Helpful hints/ideas to help children and young people learn about growing up
Promoting an open safe and supportive learning environment
- Start early discussing all range of topics about growing up with your children so they become used to and comfortable before introducing ‘harder topics.’
- Raising topics about growing up and development is important for all children – you will just use different ways for your child with a disability, but still cover the same areas.
- This is particularly important as research shows that parents who have children with a disability are more likely to raise topics later in the child’s development and discuss fewer topics (than with their other children) when the opposite strategy is needed.
- Children with disability are as interested as all children with learning about growing up.
- We can be sure that they (like many children) are most likely picking up information now from TV shows, videos, media, peers. Some of these may be promoting unhelpful and unrealistic ‘romanticised’ or even negative images and information therefore it is important that they have access to accurate and empowering information.
- Children with disabilities need more time than their peers and at least the same if not more information.
- Parents are also less likely to be aware if their child is sexually active than their other children (Pownall, Andrew & Hastings, 2012).
Be the drivers
- Promoting an environment in your family where you create a safe and supportive space for children to explore topics about growing up is essential, so that they feel comfortable to come back and ask any questions they want.
- Be aware that it will be up to you as parents to drive conversations
- Encourage both parents to be involved in these discussions & to do that on a number of occasions, because your children probably won’t raise these topics, but do need to know about them.
- Remember that children with a disability will need to have the changes that are occurring as they grow up explained and repeated to them well in advance of them actually happening, especially given that so much change will occur at one time.
- Make the most of opportunities and everyday situations that can lead to discussions on many topics but particularly more confronting topics. You want to promote an atmosphere of safety and comfort around these topics – you may want to create a box for children to write down a question (or ask someone else to do for them) that they may be too shy to say out loud.
How to discuss topics about growing up – be creative – have fun
- Take small steps with your child, stepping into this new situation. Don’t try to cover too much at the one time. Mix it up with lighter topics.
- Feel confident even if the steps are small and are repeated. It’s the same as with other skills you teach your children – it will need lots of practising and reinforcing.
- It is most helpful to discuss these topics by breaking down the steps, repeating them on a number of occasions e.g. how their body will start to look and feel different.
- Use and provide information produced in a simple format, that is age appropriate, be conscious of the language used, use information in ways they will understand (matched to their particular disability) and make it interesting, fun. Use plain language and accurate terms for body parts (e.g. penis and vagina and whatever terms you use with your other children).
- See how receptive the child is towards hearing about this information; be guided by the child by how much to cover on each occasion. There will always be another time.
- Therefore it’s good to introduce a bit of creativity into these interactions – create scenarios, stories about how they might respond to different situations, get them to practice with you – if that’s a good technique for your child. Knowing of course that will change from when they are pre-school, school aged, young and older adolescent and young adult.