The more experience you have raising a child with learning and thinking differences, the more of an “expert” you become. At least, other parents might see you that way.
They may gravitate toward you for information or advice about their own child. Or they might just inwardly want confirmation of their suspicion that their child may have an issue.
You likely have a lot to offer them, but your “expertise” can put you in an awkward position. When another parent comes to you, how can you be helpful without being intrusive? What should you say? What if you see signs that a child may have an issue but no one’s asking for your opinion? Should you speak up anyway?
There are no easy or “correct” answers. But there are certain things to consider when talking to other parents about their child’s challenges—and their own concerns.
Scenario #1: Another parent approaches you for input about her child’s struggles.
Maybe your child has ADHD, and you’re very open about it. A parent comes to you because she’s concerned her child might also have attention issues. She describes her child’s symptoms—disorganized, impulsive, and daydreamy—and wants to know what you think.
Even if you feel you have a clear idea, here are some suggestions before you respond
- Be helpful by empathizing rather than probing. Avoid asking direct questions about what’s behind the behavior. Instead, empathize with her about the behavior she described: “It’s really hard when kids keep losing and forgetting things. I went through this too.”
- Avoid referring to a specific condition her child may have. There’s a lot of overlap in symptoms between different learning and thinking differences. And kids often have more than one issue. Instead, try saying something like, “It’s so hard to know exactly what’s going on when you’re not a professional.”
- Steer her toward a specialist who can help, but without pushing the point. If the parent hasn’t come out and asked directly, you can say something like, “You know, I worked with somebody I really liked. I’m happy to pass along the contact info if you ever want it. I also have a list of names that other people gave to me.”
Scenario #2: Another parent approaches you with a statement, not a direct question.
You may find that parents make comments to you about their child’s difficulties, without actually asking for your input.
Here’s an example. A parent you talk to every day at the bus stop knows your child has dyslexia. One day she says about her own child, “All the other second graders are reading on their own, and Katy feels bad she’s not on the same level. She gets frustrated, but she might just be a late bloomer.”
You know from experience that the sooner a struggling reader gets intervention, the better. But this parent may not be ready to accept that or to take action. If you come on too strong, you may upset her and drive her away.
So you could say something like: “Other parents have shared similar concerns with me. We went through that with our child. I can tell you what we did if that would help.”
If she indicates she’s not interested, however, it’s probably a good idea to not take it any further.
Scenario #3: You spot signs of a learning or thinking difference in a child, but the parent has said nothing.
This is a tricky situation—no matter who the parent is. Whether it’s a total stranger or a family member, it’s usually not a good idea to bring up your concerns about a child who isn’t yours.
Your intentions, while thoughtful, may also be misguided. You don’t know where this parent and her child are on their journey. She may have already taken steps that you’re not aware of. Or she may have her own reasons for not doing so.
If you feel strongly that speaking up is best, however, how you do it depends on the context. For instance, let’s say you’re at the playground with your child who has dyspraxia. Another child is struggling on the slide. He’s clearly frustrated, and the kids behind him are getting impatient.
You’ve noticed him having trouble with motor skills and balance before, but you really don’t know his parent well. If you say anything at all, it might be something like: “My son has trouble getting up the slide, too. It’s hard when kids struggle with things that are supposed to be fun.”
Then wait and see how open she is to the exchange. If she’s not interested, stop right there.
But what if the parent of the child you’re concerned about is someone you know well, like a friend or family member? You may feel even more compelled to speak up. But all of the same rules apply.
You might make an observation, and offer your support. But you wouldn’t want to put another parent (even one you’re close to) in the position of discussing her child if she doesn’t want to.
In most cases, the best way to help other parents is to let them steer the conversation. You can make it clear that you’re there to support them in whatever way you can, at any point they need you.
- It’s generally not a good idea to bring up your concerns about a child if the parent hasn’t asked.
- It can be overwhelming for another parent to hear that you think her child has an issue.
- If you decide to speak up, look for cues that the parent is open to what you have to say.