How Do I Tell Other Kids?
Greg & Karen Embry, LeaWood, Kansas
It was actually easier to tell my children that their new baby sister had Down syndrome than it was to tell other family and friends. Adults have preconceived ideas or remember old stereotypes. Their first instinct was to be sad. I spent a lot of time comforting them,
and explaining that times have changed and that our child has a promising future.
Children, however, are so accepting and if they are already in school, they have probably had more experience with people with special needs than most adults. Their new sibling is either the best new playmate they could ever ask for, or she’s an intruder
that is demanding a lot more of mom’s time than they are willing to give up. Well, what newborn doesn’t fall into one of those two categories?
I’ve always told my children that what makes them different is what makes them special. They understood this long before we brought home their new sister. “Oh, so Kathryn is special because she has Down syndrome. Well, I’m special because I’m the fastest runner in my class,” my older daughter simply stated. “Yeah, and I’m super special because I am the only brother in our family,” added my son. “That is true, and as Kathryn gets older we’ll learn more about her special talents and gifts just as we learn more about you as you get older,” I explained. Of course how much your child understands about Down syndrome depends on their age and sometimes their personality. My six-year old daughter wanted to know all about therapy.
Most kids play house or doctor. Mine played therapist. She became an authority on the subject among her school friends and enjoyed educating them about her “special” sister and the best teaching techniques. My four-year-old son, on the other hand, just wanted to know when she would be ready to wrestle. As far as he was concerned, telling him his sister has Down syndrome was like telling him she has blue eyes. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. But does she like Spiderman better, or Batman?”
I frequently point out to my children other individuals with Down syndrome. They learn a lot from observing, asking me questions, or talking with the person. It is comforting for them to see that the world is full of some pretty great people who just happen to have Down syndrome. I have discovered that no matter how old your children are, telling them about Down syndrome is an on-going process. At first they just need to know that for the most part their baby is going to be like any other baby. She’ll just need some extra help.
As the kids mature, new experiences will invite further discussions. Maybe they notice some unique features and so we launch into a discussion about how each of us is made differently…hair, eyes, skin and so forth. Maybe a friend has a question and together we find the answer. As parents, we learn what we need to about DS each time we approach a new phase. It is exactly the same for our kids.
You’ll be amazed how much your children figure out for themselves and can even teach you.