How do you talk to your child about the CP? Do you tell them exactly what it is, or do you break it to them in softer terms? And when is a good time to talk about these things? As a parent maybe you are also feeling apprehensive and scared to talk to your child about them being different from others. I can’t claim to have the definite answers to all of these questions, but now that I am older I have come to some conclusions on what was valuable to me when it came to communicating about the CP with my parents and others.
1. Start early, but adapt your message as your child grows. I personally think its a good idea to talk to your child as early as possible about the CP, because then it wont be something strange and foreign thing when they are older which they struggle to understand. That being said, I think you need to adapt what you said based on your child’s age and personality. Like I mentioned in my “Does Your Child Hate Physical Therapy” post, when you are young and have CP, you lack a perspective on the future and getting older, so therefore I think its important to make it relevant to your child now, and not in 10 years. That can for example mean that you tell your child something like “Everyone is born different, you were born like this, and that is completely ok, other people are different in other ways, and thats okay too.” I dont think you need to go into to many specifics about what the CP is at a very young age, because your child won’t have any reference points or understanding to understand what it really means yet anyways, and they may understand it completely differently than you do and that may lead to misunderstandings.
I remember when I was little, and if I came home and was sad about the fact that I couldn’t climb in the trees like my friends, my mom would always tell me; “Not everyone climb in trees, I cant do it either. But you are good when it comes to computers and other things, not everyone is good at that. That helped me understand that it was okay to be different, but more importantly, that others were different too, and that I did some things well as well.
As your child grows older you can be more specific about different aspects of the CP, when you feel they can understand this at a deeper level. I have always been a person who want to understand something deeply, and understand the reasons behind it, so I appreciated learning about the CP and what it really was, it also made it a lot less scary, once I got past the stigma of it being a brain damage. (That sadly has somewhat of a negative connotation in today’s society still).
2. Teach your child to think positively, instead of telling them what they should think. As a parent you may want to tell your child a thousand times over how its nonsense for them to feel useless, or feel less worthy than their peers, and that is understandable. But if you tell people what they should not think, its usually not very effective. The two best thing you can do as the person they trust the most is to provide them with encouragement and love to be themselves without fear of being different. It is like the old saying goes “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” If you teach your child how to think positively and in a healthy way about themselves and their CP, that will help them more than you telling them they have to believe they are good enough.
There are a few ways to do this I have found and if you want to read more extensively about you should read this post and this post I’ve written about the subject, but in general these are my top tips.
- Don’t compare. Help your child realize that we are all different, and therefore it is no use for them to compare themselves to others, and they should always look at what works best for them.
- The CP is not your enemy. I can’t stress this point enough, but viewing your CP as something bad, and something you should fight at every turn is not a very productive mindset in my opinion, I even think it can be dangerous. The CP is part of them, if they can manage to accept that, and be happy with their life as it is, that is much better for everyone.
- Teach your child to appreciate itself. Teach your child that they should appreciate who they are, both their strong points and the points that are not as strong. Focus on the things they do well, and encourage them to develop themselves further, and see the value in what they can contribute every day, because often times it is easy to feel like you are not contributing anything or that you are worthless if you have something like CP.
3. Be honest with your child, and let them know they can come to you, but don’t expect them to always do. I think its best to always answer as honestly as possible (keeping in mind their age as mentioned above) when your child comes to you and is wondering about something related to the CP. Lying or creating a false safety blanket doesn’t serve much good I think, as it might just be worse for all of you if they later discover the truth. However, don’t be too surprised if your child is reluctant to talk about the CP with you as they are older, and even if they seem a bit withdrawn than they used to. I will write a separate post about CP and teenage years in the future, but being a teenager can be a trying to time for anyone, and coming to terms with CP at that age can also be very difficult. (Another reason why you should start early in teaching your child how to be the master of their own thought process when it comes to the CP). The most important thing you can do is to let them know you are available and there for them if they need you, but you have to give them the space they require to figure out some of these things themselves as well.
This is by no means a complete list of what you should do or how you should talk about CP to your child, but I hope this can be of use to some of you. And remember, you just being there for your child and loving them, gives them safety and courage to tackle this condition already, so keep doing that, and you are already on your way to seeing your child grow up a healthy and well balanced adult!
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