Explaining Cerebral Palsy To Your Children
Whether it’s your first child or your fourth, welcoming a new baby into the family is an incredibly defining life moment.
A year or two goes by and you find out that your new baby has cerebral palsy. For many adults, you probably have a general sense of what this condition means. With the Internet, parents can search “What is cerebral palsy?” and get a good idea of the condition. But, for younger siblings of a child with CP, it’s not always that simple.
Parents, you may be wondering what the best way is to explain CP to your other kids. If you simply tell them, “Your brother/sister has cerebral palsy,” they’ll probably look at you like you’re from Mars.
Here are 5 valuable tips on how to explain CP to your other kids:
Tip #1: Set a positive tone
First of all, this is not going to be a one-time conversation. It will be years of explaining and reinforcing the message that their brother or sister has something special with them.
Parents, my best advice is to try and stay really positive when describing CP. If you don't do that, your other children might get scared or nervous for their sibling’s future. This is what you do not want to do.
Prepare ahead of time by making a list of some things that you want to discuss about cerebral palsy. Then, go back and make each of these as positive and hopeful as you can. This will help ensure that you set a tone of positivity, rather than worry.
Tip #2: Meet with each child one-on-one
If you have several children in-between a wide age range, I recommend taking each child aside separately to talk. By meeting one-on-one, parents will be able to explain the situation at the level each child can best understand – which will likely not be the same for every sibling.
I would start with your oldest kid first because it might be easier to gain a sense of what you want to say (and not say) in this first introduction to CP. Also, your oldest child may be able to help care for their new sibling more than some of the youngsters. This can entail helping with chores around the house, or watching their other siblings while you take the new baby to doctor appointments or therapy sessions.
Tip #3: More is better — not less
When you talk with your children about cerebral palsy, I would give as much information as you can on the condition (depending on their age of course).
I ran across a YouTube channel (link to Tamera’s Youtube) that might be helpful for parents during this step:
Tamera Weeks has a daughter, Micah, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Micha is the oldest of six kids. Now, Micha is 28 years old, nonverbal, and facing some mentally handicaps.
Tamera and her husband decided to start teaching their other kids about cerebral palsy right away. This gave their children an opportunity to be involved with helping care for their new sibling, which was a rewarding experience for them.
For example, Tamera would ask her other children to help tie Micha's wheelchair in the family van. This gave them a chance to learn about their sister’s condition, as well as some of the assistive devices or mobility aids that make life easier for Micah.
As Tamera’s kids grew up, they learned more about CP by taking care of Micha. Tamara and her husband wanted each sibling to know everything they could about Micha and her cerebral palsy. This a useful approach that I think many parents could learn from. By giving your children as much age-appropriate information on CP as you can, you will calm any worries they may have and allow them to be involved in their sibling’s daily life.
Tip #4: Lead with love
As your children grow up, parents often try to make sure that their displays of affection are equal among the siblings. This should be no different with a child with CP. Do your best to show your other children that their new sibling is just as loved and welcomed as they were.
Parents should try to frame these unique conversations with love. By doing so, your other children will be more inclined to step up to the plate and care for their sibling if needed. This is because they will remember the love you have for all of their siblings — making their desire to help automatic.
By instilling love and compassion in your other children at a young age, they will see their sibling as a very special and essential part of the family.
Tip #5: Don’t forget about the extended family
Let's talk about if the child is an only child, or they have many cousins. How do you talk to these members of your family about CP?
As you might remember from my first post, I am an only child. I have a ton of cousins, so my parents tried to teach them that I would always need help. Since they were not my brothers and sisters, they couldn’t exactly “teach them” about CP. But, my parents did talk to my uncles and aunts about my cerebral palsy. Some of my relatives would say, “Well Chris will get better, right?” My parents had to say no, and explain why again.
By making sure that both your immediate and extended family have a good understanding of this condition, you can make sure that siblings and cousins don’t get confused or worried along the way.
Setting Your Family Up For Success
Going back to my example of Tamera Weeks and her husband, I think their handling of this situation is spot on. First, they don't really know which family member will help Micha the most. If all of the siblings help out, that will be awesome. If only three or four help out, it is still great. The best thing a parent can do in this situation is give their children the information, support and encouragement to be actively involved in their sibling’s life.
In closing, I want to give you some food for thought.
For parents who stumbled upon this post, it’s clear you’re thinking about the future. If you feel that you did not do a good job explaining cerebral palsy to your children yet, you have the rest of the day today or tomorrow to start.
Life is a journey and you are in charge. Once you get the conversation started on cerebral palsy, the rest will take care of itself. I know you will do the right things for your children.