How to Talk to Your Children About Disabilities
While scrolling through a variety of articles on a Sunday evening, I stumbled upon an article by Lindsay Hutton about the importance of teaching your kids about disabilities.
Whether it’s a peer who is on the autism spectrum or a loved one with sight or hearing impairment, your child has probably had someone in their life with a disability that they definitely have questions about.
It is crucial to be well prepared to address your child’s curiosity and any questions regarding these disabilities as openly and honestly as you can.
Here are 6 tips to prepare you to talk to your children about people with special needs or disabilities when they come to you for answers.
Its Ok to Notice
Children, especially younger ones, are naturally very curious. So when they spot someone with a disability, their first instinct is to ask about it. When you notice your child staring at someone with a disability, start the conversation with them. However, remember to avoid a detailed explanation with a lot of emotion. A short, to-the-point explanation should be able to answer your child’s questions by showing them that the disabled person has nothing to be ashamed about.
For example, if you see a paralysed child in a wheelchair, you can say to your child, “I see you looking at that little boy in the wheelchair, and I am sure you might be wondering why he needs it. Just like we have legs to help us walk and move around, his wheelchair helps him move around. All our muscles work differently.”
Always keep your explanations positive. Explain that people need hearing aids to help them hear, and wheelchairs to help them move. Instead of saying they can’t hear or they can’t walk.
Use Respectful Terms
Kids are like sponges that absorb everything they hear. So it is important to watch what we say when talking about disability around children. Remember that words can hurt, hence it is important to not use terminologies to make someone feel alienated or less than anyone else. For example, you can avoid using words like “cripple”, “retarded”, or “midget”, and instead use phrases and terms like “wheelchair user”, “has a learning disability”, and “little person.” Don’t use the disability to label a person. It is always better to say, “a child on the autism spectrum”, instead of saying “an autistic child.”
Place Emphasis on Similarities
It is vital that your child learns that people with a disability are very similar to the rest of us in a lot of ways. They have feelings, enjoy having fun, love their families and friends, and have favourite sports and movies. Make sure to separate the person from their disability by telling your child how they and the person with the disability are more similar than they had imagined. Perhaps they both are the same age and enjoy watching football. Let them know that having a disability does not define a person.
Teach Them Empathy
Children are often similar. However, they are also distinctive in their own ways. Instead of telling your child that people with disabilities can’t do something, talk about their individual strengths. Teach your children to look for strengths in others instead of just focusing on their weaknesses. Learning empathy early on is an important life lesson. Ask your child how they would feel in the other person’s shoes and how they would like to be treated. Then ask them to treat the other person the same way they wish to be treated.
For example, if your child has a classmate with hearing-impairment ask them what their classmate is good at, then talk to your child about their own strengths and what they think could be their weaknesses.
Address and Stop Bullying
Children with a disability or with special needs are more easily targeted to be bullied by other children (and even adults). Make sure to talk to your child about why intentionally hurting another child’s feelings is wrong, and if they have done it they should apologise. It is very important for your child to know that people who look or act differently still have feelings just like them and deserve to be treated nicely with respect.
Treat their Devices with Respect
Ensure to teach your child to treat a disabled person’s medical device with respect and that those devices are there to help the person who genuinely needs them—they are not to be used as toys.
For more information about our award-winning, globally-recognised empathy workshop, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or WhatsApp +60182968828. Photo by Steven Libralon on Unsplash.