HomeParentingAll Kids Might Not Do That, Actually

All Kids Might Not Do That, Actually

“All kids do that!”

A benign phrase, meant to imply shared experience and empathy, to support and diffuse worry. It often comes with a reassuring pat on the shoulder, and always emanates from a place of good intentions. Yet, despite having heard it hundreds of times, it sends a pang through me every time. “All kids do that” is in fact one of the least supportive comments you can make to the parent of a child with special needs. Here’s why. It can stop a person from seeking help.

Early on in our journey, I would fret about my child’s difficulty communicating, challenging behaviors or fixation on some seemingly bizarre object or routine. When people said, “Don’t worry! All kids do that!” I would be suddenly self-conscious about my anxiety, and quite frankly, question my parenting skills. If all children do this, why the heck can’t I deal with it? Furthermore, if all children do this, I guess seeking professional help is silly and overbearing? I can say with confidence that our son’s autism diagnosis would have come sooner if I hadn’t believed the amount of people who chalked his behaviour up to the “terrible twos” or simply being a boy. (Looking back: huh?) Disclaimer to worried parents: if all kids DID actually do that, chances are you wouldn’t be stressing so much. So go ask for help.

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Your kid might do that now, but he probably won’t be doing it in another 10 years. We all have shared parenting struggles. Potty training. Tantrums. Aggression toward siblings. Learning to walk. Inattention. Picky eating. Sleepless nights. Separation anxiety. For your typical kid, these are relatively short phases. For children with physical disabilities, developmental delays or mental health issues, however, these struggles can last a lifetime.

It brushes off a serious situation. Many parents of kids with special needs avoid unloading on their friends who parent typical children. When we trust someone enough to share the struggles we’re going through, we need someone to take the time to listen and understand, not disregard a unique experience by laying claim to something they can’t possible comprehend. Hearing “all kids do that!” not only undermines our experience but serves as a reminder that our kids are in fact not like all kids.

It’s a matter of degree. For sure all kids do some of the things our kids do, to some extent. All kids have tantrums, but they don’t all have meltdowns that have a dramatic impact on the entire family. Kids have sleep issues, but they aren’t up at 2:00 a.m. for the day. All kids can be shy, but they aren’t completely unable to find ways to interact with peers. All kids have trouble finding their words sometimes, but they aren’t non-verbal. These nuances matter.

Your kid repeats phrases from some annoying cartoon? I have a friend whose son’s main mode of communication is to echo phrases from Thomas the Tank Engine. This has been going on for years. We parents of kids with special needs don’t want to be competitive or anything, but seriously. Let us have this one.

I don’t want parents to come away from reading this feeling like they can’t say anything lest they offend. So I asked an online community of fellow parents of kids with special needs. They agreed wholeheartedly that “all kids do that” is just a heck of an unhelpful comment. What would they rather people say instead? I asked. So, here are their responses.

“Wow, that sounds hard. How can I help?”

“If you’re worried you should talk to someone.”

And finally, rounding out the top three, “Would you like a glass of wine?”

Well, I guess we’re not all so different after all.

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