One of the many challenges of raising children is figuring out how—and when—to teach them certain things about the world. It’s important to equip them with the knowledge they need, but it’s not always easy to navigate delicate or complex subject matter. In addition to big talks about religion, race, and sex, teaching kids about disabilities is an important topic to cover.
Here are a few guidelines for teaching kids about disabilities.
Before teaching kids about disabilities, it helps to be informed yourself about disability-related issues. There are plenty of educational resources out there to help you navigate this terrain, perhaps none better than the magnificent Mr. Rogers. He said, “As different as we are from one another, as unique as each one of us is, we are much more the same than we are different. That may be the most essential message of all, as we help our children grow toward being caring, compassionate, and charitable adults.”
Well said, Fred.
The more we learn about disabilities and disability issues—and the more interaction we have with people with disabilities—the better equipped we are to teach our children.
Keep it Positive
How we talk about disability makes a big impression on our kids. Instead of harping on differences or negative aspects of disabilities, try to emphasize the ‘sameness’ Mr. Rogers was referring to. We’re all human beings with different skills, abilities, and circumstances. We all have obstacles to overcome.
Avoid negative stereotypes and outdated, offensive terms. Speak about disabilities in a straightforward yet positive, uplifting way. Focus on acceptance and emphasize the value of empathy and understanding.
Answer Any Questions
Your child may have some pointed questions regarding a classmate or someone else with disabilities they met. Be sure to let them ask what they want to ask, and give them straightforward answers. If you don’t know the answer to something, don’t be afraid to say you don’t know, or to seek out the counsel of a parent of a child with a disability.
It’s helpful to be prepared for common questions about why certain kids may talk, act, look, or behave differently, or why they have a disability in the first place. If your child has a classmate with Down syndrome, take some time to do a bit of proactive research to expand your own understanding.
The more children are able to discuss these matters with an informed, compassionate adult, the more empowered and equipped they’ll be to have respectful, positive interactions with people with disabilities from a young age.
Inclusion, Acceptance, and Learning
No amount of reading can serve as a replacement for actually getting to know people. Of course teaching kids about disabilities is important, but befriending someone offers a whole new level of understanding and empathy. Encouraging your children to befriend others who are ‘different’ than they are is a wonderful thing. You might find out they’re not so different after all.
As a parent, you can set a great example for your kids by how you interact with people and include them in your life. If you’re relaxed, welcoming, and friendly to people of all stripes, odds are your kids will be, too.
Teaching Kids about Disabilities Develops Empathy
There’s no ‘right’ way to teach your children about disabilities, and certainly no ‘correct’ age when to broach the topic. Every child is different.
The important thing is that we as parents take a proactive role in preparing our children to be respectful and courteous to everyone they meet. Teaching kids about disabilities is a great way to develop empathy and understanding, and to help put them on a path toward being compassionate adults.
Image Credit: Shutterstock