Most families find the birth of a baby marks a huge change in their lives and brings with it a whole new range and intensity of feelings and experiences. Some of these changes can be difficult to come to terms with, particularly with the added difficulties of interrupted sleep and round-the-clock feeding. Having a baby with additional needs such as a cleft palate can put extra pressures on a new family. These feelings are very natural and understandable but they are not always easy to express. Families may welcome the opportunity to talk through their thoughts and feelings about having a child with a cleft and how it has affected their lives.
Your child’s development
The majority of children born with a cleft lip and / or palate develop completely normally. Common concerns with any preschool child include behavioural issues around feeding and sleeping, emotional worries, general development and settling into nursery and school. Parents of children with cleft lip and / or palate may have particular concerns about issues related to their child’s appearance. Clinical psychologists can work with families on any of these issues and, if appropriate, refer onto other services.
Helping your child develop
You can help your child by seeing them as a child like any other but with a cleft. Allow your child to experience and do exactly the same as all other babies and children.
If your child begins to look in the mirror a lot, ask what they are looking at. If they don’t reply, let things be. Ensure they know they can talk if they want to.
If people ask you about your child’s cleft, have a ready prepared answer, which is informative and emphasises your child as a child rather than someone with a cleft (using your child’s name can help with this). Strategies that some parents have found helpful include:
“It is just the way [child’s name’s] lip is, it’s ok, it doesn’t hurt.”
“You’ve noticed [child’s name’s] scar – they had an operation but now they are fine.”
- Changing the Subject
“It’s just the way [child’s name’s] nose is. He’s settled really well at his new school.”
“It’s just a scar from an operation. Have you ever had an operation?”
- Deflecting Questions
If you don’t feel able to give an explanation you could try:
“Thank you, [child’s name] is fine.”
“Sorry we’re having a really bad day and can’t talk just now.”
“I’d rather not answer questions at the moment.”
Alternatively, shake your head or ignore the question: Walk away / turn your body away, then look back and smile.
We have developed information booklets with further information about how to support your child to manage comments and questions or teasing and bullying , in relation to their cleft lip and /or palate.