How to Respond to Other Children's Reactions to My Baby with Special Needs

Updated on August 18, 2011
J.E. asks from Snowmass Village, CO
26 answers

I was at a playground today with my big girl who is 4 years old and baby girl who is 10 months. Some young boys noticed my littlest munchkin and said something like "Look at that baby!" and then they laughed. Then I heard "It looks like it has no brain!" I should mention here that baby has Down Syndrome. Sometimes her tongue sticks out a little bit, her eyes don't work together very well and she has some very prominent blue veins on her forehead. She also has scars on her body from a number of surgeries she has survived, including open heart surgery, and she has a g-button in her belly. She definitely looks a bit different. There has been one other time when some kids pointed and laughed at her. Thankfully my big girl did not notice what the kids were doing on either occasion (she is so in love with her baby sister and often wants to show her off to people she meets) but it's only a matter of time before she becomes aware of baby's differences and other kids teasing. I don't know how to handle these situations. I feel so hurt and angry. I have ignored the kids in both instances but I feel like I'm letting my girls down by not reacting. Does anyone have any smart "zingers" I can use on kids in future to encourage them to grow a conscience?

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answers from Redding on

I think it's best to school the offending children. Once they know what it is they will be educated and will probably treat the next special needs child a little more wisely. Take the time to let them know what's goin on.

2 moms found this helpful

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answers from Lynchburg on

Hi J.-

First of all...BIG HUGS to you and both your kiddos!

I remember when shannon was a baby...she had a trach...feeding tube...O2 requirement...and had had several heart surgeries as well. I felt stares wherever we went...and the audible whispers. I often felt like I wanted to have index cards to pass out on her history! lol

I am somewhat up front and open by nature...and found that if I initiated a conversation...particularly with kids...and explained on their level some of her went a LONG way to understanding on their part.

When she first went to 'regular' kindergarten, I made a point of asking the teacher for some 'time' with her classmates during the first week of school to 'share' some things about shannon...some 'signs' (as in sign language)...what and 'why' of the trach...the feeding tube...why she looked 'blue'...I was amazed by their collective understanding of 'heart' issues...and their compassion for shannon.

A few years shannon migrated to a 'special ed classroom'...I was touched as a troop of brownies marched by us on the sidelines of a parade on our little main street. All of the sudden there were kids I did not recognize calling out to/for shannon! I am weepy thinking on it...

I would not be inclined to throw out a 'zinger'...but rather seize the moment to share the journey YOUR little one has been on.

And, for what it is worth...I too worried about how her siblings would feel about shannon as they (and she) got older. They ALL (to include her twin) love and adore do their respective friends. She is a gift that teaches volumes...with very few words...

Your little one is as well!!

Best Luck!
Private me if you like!

14 moms found this helpful


answers from Charlotte on


12 moms found this helpful


answers from Pocatello on

You could say something to the effect of 'My beautiful baby was born with some special challenges to overcome. I love her very much and I will not let anyone make fun of her or laugh at her.' Use a firm, teacher-like voice and give that disaproving stare that you may remember getting form your 6th grade teacher when you talked in class or forgot your hiomework. ;) Best of luck to you and your little ones!

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

I don't think what you need is "zingers" I think you need to look at it as an opportunity to educate these little people.

Kids know what they are taught. They probably are unfamiliar with Downs.

How about calling them over and saying: "This is Sara. She has Down Syndrome. Do you know what that is?" And open up a dialogue on kid-level about Downs and explain her G-button and explain that the scars are from open heart surgery.
99% sure the kids will be fascinated and will have some questions for you!
The way you deal with this now will set the tone for the way your daughter deals with it in the future, so please understand that, yes, kids can be cruel (maybe they've not been taught any better) but with some knowledge under their belt, they may think twice abut making a comment to anyone else.
Good luck!

8 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

I'm sorry that this happened to you- kids have no filter and can really be cruel.

