We have received many e-mails from Aunts and Uncles of children with Down Syndrome who are trying to get more information about the new child in their family. We can not stress enough how important it is for family to support the new parents at this time. This is a frightening time for the new parents and they often wonder how their family will treat the new baby. Showing how much you love them and their new baby will help to alleviate these fears; pick up the baby, fuss over the baby, play with the baby.
Sometimes you may not know the right thing to say or what you say, is in fact, the wrong thing. We would like to give some suggestions about what not to say and what to say. The following suggestions are based upon the input of many parents of children with Down Syndrome.
Things NOT to say
These are the things that parents have said really upset or angered them:
- "I'm sorry" or any form of pity.
Pity is not what new parents want or need. What they need is love and acceptance of their new baby.
- "God gives special parents special children" or any variation.
The new parents probably don't feel very special right now. Also, some parents may be a little mad at God. Trying to make them feel better with words like these might be appreciated by some parents and not by others. It is best to avoid this.
- "They're such loving children."
This is a stereotype of children with Down Syndrome and demonstrates that you really don't know much about Down Syndrome.
- "Do they know how serious it is?" or any variation.
Again, this is a demonstration of a lack of knowledge about Down Syndrome. Some parents may be angry and want to reply with, "How serious is it? Well, every single cell in his body has an extra chromosome... is that serious enough?"
- "You are handling this better than I could."
This is an invitation for the new parents to say something like, "No, you would be wonderful." Suddenly, the conversation has switched to you instead of the parents and their new baby. Plus, you don't really know how the new parents are handling it, do you?
Things TO say
These are the things parents have found comforting or made them feel good:
They just had a baby! What better response to show that you love them and their baby than to say congratulations. It made us feel like 'normal' parents when someone said that to us. If the hospital allows it, a bottle of champagne could be greatly appreciated.
- "He/She looks just like you."
The baby probably does look like someone in the family. All of the baby's genes are from the family. My son looked exactly like my daughter did when she was just born.
- Friends and family who actually 'did' something like read about the disability (or find information on the web!)
This really means something to the new parents. It shows love and concern for the baby. The day after we told Mikey's uncle about Mikey having Down Syndrome, he came to visit us with a handful of papers dealing with Down Syndrome he had gotten from the web. That showed us that he really cared.
- Offer to babysit.
It is a fear of the new parents that their family will not accept the new baby. By saying something like, "Well, when are you going to let me babysit?" you are showing the new parents that you want to be part of the baby's life. This will be a great relief to them.
- "He/She will do fine."
The new parents are probably pretty worried. They might not know much about Down Syndrome and they may be concerned about possible medical problems. Having a positive attitude will rub off on them. They don't need pessimism or negativity from their loved ones.
- "We'll all learn from him/her."
This is another good way to show that you intend on being part of their lives. After all, how can you learn from their new baby if you are ashamed of him/her? Their new child will be an opportunity to learn about love, acceptance, and respect for the disabled.
- "We will always be here to help."
Another very good way to show that you are going to be there. Let the new parents know that you intend on being part of their lives.