​Dealing with Difficult Situations

Posted by Nurse Linda in Life After Paralysis on July 29, 2020 # Caregiving, Lifestyle

Protecting children is the responsibility of all adults. When your child is the target of insensitive people, the shock can be devastating. The situations presented here are just some samples of experiences with possible solutions. It is horrible to feel you must be mentally prepared to guard your child from the verbal harm of others but that is a reality for all parents, even for ourselves. You might have some additional ideas about how to handle difficult situations. Please feel free to add them as a comment. We all learn from your thoughts. kids posing

People Say the Most Horrible Things

Why people feel they must comment about every single thing in life is a change in attitude from past years. Previously, people would keep their negative thoughts somewhat to themselves but today, everyone has an opinion about everything. They also feel the need to share their thoughts with random others. This can happen to anyone adult or child, but it happens more frequently to individuals who have something perceived as dissimilar about their being.

Given the aggressive climate of the day, it is probably best to just ignore the offending person or persons. The last thing you want is to get into a match with a person who is shouting things at you or your child. You do not know about the mental stability of someone who would behave like this. In either case, it is best to just physically move out of range and continue about your business.

Sometimes, people you know might say something unkind. This can be out of ignorance or just curiosity. You do not owe anyone an explanation about you or your child’s situation, but if you know the person, this is a great learning opportunity for them. They probably did not even realize they were acting inappropriately but once it is explained that they are being hurtful, people you know will typically not repeat the same situation.

School can be a difficult setting for all children. If you go to a particular venue such as school, religious setting, a park, or any usual area where you know people, you can set the stage for your child. Talk to parents and, if comfortable, other children to provide as much or as little information about your child. You might note that they have a unique walk or talking style, use adaptive equipment or other needs. It is not anyone’s business that you discuss the specifics of their healthcare or prognosis, toileting abilities, etc. Just saying they have healthcare needs is enough. You and your older child can decide how much information will be made public.

If someone asks why your child uses a wheelchair, a suitable answer can be because they got sick or got hurt. It is up to you and your older child to decide the amount of information that is necessary for the public. I had one dad who talked to his child’s friends after a surgical error. He told them to just tell his child that they look good or have a pretty smile or other things you might say to a little girl. The kids were great with this. They did have questions for the dad, but they were actually quite relieved that someone took the time to tell them appropriate behaviors. Children need to learn about appropriate behaviors. The friends had not been in this situation before. They liked the input.

Family members can be a challenge. Many families are built on hierarchies. Sometimes, it is difficult for a senior family member to not be in control of a situation even if they know nothing about it. Not many people have experience with spinal cord injury. If you are worried about how a family member might react to your child, talk with them ahead of time. Most family members want to be a part of children’s lives so providing a heads up or even getting them involved with physical care can be a benefit on many levels. If someone gives your child a toy that is not in their ability range, thank them. Toys can usually be adapted appropriately with a little time and thought.

Making the world a healthy place can be a challenge for any parent. We all are confronted by situations that are uncomfortable. Staying steady in your response will make the situation less stressful for your child as they will see you modeling a matter of fact behavior. Responding negatively to stressful situations can make your child feel responsible which is something that none of us want to do.


Use of adaptive equipment can be a challenge in that it is not something other kids have. Children, especially teens, never want to be viewed as unlike. Sometimes people will comment on the cute little wheelchair. Actually, it might be cuter that standard issue if it is decorated as a Disney character. However, in this case, people sometimes comment on all the cute things just because they are smaller in size. If this is offensive to you, just comment that it is good way to get around. Again, using less is better might be your approach. A softer approach will not be so defensive in interpretation. It is a subtle teaching approach.

Some people will want to play with the adaptive equipment. These are not toys, but devices to help make your child’s life more functional. Not understanding the use of adaptive equipment and playing with it can lead to damage. Let’s face it, that equipment is expensive and probably won’t be replaced if broken. Again, this is a time to ask them to stop. Explain that the equipment is not a toy but used for functional ability.


Children come in all shapes and sizes. With spinal cord injury, your child might be thinner than other children since feeling full can be a challenge to eating. Spasticity also uses a lot of calories. On the other hand, some children tend to be larger in size because they need the calories to feed their bodies and brains but use less energy through movement.

All children with SCI should be evaluated by a dietician to ensure they are getting the nutrition required for their health. But comments about size are unnecessary. In this size conscious world, it can be difficult to not have the same body type as others. A response, should you feel you even need to address it, is to say your child is the best size for them.

Disciplining your Child

Learning about social behavior is taught to all children. It is the same issue if your child has a spinal cord injury or not. Children are not born to know how to behave in social situations. Babies and toddlers want something, they just demand and take it.

Reprimanding a child with different functional abilities is the same as for a child without. Consistency is the key. Parents and caregivers should be following the same guidelines for how they want to raise the child with or without a spinal cord injury. Children and teens like knowing the rules of behavior. They will test them and challenge the parent but when there is an understanding, everyone knows the boundaries.

Know your child. You might be informed by a teacher or someone else that you child did something. When you know your child, you will have a pretty good idea about the situation. Still the issue needs to be dealt with fairly.

Know your child’s abilities. Do not punish them for an action they cannot control. For instance, a child kicking you due to an involuntary spasm should not be an offense. Deliberate harmful actions deserve discussion, an involuntary spasm does not.

Use rewards for great behavior and verbally correct them for poor behavior. Be sure your child is old enough to know the difference. Also, be age and developmentally appropriate. You would not expect your two-year-old to have the same right and wrong knowledge as you would your teen. Never punish with physical violence or withholding care or love. Even if you are upset with your child, you still need to provide them with the love and care they need in a safe and protective environment.

All parents will raise their children to their own standards. Some people are more forth coming with information that they share with others while other parents or guardians are more private. All of this is ok. You must be true to yourself as well as to the wishes of your child. Disciplining your child has the same challenges for all parents. Just remember to love your child and keep them safe. Nurse Linda

Linda Schultz, Ph.D., CRRN, a leader and provider of rehabilitation nursing for over 30 years, and a friend of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation for close to two decades. Within our online community, she writes about and answers your SCI-related healthcare questions in our Heath & Wellness discussion.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.