6 Tips for Responding to Negative Comments Relatives Make About Your Child

By Erica Patino

At family gatherings, relatives who don’t understand learning and thinking differences may make negative comments about your child. These remarks can sting, even if they’re well intentioned. Here are some typical comments—and ways to respond.

1. “That kid is just lazy.”

Hearing a misinformed relative call your child “lazy” can make your blood boil. But try to stay calm. Take a deep breath and, depending on your child’s issues, try saying something like, “Actually, he’s far from lazy. He’s been working extra hard with his tutor, and he feels pretty good about himself now. As you know, his dyslexia makes reading and spelling more challenging for him than those things are for other kids.”

2. “He could be so much more.”

Relatives who don’t know much about learning or thinking differences might say something like this out of concern. But to parents, it can come across as condescending. Politely and firmly reply, “Thanks for your concern, but we have a good plan in place to help him with his dysgraphia. Certain things, like writing letters clearly, are still tough for him, but we’re very proud of him.” Then move on to a different topic of conversation.

3. “He’s just trying to get attention.”

This kind of statement can be baffling to parents who know it simply isn’t true. If you hear this from a relative, you can try saying, “That might be the case for some kids, but not for him. Kids with ADHD are wired a little differently. Believe me, he isn’t running around or interrupting other people because he wants the attention.”

4. “Why can’t he just sit quietly like his cousins?”

If your child has an issue like ADHD, he may act differently than other kids. An uninformed relative may not understand why your child fidgets and interrupts. You might respond by explaining, “Actually, he fidgets a little to help control his need to move. And he’s trying not to interrupt as much by paying closer attention to whoever is speaking. Those strategies really seem to be working much better for him this year.”

5. “You need to try harder in school, kiddo.”

A relative might speak directly to your child in a critical way. If that happens, try not to leave it up to your child to respond, especially if he’s young. You can pull the relative aside and say, “Please don’t talk to him that way. He always tries very hard in school, and comments like that don’t help him.” You may want to then politely walk away, instead of encouraging further conversation.

6. “You need to work on your parenting skills.”

If you can calmly respond to comments like these, you can explain that learning and thinking differences aren’t due to bad parenting. Or you can simply say, “I would never criticize your parenting skills. Please don’t criticize mine.” With some relatives, it might be helpful to have another family member step in: “Jane is doing a great job of parenting. I don’t think you’re getting how challenging dyspraxia can be.” Some other time, you can explain more to a relative who may not “believe” in learning and thinking differences.