How to talk to your child about their friends with special needs: part one

She’s starting to notice.

Ellie is finally at the age where she is starting to recognize that Jayden and Brooklyn do things differently.  And she is asking questions. Good questions.  The problem is, there’s no parenting manual for these type of conversations. Quite frankly, we are making it up as we go. A lot of our friends ask us how to navigate these noticeable differences with their typically developing children as well, so here is the first of two phrases that are gaining traction on our house.

1. Do your best. 
Dinner is a messy time in the Boyce home. Jayden sits in a toddler feeding chair. Most of the time if food requires a spoon or fork, we just feed him. If it’s finger food, we lay it out on the tray and he goes for it. About half ends up in his mouth, a quarter on the floor, and a quarter on himself.

This is Jayden’s best.

Brooklyn has lost the ability in the last few months to use plasticware by herself.  She tears up her food, and eats with her fingers.  At times, she misses her mouth, so food ends up on the floor or all over her belly. And when she’s done, she lets us know by throwing her plate.

This is Brooklyn’s best.

The expectation for Ellie, on the other hand, is that she uses plasticware. We encourage her to not spill. “Don’t make a mess,” we instruct. And, she does a pretty good job for 2. 

Timeout. Can I be honest for a moment? When feeding my 8 year old, and getting food thrown at me by my 5 year old, my patience runs thin for Ellie spitting her milk.   Anyone else feel like it’s always the straw that breaks the camel’s back?

Time in. So one day during a meal, Ellie observed Brooklyn’s “mess” and thought she would tell me about it. With the same look of disgust I give Ellie when addressing messes, she says, “oh no! Brooklyn’s making a mess!” As the words came out of her mouth, I saw her body scoot away from Brooklyn. 

Oh boy.  Insert parenting moment. First, she’s watching me and copying my behavior. Yikes. Second, what do I say? Brooklyn is making a mess by typical standards. Ellie is right. But, Brooklyn can’t help it. So I say what I now know was the right response. (Thank you, Jesus).

I said, “Brooklyn is doing her best. And, Jayden is doing his best. And, you are doing your best. Your best is with a spoon, Brooklyn’s best is with her fingers, and Jayden’s best is with mom’s help.”

“Everyone’s best is going to be different. And, that’s ok. It doesn’t mean you will always win. We can only try to do our best.”

Your best is your best. It’s not about comparing who’s best is best, it’s about celebrating one another…. And keeping our eyes on our own plate.

Let’s continue the conversation:


“What do you say when your child asks about their friend with special needs?”

Stop by next week for phrase 2: How we talk with Ellie about having nonverbal siblings.

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