Kids are some of the most observant creatures on earth. Younger kids especially don’t know what it means to filter their thoughts and feelings!
Recently a friend asked me “If my son recognizes that a child is different from him, as a special needs mom, how would you want that handled?”
(Did I mention I have the sweetest friends, what a gentle and honest way to ask me something really hard!)
Honesty is always the best policy. However, at 3, 4 and 5 a long explanation of development would go in one ear and out the other.
So we have to ask: How do I want my child to relate to people? What understanding of people different from themselves do I want my child to have?
I wrestle with these questions with my own children. When my 7 year old and 5 year old are developmentally very similar it becomes difficult to explain to the younger one that her brother isn’t “bad” or “broken”.
What I really want my kids to understand is that we are all humans with hearts and souls. When we take away disabilities, physical and mental illnesses and just our own human oddities, we are all still people. And people are meant to be loved.
So if you have a child who is noticing his friend is different, slower, delayed, lounder, quieter, remember that what you share with them teaches them about all of humanity.
My advice, remind your child that we are all learning.
Even into old age we are all learning.
At a young age this makes so much sense. Kids look at mom and dad, teachers, friends and realize there are things they do not know. As children encounter the special needs kids around them the idea that they are also learning is concrete. It also creates an avenue for your child to encourage and love that child in a new way.
Next time your child sees a special needs child remind them the child is learning and ASK them how they might be able to help. Maybe it is a simple thing like carrying a bag or opening a door. Maybe it is more involved like having the patience to play with them or help them read.
Dream about how this plays out in their adulthood. Instead of seeing those that are struggling as “less than” you are creating a positive perspective that everyone can learn AND that they can be a part of that process.
Talk to your kids about their own needs to learn. Point out when someone is helping them to grow and change. Encourage them to teach and engage their peers, special needs or not, remind them that they can help others just by being a friend.
I want to live in a world of compassionate, life long learners, don’t you?