If your child’s physical difference appears to cause staring or bullying, there are 5 things that parents can do to help a child cope with uncomfortable situations.
1.) Model the options listed below when you encounter situations yourself. Children are learning from you and seeing you model these techniques is a powerful learning opportunity for your child.
2.) Talk to your child about these options and practice them together through role play and even with puppets.
3.) Involve your child in activities with other physically disabled children and adults such as disability sports leagues, summer camps for children with physical disabilities, and pen pal connections. These opportunities build self esteem.
4.) Avoid using negative language when describing your child. A child who grows up hearing descriptions such as “suffers from”, “confined to”, “limited by”, may develop a “broken” self-image. Focus on what your child can do. The challenges all people face in life help to develop problem solving skills, and the world really needs good problem solvers.
5.) Let your child know that all kids get teased for one reason or another. There are options for responding that are good to know and use. You and your child do have options. You don’t just have to be at the mercy of the people confronting you.
Options to deal with staring and bullying
Option 1: Initiate friendly conversation
Let’s say a kid is staring rudely. You have the option to just break the ice and say ‘hi, what’s your name?” Sometimes the kid will run away, and sometimes the kid will respond back. I’ve actually made a couple of good friends just by being friendly.
Option 2: Educate
You don’t have to explain anything to anybody if you don’t want to, but if you want to raise people’s awareness, you can. Let’s say someone walks up and says, “Hey, you don’t have any legs”. You can respond and say, “That’s right. I have a birth condition called caudal regression syndrome. It means part of my spine is missing and my legs are really small. Do you have any other questions?”
Option 3: Deflect
Let’s say a person comes up and says, “Man, it must be so hard to be handicapped”. You can say, well-let me show you how hard it is-let’s do some push ups. I bet I can do more than you can. Ready, set, go!” (by the way, I can do 50 push ups, easy) The point here is to sort of change the focus, and hopefully the perspective. If you don’t want to challenge-you can just say something like. “Hey, that’s a cool shirt you have. Where did you get it?” Or, you can make a joke-’legs!-oh my gosh, I must have lost them!” I better go look for them, bye.” It gets people off the subject of your poor, sad (yeah-I’m being sarcastic here) life.
Option 4: Challenge
Let’s say someone comes up to you and says , “Ew, you look gross”. You can respond by saying, “and you act gross- didn’t anyone ever teach you how to interact with other people in an appropriate way. Man, you are going to have a hard time in life if you don’t develop some better social skills.”
Option 5: Leave
You don’t have to hang around and put up with these people. My mom and I once just left a store because a couple of kids kept following up around with gaping stares, and we just got tired of it. We tried telling them that we didn’t appreciate it and they needed to stop. That didn’t work. If we had been able to find their parents, we would have dealt with it-but their parents were not supervising them closely and not easily found.
Having a tool box full of answers ready to respond to the most ridiculous comments and questions puts you in control of the situation and lessens the frustration. Building self-esteem and self-advocacy skills in your child is one of the most important things you can do as a parent.