Michael and I were paid the most unexpected compliment last week. 

Charlie’s ECDP (‘special’ pre-school) teacher told me that she’s impressed by our positivity when we talk about Charlie. 

Now, we get quite a few comments along the lines of ‘you’re handling things so well’; ‘you’re doing a wonderful job’; ‘you take everything in your stride’; ‘I so admire the way you just get on with it’ and so on, and we appreciate every one of them, truly. 

In this case, though, I was wrong in assuming that’s what she meant.

Gayle is a lady with years of experience in special education. 

She loves her job, and really cares deeply about her students (or does a brilliant job of faking it, haha). 

She’s always interested in little breakthroughs or setbacks, changes in routine and diet, likes and dislikes – all the things a good teacher cares about and more, because her little charges each come with some extra challenges. 

I hear her every time I go to the school, patiently listening to parents talk about lunchboxes and drink bottles, clothes and toileting, splints, wheelchairs, calming techniques and medical issues.

The compliment Gayle was giving me was about the way we talk about those seemingly mundane things. 

She said that she had never heard us say ‘Charlie doesn’t like that’, or ‘Charlie won’t eat that’, or ‘Charlie can’t do that’. 

Instead, she told me that we would say things like, ‘It’s not her favourite thing but give it a go’, or ‘I’m sure she’ll enjoy it but she may need a little extra help’, or ‘we’re working on that’. 

In fact, she went on, the most negative thing she can remember hearing us say was that Charlie is allergic to something so she can’t have it, but she maintains that even then I said ‘We need to avoid those because of allergies, but Charlie loves these ones instead!’. 

Makes me sound like some sort of deranged Stepford Mum, doesn’t it?

After receiving this compliment somewhat awkwardly in the doorway of the school, I started to pay attention to the chitchat with some of the other parents. 

I was surprised I’d never noticed it before – there was a lot of unintended negativity in their conversations.  

Here are some of the choice ones I remember (names changed of course):

“Noah has vegemite sandwiches today, but he probably won’t eat them.”

“Sarah has juice in her drink bottle because I can’t get her to drink water.”

“Jamie doesn’t do slides.  His legs aren’t strong enough to stop him at the bottom.”

And some were even worse…

“Good luck getting her to go to the toilet.  I’ve given up at home.”

“Joe won’t stop sucking his thumb, so it’s a waste of time to try to get him to clap.”

I should point out that each of these parents seems to me a loving, caring, involved caregiver. 

I’m sure they’d be horrified to think that they were being so negative. 

However, their children were right there.  Within earshot. 

It’s not something I’ve ever given any thought to, but now that I am thinking about it, it seems so obvious. 

Self-esteem is as important for children as it is for adults, but their world is small.

Your children set their own expectations by yours. They base their self-worth on your opinion.

That goes for all children, not just the ‘special needs’ kids, and it’s a huge responsibility. 

My Mum and Dad always told me I was clever, that I could do anything I set my mind to. 

It’s this foundation that gives me confidence as an adult and I’m so grateful that I have it. 

Michael and I are lucky to have had this example set so well for us by our own parents that it comes naturally to do the same.

So… I’m going to do something I don’t often do with this blog. 

I’m going to offer advice, to those who perhaps aren’t as lucky as we are. 

I believe it, I stand by it, and I’m going to try to be more conscious of it myself:

Think before you speak.  Show your children that you have confidence in their abilities.  Tell everyone, and do it loudly where they can see and hear you.

It is the greatest gift you will ever give them.

It matters.

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