Parenting When You Have a Limb Difference: School-Age Children
by Amber Henson, on Aug 9, 2022
For many parents who have a congenital limb difference or a limb difference they acquired before their child was born, their child will know no other version of their parent. These parents are pretty much past the difficult points of carrying their child, getting them into strollers, or bathing them. But for parents who get an amputation when their child is older, or for parents with a congenital limb difference who start wearing a prosthesis after not having one before, they may find themselves in need of some help to get started.
Parents who have an amputation:
Going through the difficulties and pain of having an amputation can be hard enough on its own, but having to parent a child and help them cope with the changes can be overwhelming. It’s important to have a support system of your own set up, and hopefully some of that support system can provide care (emotional and otherwise) for your child. To learn more about how children are affected by their parent’s limb difference, please see our article Effects of an Amputation on Family Members.
Questions from your child:
If your child hasn’t had many questions about your residual limb before, reaching school age (five years and up) may be when they want to know more. Kristi Wolfgram, a member of our Arm Dynamics team and congenital amputee, told us that recently, her seven-year-old daughter, Aria (both pictured below), wanted to know why Kristi put on a donning sock before putting on her prosthesis. This is something that Aria has watched her mom do every day. But this day, Kristi took a little more time to try to help her daughter understand how the donning sock pulls her arm completely into the prosthesis so the device won’t fall off and will help it work correctly.
There are lots of children’s books about children with limb differences, though less children’s books available that feature adults with limb differences. You can find a list of books about limb differences in our article, Resources for Parents of Children with Upper Limb Differences or Limb Loss.
For children who are school age when their parent experiences an amputation, there will likely be many questions, including whether an amputation could happen to them. There’s no need to answer questions they aren’t asking, but do your best to answer the questions they do have in an age-appropriate manner – it will help to lessen their fear about the amputation.
Children never stop being curious, and as your child gains new friends, you’ll likely experience many different reactions from those friends (and their parents!). It may not always be easy to deal with awkward questions while in front of your own child, but answering in a calm manner can help your child know how to handle questions they may get when you’re not around.
Kristi has another piece of advice for new friends or strangers that may become friends: “For the most part I wait for kids (and adults) to ask questions. But if I notice they are looking at my arm, I’ll approach it very simply and move on. For example, ‘Does my arm look different than yours?’ They’ll nod or say yes. Then I say, ‘I was born without an arm, so I wear a prosthesis. An arm made just for me.’”
Adapting to the new prosthesis – for both of you:
Our patient Mandie Tavares has a congenital limb difference (that’s her and her daughter Scottie at the top of this article and below). As a child, she tried using a prosthesis and ended up not wearing it very much. Later, after she was married and had a baby, Mandie was driving when her daughter dropped something from the car seat to the floor. If she had a second limb, Mandie realized that she could easily pick up the item for her daughter without having to get out of the car. That’s when she decided maybe it was time to consider a prosthesis, especially since she knew the technology had advanced significantly.
Mandie: “When I first got my prosthesis, Scottie was a little taken aback by it, but then very quickly she was like, ‘This is awesome’. She likes to play with it. When we go to school in the mornings, if students ask me about it, she’ll jump right in and say ‘Well, it does this, and it does this. My mom’s got a cool robot arm.’ She loves it, she thinks it’s cool.”
Ideally, once you’re comfortable with your prosthesis, you’re able to do nearly everything a person with two sound hands can do. Be sure to demonstrate this to your children. Kristi again: “In the past Aria has said to me that activities or tasks are probably harder, or that I can’t do something because of my arm. I just let her know that I can do anything any mom can do. Some things might be a little harder or I just have to do them differently.” Here are some phrases Kristi finds herself using when trying something challenging:
- I got this!
- I can do it – just differently.
- Help me out, Mom’s arm isn’t cooperating. [“School age kids can be very helpful!”]
Unlike the first years of your child’s life, navigating the school years is less physically taxing, but there can still be challenges! Are you considering a prosthesis to help you on your parenting journey? Our team of prosthetists and clinical therapy specialists can help you learn more about the options available. All our centers are family friendly, and we’re happy to answer any questions that you or your children may have. Please contact us to learn more – or comment below with any thoughts you may have. Thanks for reading!