Telling your relatives about your child’s challenges can be difficult. Different people will respond to the news in different ways. Sometimes the conversation can go smoothly — and sometimes there can be a few bumps.
As you start talking to family members about your child’s challenges, here are eight things to keep in mind. You can also download and print a list of tips to help you plan what to say.
1. Be ready for different kinds of questions.
Some relatives may know more than others about learning and thinking differences. A lot has changed since your parents or grandparents were in school. So be prepared to clear up outdated ideas.
Don’t be surprised if some relatives start asking you about symptoms in adults. Learning and thinking differences often run in families.
2. Tailor how much information to share with different people.
Decide how much information to share with different family members. For example, maybe your aunt regularly babysits your child. It’s helpful for her to know that many kids with learning and thinking differences have trouble changing activities. Talking about this can show the importance of using countdowns. But your cousin who only visits during holidays doesn’t need to know these details.
3. 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 noticed some of your child’s challenges. And she may be relieved when you open up to her about it. Talking about your child’s challenges can help her better understand how to support you and your child.
4. Avoid a lot of technical terms.
Simply telling your family that “Doug has ADHD” 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. 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. Identify your child’s strengths and 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. Have more than one conversation about your child’s challenges.
The first time you speak to your relatives about your child’s challenges may feel awkward. The important thing is to keep the conversation going. The more you talk, the more others may feel comfortable doing the same.
Sharing information can also help you find relatives who understand your child. They may be able to explain your child’s challenges to relatives who may not “believe” in learning and thinking differences.
8. Help relatives support your child.
Family members can be major sources of support. A cousin may help with carpooling. An uncle may offer to babysit so you can go to 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.
Learn more about why talking about your child’s challenges can be helpful.
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.