Growing up with limb loss or congenital limb difference will present your child with unique challenges. However, providing the right foundation for your child will ensure that they thrive as adults.
A recent study suggests that children with upper limb difference have better emotional health than their peers because they have to deal with more judgment than other children and have to learn to be better communicators.
By helping your child develop strategies to navigate their interactions with others and reinforce their self-esteem, you are laying the groundwork for this confidence.
Helping Your Child Make Friends & Manage Bullying
As your child interacts with other children and starts school, they will inevitably be faced with reactions to their limb difference. Young children are naturally curious, and many may ask your child many questions without realizing they are being insensitive. Some may stare or look away. Some children may outright bully your child.
Many of these children will end up becoming your child’s friends.
As parents, we all do our best to protect our children and help them develop into charismatic and well-rounded adults. The best way you can help your child is to provide them with a safe space to express their emotions and provide opportunities to develop emotional intelligence to manage their relationships better.
Here are some strategies to help lay that foundation.
8 Tips to Foster Healthy Emotional Development in Children with Limb Difference
- Keep the lines of communication open with your child. Don’t ask open-ended questions like “Did you have a good day today?” Instead, ask specific questions such as whom they met that day, whom they enjoy spending time with. If they act sullen, try asking them if they are being teased or made to feel excluded.
- If children are teasing your child, try sharing some of your childhood experiences related to teasing and how you overcame them. Contact your child’s teacher and principal so that the school is aware of the situation.
- Some children are more sensitive than others and may interpret curiosity as teasing. Encourage them to speak about how questions about their limb difference make them feel. Help them realize that we are all different, and our differences are what makes us strong.
- Help your child manage their emotional response to teasing. Teach them breathing exercises, or help them learn to recognize when they are getting angry and strategies to calm down.
- Humor goes a long way toward making friends and defusing teasing. Help them learn to laugh at themselves and awkward situations. You can also try working with your child to come up with jokes about their limb difference: “A shark ate it” or “You should see the other guy” are instant classics.
- Provide opportunities for your child to succeed, such as encouraging spending time with a good friend or participating in a hobby they are good at. Building up their confidence is one of the best tools they will have in making friends.
- When teasing turns into bullying, you will likely notice turbulent changes in your child. Maybe they are suffering academically, can’t sleep, or anxiety is causing headaches or stomach aches that they insist should keep them home from school. Encourage your child to speak about it to you or a teacher when it happens. If it becomes a pattern, it is essential for you to consult with your child’s teacher or principal to work out a solution.
Helping Youth With Body Image
All pre-teens and teens are undergoing puberty and can get hung up on their perception of their body. The teenage years can be a dreadful experience for someone with limb difference.
Many teens will want to wear clothes that hide their limb difference or avoid activities they used to enjoy such as sports where it would be on display. They may skip dances or other social events, even though you can tell they want to go.
Teens tend to distance themselves from their parents more and may lash out or even blame you for their limb difference. Despite this, you should always be as positive and supportive as possible when they are working through these powerful feelings.
Try these tactics to help your teen foster a healthy body image.
6 Tips to Help Your Teen With Limb Difference Have a Healthy Body Image
- Encourage daily affirmations (this is an excellent exercise for anyone). Start the day by listing something you are proud of in yourself, or something you are looking forward to. At the end of the day before bed, reflect on all the positive things that happened that day.
- Encourage your teen to express their feelings without judgment. Encourage them to be honest about their body image and help them work through their feelings.
- Encourage your teenager to do physical activities they enjoy; chances are they can do a modified version of a sport. For competitive sports, look to see if there are any local sports leagues for people with limb difference.
- Make sure your home is an open-environment for their friends to come over. Get to know them and foster their healthy friendships (while keeping an eye out for those “friends” who may not be the best influence on their self-esteem).
- Look into unique prosthetics that can be an extension of your child’s personality. There are 3D printable models online that are both cool and inexpensive to produce.
- Lead by example. Your child will always take a cue from the parents. Be sure not to openly judge other people’s appearances and always try to focus on the positive.
For more perspectives on growing up with a limb difference, be sure to read our interview with three women who speak to their childhood and adolescent experiences.
Camps and Sports For Kids with Limb Difference
One of the best ways to help your child learn to feel normal is to socialize with others going through the same situation. Camps and sports for children and teens with limb difference are designed to provide a safe space to enjoy fun activities without feeling different.
The Amputee Coalition has been running our annual Paddy Rossbach Youth Camp since 2000. This accessible summer sleepover camp hosts more than 120 campers from across the U.S. who enjoy a transformative experience in a safe space.
For modified sports leagues in your area, be sure to consult our comprehensive adaptive sports programs list.
Growing up with limb difference is not a handicap. With the right support and opportunities, children with limb difference will grow up with the same opportunities as everyone else.
For more information on helping your child with limb difference both physically and emotionally, contact us at The Amputation Coalition. Our mission is to provide support and advocacy for those with limb loss or limb difference to help them achieve their full potential.