How do I talk to my child about their limb difference?
Updated: Feb 13
No matter whether it's hand, foot, upper limb or lower limb, approaching the topic of a child’s limb difference can be daunting. This is completely understandable for families and friends with no real prior experience of disability, but even for others with a similar difference, or who have lots of experience within the limb-different community (for instance through fundraising or charity work, or their job), it can be difficult. Of course on top of this, each child is different. This means that there are no certainties, no set rules on what will work or how to go about it. Don’t worry though, as a leading source of information within the UK limb-different community the team at ExpHand are here to help. In this blog we’ll be presenting some advice which we hope can facilitate and guide your conversations, and make it easier for you to know where to begin.
How to talk to your child about their limb difference
Children often take in the tone and language that is used around them in daily life, and will mimic that in their own speech. When approaching the topic of your child’s limb difference, it can therefore be a benefit to use simple terminology that is easy to understand and explain to others. Using simple terminology can give children the opportunity to take in and truly understand what they’ve been told, and can allow your child to be better understood when they’re talking about their limb difference with their peers.
It may sometimes feel difficult to talk about limb difference. Some parents want to highlight similarities rather than differences, and others don't wish to put a child in the spotlight or make them uncomfortable. Speaking with your child at home about their limb difference can help prepare them for when others may ask questions, and allows them to have a better understanding of their own body.
If you're not sure where to start the conversation, you could begin with the following steps:
- Talking about the facts of exactly why (or how) they have a limb difference.
- Answering any questions or concerns they have to increase their understanding.
- Discussing how it makes them special and unique. Use empowering language, and if possible suggest ways to approach questions that other children may ask.
- Refer to others that have a similar difference. You can also refer to inspiring story books or toys that include a prosthetic to build their confidence.
How to talk to others about your child’s limb difference
It is always beneficial to think about how you will approach questions about your child’s limb difference. This can include explaining why or how they have a difference, and what information could be useful to the person asking. Educating others and suggesting different terminologies to use is always a great way to approach the subject. This normalises the conversation, helps to raise awareness in general, and reduces any misinformation or stigma. Some people may ask invasive questions or stare - but it is important for adults, young adults or children to realise that most people are simply curious, and do not intend any disrespect.
You also have the choice of when or if you want to share this information with others. You may want to do so prior to the baby’s birth, after their birth, or whenever you feel comfortable doing so. It is also important to note that the earlier others know, the faster they can get used to talking about it - in the end it is up to you though. Some parents may not want to mention or focus on a limb difference at all, and that’s okay too. Instead they might want to focus on what children have in common rather than what makes them different.
Top tip: When answering questions from others, be aware that your child may be listening to how you speak about it and may repeat it. It would be beneficial to talk in a positive manner and have your child develop their own way of explaining it.
How your child can talk to others about their limb difference
The way you may talk to others about your child may well be different to how your child will talk to others. There will also be times when a child or young adult with a limb difference will need to explain that difference to others without their parents or other responsible adult being around - when they are at school, for example. Some basic starting advice might be that in these situations your child could use the explanation you have given them to explain in a simple manner, and to educate others.
However, this is not the only way to address the issue. For example, after your child explains their limb difference, they can then go on to focus on what makes them similar to them rather than what makes them different. Things they could talk about here include leisure activities or hobbies they and the person they’re talking to both like - riding a bike, playing football, drawing, and so on.
If the child’s limb difference is related to an accident, it is often useful to link to what they are able to do, rather than what they struggle with. This reduces the fear aspect in children, and can also help in certain cases to tell the story of their journey and how they came to be limb-different. As an alternative, if they feel uncomfortable talking about what actually happened they can use a humorous story instead.
Overall, there is a lot to consider when talking to your child and others about their limb difference. We hope that some of the other areas of our website - like our blog, featuring this post on attending school with a limb difference, or this one about inclusive stories for children - will be just as useful to you.
Lastly (and as always) if there's anything you think we should include as part of this blog, any feedback that you'd like to give us, or any advice and stories that you'd like to share, just let us know. We’d love to hear how you approached this topic with your child, or how they did so with their peers, as well as any extra tips you might have. You can share that story through the comments section below, our contact us page, or via social media on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn!