Child Life is a forum for parents to ask child-rearing questions and share tips with other parents. Call our answering machine with any advice or questions you have. Please check the end of the column for the toll-free number and today's question from a parent who needs your help.
Q: My 8-year-old son has cerebral palsy and isn't always sure how to handle it when other children ask him questions and are hesitant to play with him. We have just gotten into the kids in the neighborhood making fun of him. I'm not sure how much I should stand up for him.
South Holland, Ill.
A: When the neighborhood children started avoiding her mentally handicapped daughter, Susan Zlotek of Cheektowaga, N.Y., first tried talking to the kids and then to their parents.
When that didn't work, she went to her daughter's schoolteacher. The advice she got came as a surprise: Let go and allow the child to negotiate her own relationships, the teacher insisted.
"You can explain your child's illness to other children, but you can't be there your child's whole life," says Anita Schoch, a parent from Cleveland Heights, Ohio. "I taught my child how to deal with these situations."
"The teasing often comes from children being curious and not knowing how to handle it," says Suzanne Ripley, director of the National Information Center for Children and Youths with Disabilities in Washington.
On both sides of the fence, what children need most are understandable facts and a positive attitude on the part of their parents, says Dr. Peter Blasco, a pediatrician with the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disabilities at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
Parents should talk about the disability openly and honestly at home from earliest childhood, Dr. Blasco says. When children are too young to handle questions themselves, they will observe as their parents' answer.
Here are some free resources:
* The National Information Center for Children and Youths with Disabilities has more than 40 free publications; (800) 695-0285.
* The Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disabilities publishes a free newsletter; write the center at Box 721, University of Minnesota, Harvard Street at East River Road., Minneapolis, Minn. 55455.
While a reporter at the Miami Herald, Beverly Mills developed this column after the birth of her son, now 5. Ms. Mills and her husband currently live in Raleigh, N.C., and also have a 3-year-old daughter.
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