Amputee Coalition Fact Sheet

When a Parent Loses a Limb: Helping Children Cope

Web Development Fact Sheet

Last updated 2008 | Download PDF

Common Questions That Children Ask 

  • Where is your arm/leg? What happened to it? Did it break off? Be prepared to assist the child with an answer that is appropriate for his or her age or developmental level. Avoid giving children too much information, such as details about a complicated disease process or the amputation surgery.
  • Does it hurt? Pain is scary to children; the longer pain endures, the more frightened the child will be.  Talk about different types of pain in terms the child can understand. (Remember the time you burned your finger? Or the time you fell off your bike?) Remind the child that sometimes pain is short-lived; at other times, pain lasts for days, but, eventually, the pain gets better.
  • Can this happen to me? Alleviate fears by giving information that kids can understand. A child who hears that someone was asleep when his or her leg was removed may develop a fear of bedtime. Remember that your explanations need to be planned to avoid creating additional fears or anxiety.
  • Is this my fault? Younger children are egocentric; when things happen, they feel responsible. Make certain children know that they did not do anything to cause the amputation.

Things to Remember

  • Limb loss is not a punishment. However, if it was the result of an accident, you may want to talk about safety issues with the child at an appropriate time.
  • The child will not “catch” this. Hugging and touching are still safe and very important parts of healing for the entire family.
  • The parent is still Mommy or Daddy regardless of the limb difference. Talk about what is important. Daddy can still read a bedtime story, and Mommy can still brush your hair.
  • Things may be different. Mom may have to learn a new way to bake chocolate chip cookies, and Dad may not be able to walk the dog for a few weeks (or months).
  • Call upon the child’s natural desire to help. Tell the child he or she can be Mommy’s right hand until she learns to use the new one.
  • Explain the new words. Make a game out of spelling and pronouncing the words that have become a new part of your vocabulary, such as prosthesis, socket, limb, residual limb and prosthetist.
  • Avoid adverse reactions. Anticipate a child who may cry or scream in response to seeing a parent for the first time after limb loss or a child who may run from the room each time the prosthesis is removed. Explain the differences in advance to prepare the child. Show pictures of other people with limb loss (available from the prosthetist or therapist or inMotion magazine) to desensitize the child.
  • Focus on the similarities, but prepare gently for the differences. Have the child talk or write about his or her feelings.
  • Children are curious. Remove the mystery from the prosthesis by asking the prosthetist to spend time with the child, explaining the materials and components used. The child should be encouraged to manipulate the components.
  • If possible, have the child talk with other children whose parents have lost a limb.

It is not the intention of the Amputee Coalition to provide specific medical or legal advice but rather to provide consumers with information to better understand their health and healthcare issues. The Amputee Coalition does not endorse any specific treatment, technology, company, service or device. Consumers are urged to consult with their healthcare providers for specific medical advice or before making any purchasing decisions involving their care.

National Limb Loss Resource Center, a program of the Amputee Coalition, located at 900 East Hill Ave., Suite 390, Knoxville, TN 37915 | 888/267-5669

© Amputee Coalition. Local reproduction for use by Amputee Coalition constituents is permitted as long as this copyright information is included. Organizations or individuals wishing to reprint this article in other publications, including other World Wide Web sites must contact the Amputee Coalition for permission to do so.