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This one is about: Explaining the Cleft to Young Children

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Explaining the Cleft to Young Children

by Joanne Green

When a baby has a cleft, young children naturally want to know why the baby's lip looks different, and why the young child's lip had a scar. I have three cleft-affected children, and so this is not a challenge that is new to me.

What I have learned is to address their concerns with simplicity, honesty, positively, and age appropriately.

Basically, I have always steered away from framing the cleft in any negative sense. It is not a negative thing. (Neither a positive nor a negative - - just a fact of life - a challenge to be met). I tell them that when my child was born, it looked like his lip was broken - but it was not broken - - it just didn't grow together before he was born. I point out that we ALL had a cleft at one time, but for most of us, it grew together before we were born, and my child's did not - and so the doctor has to help it grow together by giving him operations. I explain that an operation is a big cut the doctor makes, and that any time you get a big cut, you get a scar from it - - and so that is why my child has a scar on his lip. Because the doctor needed to give him a big cut to help the lip grow together.

Depending on the age and level of the person I am talking with, I may ask them to rub their finger over their upper lip - - feel the lines between your nose and your lip? Those are your cleft scars. That is where your cleft grew together. Now run your tongue over the roof of your mouth. Feel a seam down the middle. That is your cleft scar. That is where your palate grew together. My child's did not. The doctor had to help it grow together, and that left a scar. Now the issues we deal with have a lot more to do with the scar tissue than they have to do with the actual cleft.

I personally try not to call the cleft an "owie" because kids consider Owies to be negative. Not only that, but the cleft did not hurt. The operation did, but the cleft did not.

I hope that helps. It is the approach I use, and I have always had extreme success with it.

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