One of the most challenging aspects of being a special education tutor and teacher is watching parents go through the emotional roller coaster ride that comes along with being a parent of a child with special needs.
I have spent many IEP meetings and conferences, with a heavy heart, watching parents shed tears over how difficult it is, specifically in regards to how other parents often interact with them/their child. I have also learned that most times, the other parent(s) by no means intend to hurt anyone, rather they simply just don’t know what to say.
Over the years, in listening to and interacting with parents, I have learned that there are indeed some things you can say that parents find extremely helpful.
In hopes of increasing the support for special needs parents, and easing the anxiety of those that want to help but simply just don’t know what to say, below are a few suggestions that might make everyone feel better!
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3 Things To Say To Parents Of Children With Special Needs;
- “I don’t know what it’s like, so I won’t try to offer advice or suggestions, but I am more than willing to listen if you need to vent or talk.”
Parents of children with special needs are dealing with so much worry and anxiety both over their child in general and about if they are doing enough for their child. In addition, many parents of children with special needs also battle guilt, on some level, day in and day out.
Given all of this, it’s easy for them to feel as though everyone is telling them what to do, even though not everyone truly understands what it’s like to be in their shoes. Of course, most times people offer advice because they truly believe they are being helpful. However, a lot of times, what parents of children with special needs need is someone to simply listen, and be there, with no advice or suggestions, rather just to be a warm body to express their feelings openly and honestly.
Opening up the conversation by letting the parents know you truly just intend to listen, you’ve already decreased stressed and anxiety for the parent(s).
- “Your child has such a beautiful smile.”
Many times parents of children with special needs worry about interactions with other parents and stress when the phone rings and it’s school or another parent, because, often times, the call is to deliver news about something their child did wrong.
So, instead, genuinely compliment his/her child on something, anything. You will be amazed at what this does for both the parent and their child. You will likely be a very bright spot in a very stressful day, and a breath of fresh air in an otherwise often cruel world.
- “Would you and (child’s name) like to come to (event) with us?”
Many times parents of children with special needs have a harder time making playdates for their children. Not only do they get less offers for playdates in general, but they also worry about how kids and other parents interact with their child/if they are prepared to deal with different behaviors or needs their child may have.
In addition, parents of children with special needs also naturally worry about their child’s safety more, often because there may be more variables to take into account when participating in play dates for their child. However, by suggesting a specific place you’d like them both to go with you, you are making them feel comfortable because they can go with their child to help him/her (and you!) through any situations that may arise. You’re also taking the “unknown” out of the situation in regards to what/where the playdate is, so they will know right away whether that’s a trip their child can handle. And, if by chance they say no, please don’t be offended as they may just not be ready yet. But, I guarantee you, the offer will stick with them and will mean the world to them.
Hopefully, by keeping these things in your back pocket, next time you see a parent of a child with special needs, you will be confident in some things you can say and do to make the parents, and child’s day so much more positive.
To parents of a child with special needs, are there any other comforting statements or interactions you’ve had with people?
~ Diana Chase