Prepare Your Child - And Yourself
First: do not minimize limb loss. While our natural reaction may be to reassure (“It’s fine; everything will be ok”), the reality is that life will be quite different for children who are experiencing the loss of a limb. Regardless of the reason (e.g. trauma, illness, congenital condition), they will go through an adjustment period that, most often, involves physical, occupational, emotional, and/or psychological therapies. They will also encounter changes in how people interact with them, at least initially.
Some common questions a child will ask (or wants to ask) about limb loss include:
- What do I do? How do I work this thing?! On a very practical level, children need to know what their life looks like after limb loss and, if applicable, how a prosthetic device works. How do they put it on? Take it off? Take care of it? How do they complete normal activities, like getting in and out of a car, walking on various terrains, taking the stairs, etc.? Your medical, physical therapy, and prosthetic appliance team can help you navigate these issues.
- Will I be able to do what I want and play with my friends? “Play” can mean everything from going down the slide at recess to participating in gym class to playing in the soccer or baseball league. The best option is always the truth. The good news is that children who have lost a limb can adapt and take part in virtually any activity they want. It takes some training and practice at first to build up their strength and dexterity and to learn how to function with a prosthetic, but there is no reason they cannot do what their peers do. So, yes; they can play - whatever that means to them.
- Will I get hurt again? This is a heartbreaker. When a child in your life experiences limb loss, the last thing you want to think about is more pain or more extensive injuries. And again, the answer depends on your child and their condition, If, for example, they were in an accident and lost a limb because of trauma, there is no statistical evidence to suggest an increase in injury risk as long as they have proper training with their prosthetic. Of course, there are no guarantees in life, but limb loss doesn’t mean your child cannot participate in normal activities.
- How will people treat me? This is an incredibly difficult question to answer. Because you don’t know - and because you don’t want to think that anyone would be dismissive, unkind, or cruel to your child. Again, be truthful: prepare your child and tell them that some people may stare, point, or make comments. Explain why they do this: it is often out of curiosity (often in the case of young children), confusion, or fear.
Treat this as a chance to educate and normalize limb loss. If your child is able and comfortable, encourage them to answer questions. Most kids in their class or peer group will listen and say, “Oh, ok.. So… wanna play Fortnite later?” Speak with your child’s principal and teaching team. They can develop a plan to help your child - and their classmates - adjust.
Adults can be harder. Many express sympathies; some just want the details. Prepare your “statement,” so to speak: decide what you are comfortable sharing with the public and casual acquaintances. Beyond that, develop an answer to shut down invasive questions: e.g.“My child is just fine, thanks. I’ve got to go and play catch with her”
We know this is just as hard on you as a parent or caregiver. We hate to see children in pain, whether physical or emotional. Do not hesitate to get help for yourself so you can better assist your child.
- Can I still be an athlete/doctor/lawyer/teacher/actor/… Absolutely! Take some time to research professionals and famous people with limb differences. Aimee Mullins, for example, is a Paralympic record-breaker, actress, model (for Alexander McQueen no less!), and advocate. Both her legs were amputated below the knee when she was an infant, but she didn’t let that stop her. As a Georgetown University student, she competed in NCAA Division 1 track and field… while double-majoring in history and diplomacy.
There are many other exceptional role models out there to help encourage your child… with and without limb differences.
- Will you help me? This is a question that even more bold children are unlikely to ask. But it’s one that they need an answer to. Show them that you are there for them, that you will answer questions to the best of your ability, that you will ask doctors/therapists/experts for help, that you will do what is necessary to ensure they adjust and live a healthy, active, happy life.
And help them by treating them like kids! Hug them, kiss them goodnight, put them in time out, read books with them, bake cookies with them, make them do their homework, etc.
Limb loss is a big deal. It’s life-changing. But at the same time, they’re “normal” children. They may not like being told to go to bed, for example, but (deep, deep in their hearts!) they’ll appreciate being treated like a regular, ordinary kid
Hopefully, your child will have a lot of questions. This shows that they are interested in and engaged in adapting to life with limb loss. The more questions, the better! We know you won’t always have the “right” answer. Do your best, and get help from your medical and prosthetic appliance team. The most important words are supportive truth, and the most reassuring messages are hugs, kisses, and repeated requests to turn down the music, clean their rooms, do the dishes, or take the trash out - because when they have a limb difference, they’re still loud, messy, smart, talented, amazing kids. For more information, contact Orthopedic Appliance Company.