I know it's difficult to hear people make comments, but "zingers" on kids simply don't work. First, they don't understand them and second... um... you're the adult. I would encourage you, though, to take the opportunity presented as a "teachable moment".

Have those kids "repeat" what they said to you and ask them why they would say something like that (not in an angry tone, but a true question). Then in one or two sentences explain that your little one has a condition called Downs Syndrome and that it's something she was born with, not something to make fun of her for. Explain that she's a child like any other who likes to play and that it is hurtful to you when you hear someone tease her. Ask them how they would feel if someone made fun of them for something that was part of them, like their hair color or their height.

I used to care for a boy with Autism when I was in grad school. When other kids would make comments about his stimming and "robot language", this is what I did. Honestly? With MOST kids- once you give them the "reason", they truly stop. There are, of course, those jerky kids who don't care but you can't do much about that.

I won't pretend that I was always "saintly" in my responses... but those "zingers" were reserved for adults who truly should have known better. I did "unleash the fury" on one adult who made a comment about my Michael being a "rude kid" b/c he didn't "look him in the eye and say good morning". Really? My response was not controlled, nor was it kind- nor did I apologize. In my defense, Michael was rocking, stimming and holding my hand (he was 12 at the time)- and this man didn't think there was something going on?

Don't react- respond. It's different. If you "react" you are showing your older daughter that there is something about your baby that needs defending, which isn't true. There's something wonderful about your baby that needs explaining to people- try to stay calm and remember that some people are a$$ho*es, but most people aren't and most kids aren't- once you tell them a reason.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

You need to nip that behavior especially if it is aimed at your sweet baby. The minute they pointed, I'd have said, "Oh, do you have questions?" "Do you want to know why she looks different?" "Do you know about Down's Syndrome?"
My dear childhood friend was born with one leg and has had a prosthesis her whole life. She was open and honest and actually hysterical when she told kids about her leg. She is an olympic skier and she still gets stares and whispers - even on the mountain where she is most at home!!
Kids need to be informed not zinged... although once in a while, a good zinger might feel better! :-)
Children need to learn tolerance for others and the sooner they do, the better our world will be. You have the perfect opportunity to teach the little thugs of the world that people look or act different, but they are indeed still people with thoughts and feelings.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Sioux City on

Congratulations on you beautiful baby. In my family we know that those little ones are Saints on earth. They are the closest to God. Our daughter with downs pasted away and we miss her dearly. My children would adore your child.

We believe that those that don't understand the value of such a special child are to be pitied. It is them that are in need of help because they are so undereducated that they don't understand the specialness of the beauty of life. Your family was specially chosen to care for a child most dear to Christ.

I wouldn't bother zinging them. They are the ones that we should feel the most sorry for.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

Personally, I would use times like that to teach the other kids. I would walk over to them and kindly explain to them the truth about your sweet baby and all she has been through. Tell them you think she is a miracle and it is amazing she is alive and doing so well and that from now on they should think first before laughing or teasing someone because they do not know the situation. They might look completely this kindly and tell them you know they did not know but to think about it for next time. I can see my 7 year old son being silly with his friends and maybe doing something like this (completely not knowing that there is something wrong with the baby). When he is with his friends they just get goofy and go overboard with everything. If you explained to him all your baby has gone through he probably would be so upset with himself he would cry. But it would be good for him. (Actually, he might not do this bc we talk about how there are all kinds of people and he has had disabled kids in his class but I can see how this would be possible for a child his age who has not been taught about differences.) PS - my son would not get a zinger. He often does not get sarcasm and things go over his head.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

My mom was disfigured when she was 18 (her eye was severely damaged and she is half blind.) She taught me early on that when children stared or made comments, she never reacted with anger. She knew they did not know better and that they were curious. Save your zingers for the adults, because they do know better, or should, and are simply being cruel.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Tell them that "God made her special, just like He did you."

