Talking with relatives about your child’s learning and thinking differences can be helpful in many ways. Here are some dos and don’ts for these conversations.
1. DON’T assume that everyone will ask the same questions.
Some relatives may be more familiar than others with learning and thinking differences. A lot may have changed since your parents or grandparents were in school, so be prepared to clear up outdated ideas or misconceptions. Also, since learning and thinking differences often run in families, don’t be surprised if some relatives start asking you about symptoms in adults.
2. DO tailor how much information to share with each relative.
Decide how much information it makes sense to share with different family members. For example, if your aunt regularly babysits your child, it can help to explain to her that many kids with learning and thinking differences have trouble transitioning from one activity to the next. Talking about this can underscore the importance of using countdowns and other strategies to make transitions easier. But your great-uncle who only visits at Thanksgiving may not notice you use countdowns or wonder why.
3. DO discuss your child’s challenges with family members who are around a lot.
If your family has dinner with Grandma every week, she likely knows your child well. She may have already wondered about what your child is experiencing. And she may be relieved when you open up to her about it. Ultimately, talking about your child’s issues can help your relatives understand more about the challenges you’re facing, and this knowledge can make it easier for family members to start helping you and your child in a variety of ways.
4. DON’T use a lot of technical terms.
Simply telling your family that “Doug has ” won’t do much to help them understand your child’s learning and thinking differences. Even if people have heard the name of your child’s condition, they may not know much about it or how it affects kids. Use plain language as much as possible to help your family members understand.
5. DO provide helpful details and strategies.
Give family members specifics that can smooth their interactions with your child. For example, you could say, “Doug has a hard time with sensory overload. It’s tough for him to be touched, even by the people he loves. Please ask him before you try to hug him. He may not want to be hugged sometimes, but please don’t take it personally.”
6. DO identify your child’s strengths as well as challenges.
When talking about your child, try to lead with the positive. Make it clear that your child is making progress in any trouble areas. Praise these efforts. And bring up some strengths and qualities that your relatives might have missed. Try something like, “Doug is doing so well in reading this year! He loves chapter books, and his teacher is impressed with how many he’s read this fall. Math is still tricky, but we’re working on it with a resource teacher and making good progress.”
7. DON’T have just one conversation about your child’s challenges and never bring them up again.
It may feel awkward the first time you speak to your relatives about your child’s learning and thinking differences. But the more you bring up your child’s challenges (and progress and successes), the more others may feel comfortable doing the same. The important thing is to keep the conversation going. It may take a little time, but talking about your child’s issues can help you find relatives who understand your child’s situation and can help you explain it to other family members who may not “believe” in learning and thinking differences.
8. DO help relatives stay involved in your child’s success.
Family members can be major sources of support. A cousin may help with carpooling so you can fit tutoring sessions into your already busy schedule. An uncle may offer to babysit so you can unwind at the movies. Talking to your family about your child’s challenges can also make it easier for you to ask them for help when you need it. And most important, talking about your child’s challenges will make it easier to include your family when you celebrate your child’s achievements.
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About the author
About the author
Lexi Walters Wright is the former Community Manager at Understood. As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.
Elizabeth Harstad, MD, MPH is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.