Children are curious and will eventually be asking questions about special needs, either due to a family member or friend having a specific condition or due to encountering someone in a store, on the street, etc. It may catch us off guard, especially if it is directed towards our own children. Being prepared for the questions and the conversation can help lighten the stress and the sense of being overwhelmed. It also benefits the curious child when we can fully answer the questions appropriately. Provided with the following tips, we hope to make it easier when explaining Cerebral Palsy to children.
The first step is to describe what Cerebral Palsy is and how it affects those who have it. For older children, you can start by breaking down the terms cerebral and palsy. You can explain that cerebral involves the brain and that palsy involves a weakness in the way a person moves/positions their body. For a younger child, it is more beneficial to explain how it affects someone. Explain that Cerebral Palsy affects everyone differently, but someone with CP has trouble controlling their muscles (or body parts to simplify it for a young child).
You can also go into the types of Cerebral Palsy. This will emphasize that it affects everyone differently. Here are the 3 main types you can discuss:
- Spasticity: People with spasticity CP have muscles that are weak and stiff. This is also the most common form.
- Athetoid: This type is when the person is unable to control their body. Body parts may move even when they don’t want them to.
- Ataxic: People with Ataxic Cerebral Palsy have shaky movements, making it hard to balance or coordinate movement.
The most important thing you can do is to highlight the abilities that people with Cerebral Palsy have. Children are going to notice the differences and will focus all their attention on that. It is important to encourage the commonality that all children have and point out strengths everyone has. If the child is talking about a certain child, maybe a peer, go ahead and ask your child what the other child is good at. Perhaps they are good at painting or writing. Ask your child what the other child likes to do. Maybe they both like music or playing outside. Spend a good chunk of time finding similarities so your child can find a way to relate.
When explaining Cerebral Palsy to children, they are going to want to know what they can do to help. Tell your child that it is always nice to help, but to ask that child if they need help first. Explain to them that sometimes a person doesn’t want or need the help. Let your child know that they can help by just being a good friend. They can make sure no one gets left out and find ways to include the child in games with other children.
This is another great time to talk about bullying with your child. We have a few blog posts dedicated to bullying and may help you start a conversation on that topic. You can see the posts by clicking here.
Cerebral Palsy may be a confusing topic for children, but it can be simplified by using words they know and understand. An older child may understand a more technical explanation while a younger child may need more examples to relate back to things they know. When explaining Cerebral Palsy, it is important to focus on what people with CP can do to avoid any stereotypes. This can also be a good time to bring up bullying and educate on that topic as well. We hope these tips can help when questions arise and decrease the stress those may feel when having to explain Cerebral Palsy to children. If you have any tips or suggestions on this topic, please submit them through a comment.