Babble is partnering with PACER Center to help readers better understand and navigate the needs of children with disabilities, as well as their families. This month, we’re talking about the best ways to comfort a family member or friend who is coping with the special needs of their new baby.
When a friend’s child has just been born with a disability, it can sometimes be hard to know what to say — and what not to.
Jasmine faced that very same situation when her friend Chelsea recently gave birth to a baby girl with Down syndrome. The baby’s disability was unexpected, and Jasmine wasn’t sure how she could best support her friend. So she decided to call her cousin Mike for advice. His 12-year-old son Georgie was developmentally disabled, and Jasmine hoped he could offer some advice.
It turned out, Mike had some great insights to share.
1. Be there.
“We saw other parents receiving visitors, phone calls, flowers and gifts,” Mike shared. “We received very few. It was so hurtful. I guess people didn’t know what to say to us, but we felt so alone.”
He also suggested that Jasmine visit and bring a gift – something she would normally do. “We will always remember those who recognized Georgie’s birth, and congratulated us.”
2. Compliment the child.
“Find something positive to say,” Mike advised. “Does the baby have gorgeous, thick hair? Is he alert? All babies are beautiful to their parents, and’She’s adorable!’ is always a welcome compliment. One thing that I especially loved was when people would comment that Georgie had my nose. I think parents love it when their children resemble them.”
3. Acknowledge the child’s disability.
“Don’t be afraid to acknowledge the child’s disability,” Mike added. “You can be positive while being realistic. One of my old friends told us, ‘I know this isn’t what you were hoping for, and it will be challenging, but you will be great parents. This baby is lucky to have you.’ We cherished those words.”
4. Help out.
“People sometimes say, ‘Let me know what I can do,’” Mike said. “That’s well meaning, but it’s hard sometimes to know if they really mean it. Do concrete things: Make them a meal, or give them a gift card from a restaurant that delivers. Do their grocery shopping. Offer to babysit so Chelsea can rest or do errands – and then do it.”
5. Don’t be afraid to admit you’re at a loss.
“My elderly aunt said, ‘I don’t know what to say. We love you and your baby. I don’t know anything about this condition, do you want to talk about it?’” Mike told Jasmine. “None of us are born knowing the right thing to say, and it’s okay if you’re a little awkward. Being sincere goes a really long way.”
For more information about this topic, or to learn more about PACER Center, please visit Pacer.org.