There comes the inevitable day when your child begins to realize that not everyone is the same. It’s bittersweet, really. I love the innocence of interactions when children don’t know or care about looks or challenges others face. But growing kids can embrace other’s unique characteristics and rise to the challenge of caring for others. I’m specifically talking about differences in abilities here, though the same principles can apply to conversations with your kiddo about race or gender.
To introduce the concept of differently-abled individuals, my 3.5 year old and I watched this video from the National Down Syndrome Society. There are also a number of books on this topic. I have volunteered at Camp Barnabas through the years and my son and I have gone through my camp photos to admire the rainbow of society that comes together there.
I know some families do not specifically introduce the concept of special needs, instead allowing their children to figure out the topic as scenarios unfold. We happen to know a few friends who are differently-abled and my son has a tendency to be loud and bold with his words. I took it upon myself to play offense rather than defense, and allow Jack to be capable of kindness as early as possible. That being said, a gentle and topical introduction is pretty much all a small child needs.
We started out as the video did, with listing out ways Jack and his best pal are alike and different. For us, this mixed together with talking about our faith and how God made us. We talked about those differences being why it’s so easy to have fun together.
Then we talked about some specific differences. In the movie, Isabelle looks different but not all needs are visually apparent when you meet someone. I challenged my baby to always find the good in someone. Yes, people are different. How tremendously wonderful that we are not all the same. Yes, kids are hard to play with sometimes. Every child wants the same thing though- respect and acceptance.
We wrapped up our brief lesson with empowering connectedness. We talked about what Jack can do when he plays with any child… be brave and kind. Bravery is having no fear… we can all do hard things, and sometimes approaching a different or new friend is so scary. Kindness, though, is where we landed during our talk. We know some basic signs to help us communicate. We know how to smile and wave and be polite. We know patience if friends need more time. We talked through how to invite someone into Jack’s play or just considering other people in his daily interactions. Staring, pointing, or name-calling is never ok.
A simple follow-up to our lesson was a visit with a grocery employee at our nearby Kroger. There’s a young man that is differently-abled, and always asks Jack for high-five. We talked about how he could treat the employee instead of being shy. Confidence boosted, Jack was proud to interact with him. I was amazed at the social grace of my preschooler.
Mamas, we hold the power to open a child’s eyes to a world that is bigger and more beautiful than he knows. I’m not afraid to hope for a more tolerant group of schoolkids in the next generation. Imagine what a gift it would be if every kid in Dallas included each other.