He really did, you know ✿

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

I was baby sister to my older sis who had special needs. First as a fellow mom, I am so sorry this happened, it would break my heart to hear either of my children made fun of. I think with children, if they are close enough to talk to I would ask "why do you say that?" and see what they say. If they are little you have to keep in mind the nature of a child. Like my four year old will call his baby brother 'stinky poopy butt', and laugh and laugh. I mean of course I correct this and in the next instance he will be kissing and loving his baby bro. Kids call each other stupid names and making fun is something that they hate to have done to them but do to each other and others quite often. So while it is particulary offensive that they would do this to a little baby with special needs, in a weird way you can see that they considered your child 'normal' enough to pick on, not making it ok of course! So this is why I say I would ask 'why would you say that' and then they may say a reason or just laugh. Then just tell them the truth. 'It hurts peoples feelings when we don't say nice things' 'would you like someone to say you look like you don't have a brain, and laugh about it?'. If they are little they will say no and have some small revelation that this was not good. They may even talk with you more about your daughter bc children are loving, when you get past their little snot attitudes. I would personally just go in mom mode, kids don't get sarcasm and are very teachable. If they were older I would say 'it is very ugly to make fun of a small baby, I don't think your parents would be too happy about this!' And I might go and tell the parents. Again I am sorry, I know how stares etc can feel. As I got older with my sis, I tried to be very open to children about her issues. She LOVED children! Your little one sounds like a doll and will probably be one of the most loving people you will ever know and she has already proven herself to be a tough little fighter :D I love downs kids/adults they are the sweetest and often most real people on the planet. Wish you the best and hang in there!!

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

Its hard! We brought our daughter home from Ukraine at 3.5yrs old. She has Cerebral Palsy and she didn't walk. Now she does, but she walks funny, she puts her arms up for balance, she wears leg braces and kind of stomps when she walks. So yeah, people notice. I usually smile at kids who are staring and if I hear comments I will make eye contact so they KNOW I heard them, and am more than happy to answer questions or educate. One time, a little boy kept coming over to her on the playground and getting right down by her leg braces (they are bright yellow!) and finally about the 4th time over he reached over and knocked on them, and then he was off, satisfied with it. LOL

My boys are 9 and almost 6, and of course they know their sister has special needs (we talked a LOT about her needs before we traveled to bring her home). My 9yr old has aspergers so his responses are generally very educational. My 6yr old is pretty straightforward (think 'She has cerebral palsy and her legs don't work right, whats it to ya?') But they are pretty well versed on how to answer questions, and they are both very respectful and honest.

I would teach your daughter starting right now about special needs, how her sister is special and that others sometimes don't understand. Doing it now will make it easier when she DOES hear it, so she doesn't get blindsided and hurt.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Lincoln on

I love J.'s answer!!!! These kiddos don't understand as many kids haven't seen a child with special needs if they do not have one in their own family. I like the idea of seizing the moment to explain to them that she is special and that she has had some things to overcome in her lifetime.

My son has a G button that hopefully will come out in a few months after him having it for 6 years! Before that it was an NG tube that was in his nose. I had lots of questions and I simply stated that I was so happy for it as it kept my little man alive and healthy.

Congratulations of your little gift from God. :-)

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

This is an opportunity to teach other children about how we are all different. I have a son with autism and one time a beautiful little redhead on the playground told my daughter, your brother is stupid. She told her that he has autism and about how he doesn't play or speak or answer questions like other kids. And I think I used her red hair to illustrate how we all are different. I asked her do you know what autism is? I was fairly brief in my explanation and told her to ask her mom about it. These are all teaching opportunities.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Des Moines on

HI there,

Well that must be very frustrating and hurtful for you, I have an autistic older brother who is perceived as 'different' to everyone else! I think you handled the situation well as the adult you have to have a thick skin. Don't be afraid to chastise these children but it probably won't sink in for them, but hey it might make you feel better. Your daughter will learn quickly to be protective over her sister against others that don't understand. Everyone is special and wonderful in this world and your baby girl is just a little piece of heaven that has been sent down to you :)

