Teaching children empathy and teaching disability awareness is a very important even if there isn’t anyone in the family living with a disability. Usually, this talk takes place after a situation in public where your young child has pointed to a person in a wheelchair and asked loudly “Mommy, why does that lady sit in a chair all the time?”.
Many parents will find this situation embarrassing and uncomfortable, but it’s natural for kids to be curious about people who are different from them – and it’s up to us to teach them kindness and empathy in this regard.
If you’ve yet to have this chat with your kids, here’s how to go about it.
Don’t Scold Your Child
As mentioned, curiosity is natural and it shouldn’t be discouraged. Instead of quickly ushering your child away from the person with a disability, take the opportunity to give them a matter-of-fact explanation as to why the person with a disability is different. For example, “The lady battles to walk like you and me, so the wheelchair helps her to get around and do everything that she wants to do. Isn’t that wonderful?” This kind of explanation drives the message home that there’s nothing shameful about having a disability.
Use the Right Terminology
By teaching your child correct terminology from an early age, you can help them feel confident about interacting with persons living with a disability as they grow. “Person-first” language is generally favoured by most persons living with a disability. Here’s a helpful breakdown of how this approach to terminology works: https://bit.ly/2VCSFrQ
If your child can relate to a person living with a disability, they are more likely to feel empathy towards them. So, for example, when explaining why the lady is using a wheelchair, also point out how she has beautiful, long hair “just like you” and is buying dog food so she must have a dog “just like we do!”.
Talk about Bullying
Teach your child about cruelty and how bullying can hurt a person living with a disability. Encourage them to stand up for anyone who they see going through something like this and that you, as their parent, will not tolerate bullying on their part of ANY form.
The main thing to remember is that it’s up to us to teach our children how to be kind and how to see people’s strengths instead of their weaknesses. Start from as early an age as possible and your child is bound to grow up to be respectful, empathetic and caring towards everyone, regardless of whether they have a disability or not.