Talking to your child about disabilities may not be something that you’ve even thought about, but it’s important that you have the conversation because they need to grow up with both understanding and compassion for people who are different from them. It’s not necessarily an easy thing to do, though, so here some tips that may help when it comes to talking to your child about disabilities.
1. Be Prepared
Talking to your child about disabilities can be difficult, as you may not know how to go about it. They could surprise you by asking questions much earlier than you expected, so the best thing that you can do is just have a think about what you would say if your child began asking questions. That way, you’ll be less likely to say the wrong thing because you’re flustered, or tell them not to talk about it, which leads us onto the second tip.
2. Answer Their Questions
Whatever you do, don’t make your child feel it is wrong to ask questions. You may feel embarrassed if your child asks loudly why someone is in a wheelchair or looks a certain way right in front of them (as kids often do), but people are rarely offended by this, especially if you can sensitively answer the child’s questions. It’s far less embarrassing than having a child that grows up with prejudice against disabled people, anyway.
3. Different, Not Worse
Children will notice that someone looks or acts differently than they do, and there is no point trying to deny that. The best thing that you can do is to explain that somebody just does things a little differently, and explain that this is not worse or wrong in any way, just different. It could help to explain that everyone is different and unique, regardless of whether they are disabled.
4. Different and Similar
As well as acknowledging that people are different, point out the similarities between your child and a disabled child that he or she may be asking questions about. He may be in a wheelchair, but "Look! He likes SpongeBob too, just like you!"
5. Watch Your Words
The correct jargon to use when it comes to describing certain disabilities seems to constantly be changing, which can make things confusing. Don’t worry too much about all the ins and outs of terminology, but just remember to never use words such as ‘retarded’ (which is now often referred to as ‘the r word’) or ‘crippled’, and avoid calling people without disabilities ‘normal’ people, as it implies that disabled people are abnormal.
6. Keep It Simple
Young children aren’t going to understand all of that complex terminology anyway, so concentrate more on explaining it in a simple way that they can understand. Explaining that somebody might have a problem with their legs or their eyes, or that they find it difficult to talk, for example, is much easier for a young child to understand than if you tell them about a specific condition.
7. Normalize It
Talking about disabilities will be much less of an issue if it’s not such an alien topic to children. Try and introduce them to books and children’s TV shows that feature characters with a range of disabilities, and then when they come across a disabled person in real life it won’t be a shock and they won’t embarrass you.
Hopefully at least one of these tips will help you when it comes to talking to your child about disabilities, and it will help to create an open relationship with your child where they feel free to ask questions about other topics too. What tips would you share for explaining disabilities to children?