Below are thoughtful and sensitive ways that not only include having conversations with your children, but also serving as a role model yourself - a very powerful way to communicate this message! And, not only will your actions serve as a model for your children, but to other parents in the community as well.
Read on and start practicing!
As parents, it is our job to teach our children to always be kind and tolerant of others. A few weeks ago, my oldest son graduated from elementary school along with 58 children from his grade. Their class was fortunate to have graduated with some amazing children who have special needs. Children with Cerebral Palsy, Autism, and other challenging disorders were amongst their class of 2012. For many kids who have not been exposed to different children at an early age, these disorders can be scary and misunderstood. To this class it was not. As I looked into the bleachers and saw the children high fiving each other after singing their songs, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed with emotion to see how much the students cared about their fellow classmates who needed a little extra TLC over the last six years.
Here is some important advice I think all parents can benefit from to enrich the lives of their children:
- Be a role model. Kids look to their parents to mirror how they should behave around kids that are different. If you are accepting, they will be too.
- It’s easy to do nothing. We all get busy with our daily lives and forget that sometimes people have it tougher than we do. If you go out of your way for others, it truly can make a difference.
- Be a leader and your child will be one too. Set up a play date with someone who you know doesn’t get asked all the time. It will make their day and yours too. It feels good to do something kind for others.
- Watch; your good example will inspire others and quickly your friends will follow suit. This is one way in which your friend’s can copy you in a “good” way.
- Teach your kids about children who are different. Parents should address wheelchairs, walkers, as well kid’s that display uncommon behaviors. Kids have questions and once they are answered appropriately they “get it”.
- Exposure is key. If your school is filled with only mainstream students, volunteer somewhere with your child. Reach out to family or friends that would welcome the gift of meeting someone new and special.
- Not everyone is born the same and that is OK. It is our job as parents to teach our children to treat all types of children with respect and kindness.
- Remember the old saying your mother told you, ”Don’t judge a book by its cover”. What someone looks like on the outside is often very different from who they are on the inside.
– Tell your child that it is important to reach out and help a child who is struggling. It will feel so good to really make a difference in another child’s day. Wouldn’t you want someone to do this if it were your child who needed this?
- Show your child that these types of kids are more similar than different to them. Explain that no matter what someone looks like on the outside, children have so many things about them that are the same. Whether it’s swimming, ice cream, video games, or a movie, find a way for them to connect on some level. Finding similarities can be instrumental in helping your child see that kids with special needs are really children just like them.
Having your child connect with a child with special needs is mutually beneficial. The parents that have a child with challenges will be so grateful to have a friend reach out and make an effort. Think about how good it will make your child feel to know they made someone feel included and understood. To me, there is an incredible sense of pride I feel when I see my own child go over to a child that has challenges and give them a warm smile and a high five. Kids who have tolerance, respect, and acceptance at an early age will realize how very special and needed those qualities are throughout their life.
Mental Health Consultant