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

i think it depends on the age of the kids involved matters. I get the instinct to "zing" them... but if they are younger they may not know better. Younger kids are naturally curious and do not know how to express themselves well. it does not excuse the rudeness or make it easier for you...
If their parents are not around to correct them i would do as others have suggested and educate them and teach your daughter to do the same as she gets older.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Pueblo on

I'm so sorry to hear that this is happening! I've often wondered how to handle my son's questions about anyone who looks different than he does. He's never said anything cruel, but his curiosity has been embarassing. I would love a tactful, on-the-spot response. I've been telling him, "Sometimes we meet people who look very different on the outside, but all kids are special. Let's remember that it's important to try and be a good friend to everyone."

I would add that it's not enough to let your child know that we're all different, have different strengths and weeknesses, sometimes differences and challenges are not visible, etc. just once. I started talking to my son about these things at age 2, and at that age, he was quite literal. I think I talked to him about Downs, but he happened to meet an amputee. He wasn't able to extrapolate anything from the lesson he had just learned, and we had to have another "amputee-specific" talk. He's 5 now, and I still have "reminder talks" with him on occasion.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Des Moines on

I think Heidi F has the best answer. I'd be SO tempted to stomp on the rude kids but I'd be afraid I'd accidentally squash a kid who's just curious and WANTS to be educated but doesn't know a polite way to ask....

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Fort Collins on

You got a lot of responses from people that do have kids with disabilities.I do not have a child with disabilities but i agree that the children need to be corrected ,They just do not know any better and really do think it is funny not realising how hurtful they laugh is to not only you but your poor baby too.And believe me i know since i was that child and i wasn't even little i was about 12 years old. Here is my story....I was making fun of a child(around my age) that couldn't walk very well .I even encouraged my brothers and sister to make fun of her too.The girl cried and run to her mom while we were still all making fun of her.Her mom talk to my mom and my mom just apologised for me.I thought great i am off the hook and didn't care too much about having just hurt that poor girl.Her mom tought my mom was wrong to not make me apologised myself so i do realised how much i hurt her daughter.The other mom did make me apologised to her daughter and look in her eyes.It was really hard to see all the sadness that I CAUSED in the girl's eyes. Then she proceeded to tell me why her daughter is walking funny .She was blind from one eye and a little mentally challenge And why she was blind .
The mom told me that some kids while making fun of her went too far and also threw a tiny rock at her that just happened to hurt her eye.Wether this story was true or not it did work on me.She then proceeded to tell me that it was ok to noticed a daughter as she is indeed different and that as a child it was ok for me to ask questions about her daughter and that next time i should not laugh at an handicaped person but helped them as they life is already hard enough.
As a child it was awful to go through being so scolded by a stranger and being forced to realised the hurt that i did indeed caused that poor girl just with my words But as an adult i am so thankful to that woman to have take the time to parent me and explain things as i never made fun of un handicap person or child again and i am 35 now with 4 kids.And it even carries to my children (this is mainly why i am so thankful i think thanks to her i can teach my children to respect other and not laugh at them as i do now know that laughing at can really hurt),I do teach them (thanks to this mom i think ) to not make fun of other in general as it is hurtful to everybody anyway but even more so may be for the ones that are already different. Hope this help.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chattanooga on

Some of the kids may do it to be mean and others just don't know any better.. I have found little kids will say what they see regardless of how it sounds .. sounds like normal behavior for that age just tell them your baby is unique

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Congratulations on your little miracle, and bless her little heart for going through so much!

You handled the situation so well. I know they're only kids, but REALLY to point, laugh and make comments is unacceptable! My son knew better at 2 years old not to treat people with special needs in such a way. I'm sure their mother would be horrified if she knew what they were doing! I would take that "opportunity" to ask their mother if she would mind if you shared about your daughter, because they were pointing and laughing. I think she would be appreciative for your understanding and help in explaining.

