Thoughts for Family and Friends
A new baby in the family is a joyous occasion. Parents of a baby with Down syndrome are no different than any other; they need love, support, and acceptance. Family, in all of its forms – grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins, friends – is the cornerstone of the support these special parents and their children need.
GUIDELINES FOR OFFERING SUPPORT TO NEW PARENTS:
Not everyone has experience with Down syndrome. A grandparent or a friend might not know how to react to the news. In general, the best course of action is to treat the new baby as you would any other. Pick up the baby, fuss over the baby, play with the baby. Sometimes you may not know the right thing to say, or worry 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 – or they may not believe in 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 people with Down syndrome and a statement like this demonstrates that you really don’t know much about Down syndrome.
- “Do they know how serious it is?” or any variation. This is also a demonstration of a lack of knowledge about Down syndrome.
- “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.
THINGS TO SAY – These are the things parents have found comforting or made them feel good:
- “Congratulations.” They just had a baby! What better response to show that you love them and their baby than to say congratulations. Parents tell us that this makes them feel like “normal” parents when someone said this to them. Simply put, treat the birth with the same joy, acceptance, and celebration as you would any other.
- “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. This reinforces the family connection and, is after all, a statement often heard at the birth of a child.
- Tell them what you have learned from the RMDSA website and share the resources you’ve identified. It shows love and concern for the baby and demonstrates your desire to be informed and involved. Visit our Down syndrome 101 page for more facts about Down syndrome.
- 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 issues. 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 differently-abled.
- “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.