Assessing your cleft lip and palate child's social interaction is emphasized at the Craniofaical Team of Texas because psychological problems stemming from a cleft lip and palate can go unidentified by a surgical team, and even parents, due to the often main focus of improving physical limitations and appearance following surgery for cleft lips and cleft palates.
Preparing Your Cleft Lip and Palate Affected Child for Social Interaction
Preparing your cleft lip/palate affected child for social interaction involves developing ways to explain his/her facial difference to peers and promoting a comfort level in your child about handling new and, at times, possibly uncomfortable situations. All parents desire that their children have a positive self-worth, and for parents with a child affected by a cleft lip and cleft palate, achieving this may require teaching additional social skills to enable the child to face certain situations that may arise. Being prepared and understanding his/her facial difference will help your child comfortably answer curious questions from peers and deal with any possibility of encountering the social stigma of cleft lips and cleft palates.
Socially preparing your child affected by a cleft lip or palate can include:
- Providing personal history: Help your child understand his/her journey through photographs. Include pictures before and after cleft lip and cleft palate surgery so that your child can see how his/her appearance has changed. Encourage your child to ask questions and openly discuss his/her concerns.
- Ensuring that your child understands the facial anomaly: Your child will be more comfortable answering questions about the cleft lip or palate if he/she has a good understanding of the condition. Be truthful and use age-appropriate words to prepare responses. When your child feels prepared, the element of surprise is removed. Social experiences will be easier when your child feels confident that he/she can talk about the cleft lip or palate when the subject does come up.
- Setting an example: Remember that how you as a parent respond to questions about the cleft lip or palate is your child’s example, so use proper terms in a positive manner in your social interactions, as well.
- Teaching your child how to handle negative interactions: Individuals with a cleft lip or palate may experience childhood teasing. Be sure that your child understands that teasing, while not kind, is a common occurrence amongst children, and that most children are teased about something at some point. Offer positive responses as an alternative to becoming angry or upset. Calm, firm rebuttals, such as “Please stop. I don’t like that,” can often defuse a situation. Let your child know that walking away to play with others is acceptable and generally stops the teaser. Some children use humor to ease tension. Whatever method your child chooses, be sure that he/she understands that teasing may be done out of lack of understanding of the facial difference rather than purposeful bullying. Helping your child differentiate the circumstances can help with handling the situation successfully.
Explaining Cleft Lip and Palate to Peers
When your child has a good understanding of his/her cleft lip or palate, explaining the condition to peers will be easier and more comfortable. Let your child know that questions about the facial difference are not bad. Most children will be curious about your child’s cleft lip/palate but not critical. Instill in your child an awareness that other children are typically kind and friendly and just want to understand.
Cleft lip/palate questions that your child may encounter can include:
- Does it hurt?
- What happened?
- Will it go away?
- Can I catch it?
Preparing your child to answer simple questions about his/her cleft lip or palate usually results in resumed play and a satisfied questioner. Let your child know that a lengthy explanation about the cleft lip or palate is unnecessary, and he/she can choose how much to talk about the condition. Simply telling peers that “I was born this way” and explaining that special doctors help with the conditions and it was nobody’s fault is often sufficient. As your child gets older, equip him/her with more detailed responses in preparation for giving more in-depth answers if he/she desires to do so.
Parents may want to engage in practice conversations about the cleft lip/palate. Role-playing is a fun interactive way to help your child feel comfortable talking about the facial difference with peers.
Once you’ve prepared your child to engage socially, resist being overprotective as a parent. Allowing your child to take risks and to face the social challenges of living with a cleft lip/palate can develop self-confidence and independence that will last a lifetime.
The Craniofacial Team of Texas (CTOT) is committed to meeting the needs of all our patients and their families through a multidisciplinary approach which addresses all facets of the condition we are treating and the health of each patient physically and emotionally.
If you would like more information about preparing your cleft lip and palate affected child for social interaction, please contact the Craniofacial Team of Texas by calling 512-377-1142 or toll free 877-612-7069 to schedule an appointment or complete an online appointment request.