isn’t talking/walking etc.?”

Usually, parents then would tell you about their child. Let them tell you as much as they want. If not, please don’t insist. They’re probably not comfortable talking about it yet. If they are, listen and learn and maybe ask questions that show them that you’re willing to learn.

2) „I don’t know much (or anything) about that, can you tell me more (or recommend something I should read)?“ This shows that you’re interested to get to know more about them and their situation.

3)  “What kind of toy would she/he enjoy playing with?” Every question concerning the character of the child and his likes, show that you consider him as a person.

4) You can also praise the parents for how they deal with their child by saying things like: “You sure understand his/her speech better than I do.”  “You know how to make him/her happy.”  “You’re doing a good job with him/her.”  “You do a good job balancing your attention  between him/her and the other kids.”

5) When you encounter the parents, try to find something positive to say about the child. „He/she gave me a beautiful smile“ or „I saw him/her climb up a step by himself/herself“

Please do realize that parents with children with disabilites hear negative things all the time. They’re always being told how their child does not meet developmental markers on time, so anything positive is heartwarming.

The best gift you can make to a parent of a disabled child is to show empathy. Listen to what they say and accept that they might tell you things that make you feel uncomfortable. You might not share the feelings they have, but they often need these feelings in order to cope with their situation. A comment like “That’s tough,” is appropriate for most of these situations.

And if you already know them better, you can also offer to help. You can offer to do some grocery shopping, any practical help is mostly welcome. Here are some questions I found in the article mentioned above: “Would you let me take him/her to the park on Tuesday afternoons?”  “Want some help getting the wheelchair into and out of the car when you go to therapy sessions? I’m always around in the mornings….”   “If you could use an extra hand going grocery shopping, let me know.”

Be very honest. If you would like to help but you don’t really know how, ask for a hint: “I’ve been trying to think how I could help–but I don’t know anything about [child’s condition/ parents’ situation].  What do you need most this coming week?  I’m free from one to three Tuesday through Friday.”

If you want to become friend of a family with a disabled child or keep your friends who have a disabled child etc., then use good words and be honest and open. Don’t be afraid to tell them your fears, they will probably be keen to give you helpful advices.

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9 replies »

  1. Thank you very much, Vera! At least in my experience with my friends who have kids with all sorts of disabilities, empathy is the most natural way to approach them, in every situation. They often have a really hard time and the best is just to listen, to be there, to care.

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  2. Vielen Dank Ute! This helped a lot. I will keep it in mind the next time I will find myself in such a situation. I think there is this thin line between empathy and pity which one should not cross when trying to approach the parent of a kid with disabilities. Thanks again!

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    • Gern geschehn! Thanks for inspiring me for this post. I had plans to publish one in a few week ago, but I now is a good timing 😉 You are very right: the line betweek true empathy and pity is very thin and pity is not helping at all.

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  3. Helpful post! I’m a speech therapist starting up a practice for English speaking expat kids in NL, and am linking this article to my blog! What a difference a kind smile or positive comment can make to parents of children with disabilities!

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    • Thank you Paula, for stopping by. I’m glad you liked this post and thank you for linking to it on your blog! Especially when disabilities are not “visible”, people tend to have the strangest reactions…Let me know where you’re going to start up your practice for English speaking expat kids, ok?

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