Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Help for one of those tricky special needs situations
One ongoing conversation I've had with Sabrina over the years: How to handle it when she hears other kids talking about Max. I'll never forget that incident, at a kids' night out at Sabrina's gymnastics school, when Sabrina told me afterward that other kids called Max a "droolie." Back then, as I do now, I suggested that she could tell other children who make fun of Max what a great kid he is.
Sabrina seems to be navigating things OK, though I've long wondered whether I've been steering her well. She recently started participated in a workshop for siblings of kids with special needs. Yesterday I had a conversation with the instructor, Jodi—who's a clinical social worker—about how to handle these interactions, and I got some eye-opening insights. Some key info she shared:
When your kid tells you that another child (or several kids) said stuff about a sibling with special needs...
The first thing to do is ask, "So, how do you feel about what they said?" Sometimes, kids have a hard time talking about those feelings with their parents, Jodi said, because they might feel they're already under stress. Asking an open-ended question like this encourages conversation.
After your child expresses how she felt about what was said...
The best tactic is to validate her feelings. (A generally excellent parenting practice.) "The only thing anyone wants in life is to be heard and validated," Jodi noted. So whether a child says she is embarrassed, mad or sad by what a peer said, you can answer with something like, "That makes sense, I'd feel mad or upset too" or "I totally understand why you got embarrassed." The more you validate feelings, the more a child will be open to sharing them. This also helps build self-esteem because she'll feel comfortable with her reactions.
And if your child wants to know how to respond to other kids...
Turn the question back to her and ask what she thinks would be good to say, without imposing your own ideas. "Her response needs to be meaningful to her. Or it could be that she doesn't want to say anything and that's fine," Jodi told me. "Or maybe she only wants to tell the other kids, 'Yeah, whatever.' Again, that's also fine because it's what she's comfortable with. This is about her, not about Max."
Ah. Yes. So true. As Jodi noted, "Sabrina's goal at this point in her life is to not be different from other kids. One of your goals is to help people appreciate Max for who he is, differences and all. And those are two different goals." Of course, I hope that as the years pass Sabrina will grow to be a champion for Max in whatever way she's comfortable. I hope, too, that he can champion more for himself. Assuming, that is, they both survive the sibling rivalry.
For now, it seems best to encourage Sabrina to handle situations with peers in her own way and not urge her to stick up for him. I'll keep right on explaining Max to her as best I can and hope my words come in handy, should she choose to use them. I've always told Sabrina that Max talks in his own way; recently, when a girl wondered if Max was speaking gibberish, Sabrina responded that he "talks like Max."
Sabrina is still developing. Max is still developing. This mom is still developing. We are one happy, occasionally stumped, ever-evolving family.
Posted by Ellen Seidman at 6:38 AM