We all hope to raise kind, thoughtful children who respect their families, their classmates at daycare, as well as their friends and neighbors. A great way to raise that child is to teach her to respect people who may seem very different from her. As your child grows older she is sure to meet a variety of different children, some of whom may have special needs. Talking to your child about respecting and understanding others with special needs will nourish her sense of kindness and tolerance, and will help to ensure a safe and respectful environment for all kids, regardless of ability. Our talking points may help you to get started.
First, help your child to understand that a child with special needs wants friendship and fun, just like any other kid. Is the autistic child in preschool sitting by the sidelines while others play a game? He may want to be invited into the circle, even if he may relate and communicate a bit differently than the other kids do. And while a child in a wheelchair may not play the same types of team sports as your kids, she can still play a modified game of tag or hang out to watch a movie and eat popcorn. Ask your kids how they might feel if they had a hard time making friends at preschool, and encourage them to make the experience easier for others.
Remind your child that a disability does not define a person. If there is a child in his classroom who needs a walker to get around, ask your child what else he has noticed about the child with special needs. Yes, he needs a walker, and cannot run as quickly as the other kids. But did he bring a special toy into daycare that everyone had fun sharing last week? Does he love to talk about dinosaurs, just like your kid? Does he hate green beans? If your child can learn to focus on the many aspects of the other child’s personality, he will have an easier time understanding and possibly growing closer to that child.
And of course, every kid is different. No two are alike. Remind your child of the things that make her different from the other kids, which she loves about herself. Maybe she loves having red hair, just like Anna from Frozen. Maybe she is especially good at catching the ball. Remind her that these things that make her different are just less noticeable than the differences between kids with special needs and kids without special needs. But every kid has something which sets him apart, and differences are no reason to be afraid, to isolate, or to bully someone else.
When you take the opportunity to talk to your kids about the differences between people, and when you remind them that people with special needs may have more in common with them than they think, you’re going a long way in raising a kid who will grow up to be a kind, generous, and inclusive adult. Fostering this type of respect at toddler or preschool age plants a wonderful seed for adulthood.