Differences between people are the one thing we have most in common with one another. Different colored eyes, skin, and hair. Short, tall, thick, or thin, we all look, act, and feel differently in any given situation. And yet, for very young children, despite differences being common, more acute differences can be especially troubling. When faced with a person, old or young, with a disability, children often have many questions and are unable to determine what the correct behavior is when meeting a disabled person. Parents, caregivers, and teachers can help a child learn skills to help them understand and empathize with those they meet who have physical, emotional or mental challenges in this life.
The Arizona’s Children Foundation is helping children who experience some of these difficulties themselves, and you can help them with your car donation. When you donate a car in Arizona you can help children on both sides of those differences to lead happier, healthier, more stable lives.
Questions are Okay
When teaching children about disabilities it’s most important to ensure their feelings of safety. For many kids, seeing someone with a physical disability feels like a threat. A missing arm or leg, having to sit in a wheelchair and not run, being unable to see or hear the world around you; these can be very frightening to someone who is young and has never dealt with it before. It’s very important to not shame them for feeling uncomfortable or having questions. That’s a natural response.
Adults can help children learn to not fear disabilities and instead see it as simply a fact of life, one that requires the disabled individual to come up with very creative ways to manage daily life. Taking the opportunity to answer a child’s questions of “how” and “why” can go a long way to taking the fear out of the differences they see.
Empathy is a Skill
While empathy might come naturally to some individuals, child and adult alike, it is also a learnable skill. The old advice to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” is a very good exercise in learning compassion and gaining understanding. For children to become comfortable with disabled children, they need the opportunity to spend time with them. Rather than seeing them as some part of our society that is separate it is good to seek out ways to be inclusive. This can be accomplished at school, in community activities, and in service organizations dedicated to helping disabled youth.
Here are a few ways to teach a child how to see the world from someone else’s perspective and to gain new respect for those who struggle with a disability.
- Make eye contact with disabled people and smile. Saying “hello” is an easy greeting.
- Don’t be afraid to invite a disabled child to a party or gathering. Call their parent and ask what they need to make the event a success. By taking the first step to include, you are teaching your child to reach out.
- Give your child the opportunity to “practice” what it is like to deal with a disability. Spend a few hours with thick socks on your hands and try to open jars, button clothes, or operate doors with the limited mobility. Spend an afternoon shopping without using speech to make yourself understood to see what it is like for someone unable to speak. Wear a blindfold and walk around the backyard, trying to determine where everything is and where you are in relationship to it to understand what it is like to be blind. Borrow a wheelchair and try to play basketball in the driveway. Understanding the limitations of physical disabilities can help a child learn to be empathetic to the needs and difficulties that a disabled person faces every day.
- Be kind. Teaching your child to always be kind is probably the most important thing you can do. Disabilities are often accompanied by pain, and living with chronic pain can be emotionally difficult. Helping your children understand the need for kindness can make life better for everyone.