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Bad Behaviour: Taking the sting out of someone else’s response

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Bad Behaviour: Taking the sting out of someone else’s response

By Meagan Ruffing

As the parent of a child who has special needs, I have been in many situations where people have meant well in their response to something but rather, left me feeling like a mess. I have learned a thing or two over the past eight years in raising my son and have come up with a list of thoughts and sayings to help take the sting out of someone else’s well-intentioned words. Take a look.

Scenario: Child is throwing a tantrum in store.

Child’s Response: As you know, this tantrum might be in response to a sensory overload and your child cannot process everything going on around him. Or, your child might be having an age-appropriate all-out tantrum because he did not get the toy he wanted. It happens. He’s a kid.

Well-Meaning Stranger: I say well-meaning because my first thought is that this person means well. I cannot choose how this person will respond but I can choose to believe they are coming from a good place. This mindset helps me with my response should they choose to say something to me or my child. Usually this person starts with the stare. The stare is when they are gawking, mouth open, no words coming out, and looking at the child and then at you as if to say, “What is wrong with your kid and are you going to do something about it?”

My Response: Depending on the situation, I either ignore the stranger and move on or I address the stranger with something quick-witted. Sometimes I say, “Can I help you? You’re staring.” This usually throws the person off and they don’t know what to say. The point is not to be mean or rude in your response, but rather, to bring attention to the fact that they may not realize their behaviour is in fact, mean and rude.

The truth is, a lot of people just don’t know. A lot of people just don’t understand why our children react the way they do and that’s okay. If all you’ve ever known is your own child’s reaction of things, it’s normal for someone to look at you as if they’ve just seen something out of the ordinary. It’s not normal for someone to shame you or your child for their behaviour. I usually don’t give these people the time of day unless they are authentic in truly wanting to understand why my child is having a hard time processing something.

Your job is hard enough in taking care of someone who needs extra help. It is not your job to educate others as well. You can if you want to. But your primary responsibility is helping your child live within the context of their life and setting them up for success. These situations are also teachable moments. My son and I have seen several instances where someone’s child was acting out of the norm and I have always used these situations to help him understand it’s not polite to stare and sometimes kids have a hard time explaining what they’re feeling. It’s been a great way to show him first-hand love.

One of the hardest things about raising a child with special needs is the feeling of being different; as the parent. There is no handbook in how you should react. There is no set of instructions on how to pick yourself up day-after-day from the stares, dirty looks, and comments. There is me, though, who is here to tell you it will be okay. The more acceptance and love and understanding you bring to the situation, the better off this world will be. And someday, your child will grow up and he will remember these moments. The moments when you held him close and whispered; “I love you so much” in his ear. Or the moment when he was hitting you and instead of yelling at him, you held him close and told him it was going to be okay. Or the moment when one of his friends left him out because they thought he was weird, so you distracted him by playing a game of football or Pokémon. You’ve got this mom. You’re doing a great job and you are exactly the parent your child needs.

You can get more uplifting and positive encouragement from parenting journalist Meagan Ruffing when you subscribe to her free newsletter at