One of my very close friends has a medically fragile special needs son (he's 6). It is visually obvious and he acts out because he can't talk, has a colostomy bag, central line and is small for his age, but very cute! She surprises me with how patient she is with the curious staring people. I know people feel compassion and all that good stuff, but you can't help but to think...c'mon I see you looking, now stop ....or smile, ask if you're that curious or something other than stare :)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Part of that has to do with age. My 4y tends to point out everyone's differences. I try to respond with something positive about that person's differences.

I have CP and have had many braces, surgeries, etc. The muscles of my left leg are atrafied because I didn't do therapy like I was supposed to. So I look like I have a peg leg. I call my surgery scars my 'life scars' or my 'battle scars'. They are part of me. I can't change them, I can't hide them all the time. I only wear shorts when its REALLY hot!

I would respond to kids, ones that are older and should know better, with a 'been there, where've you been' attitude. When they laugh about her eyes, just respond with 'well, maybe she's trying to look behind you.'

I have found that the more you are 'out there', and the more commonplace you and your differences become, you'll create a group of defenders and those that are new or rude will be the ones with the problem.




answers from Denver on

Hi J.,

I have worked with many different disablilties over my adult life. My specialty is spinal cord and brain injury but have often worked with adult and children with MS, MD, DD, Autism, Spina Bifida, CP, Downs... lots of different things.

I have found so many children are curious and just want to ask questions. It is up to us as adults to educate them, as their parents likely dont have children with a disablilty. It is hard to explain to your own child whats going on with another when you dont know yourself.

My suggestion is when another child looks at your baby girl, invite them over to meet her, let them know it is ok to ask questions and show them that just because she is different on the outside, she is the same inside and that she deserves a chance, just like they do.

Parents of Able Bodied children, seem to often unintentionally instill a fear of the unknown into their kids by yanking them away when they see someone who is in a wheelchair,has a visual difference or even someone who is blind, deaf or missing a limb. I always get frustrated and try to point out that differences are not contagious. They both need to know, it is OK to ask questions and you should be OK to answer those questions. It will be difficult at first but as time goes on, you will find it gets easier and you will actually enjoy teaching others about how incredible and special your little one is.

Please keep in touch and know I am here for you if you need someone to talk to



answers from Kansas City on

I am so sorry you have to deal with situations like this. I can sympathize a bit. My 3 sons were all born with bilateral cleft lip and palate. My 2 1/2 year old has had his lip repair and palate repair so far with a few more surgeries to go. he has two scars on his upper lip and he has a bad overbite which will be corrected eventually. my 8 month old twins have had their lips repaired and their palate repair surgeries are scheduled in november just after their first birthday. Especially before their lip repairs people would stare. When it's kids it doesnt bother me much because they just dont know or understand. I try to explain in the simplest way possible when they ask questions. It really pisses me off when adults stare or talk behind their hands. we had our oldest at Kohls when he was a few months old and there were 2 employees, at least in their early 40's, who were just open mouthed staring at my son with weird looks on their faces. i really wanted to go up and yell at them but my hubby talked me out of it. You are not letting your girls down, especially in that situation it is hard to know how to react or what to say.

We are going to visit my family later this week and most of them will be meeting my boys for the first time. most of my cousins have kids at various ages and i am trying to think ot some good "zingers" as well, lets just say some of my family are very Jerry Springer like. I wish I had some good advice to give you but I dont. I just wanted you to know it happens to us too.


answers from Fort Collins on

I am sorry to hear about this happening to you. I do not have any advice, but I just wanted to offer my support.

My son is very curious and he often asks questions about people that are different. My response was that we are created from a set of instructions that we get from our parents and each set is different.... not better or worse, just different. We have also talked about how boring it would be if everyone had the same set of instructions and looked the same.

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