“Kids are so Mean”
“Kids have no filter”
“kids are so cruel”
Rumbling through my brain on a day to day basis I would think these thoughts. How on earth would my son with developmental delays and who is medically fragile ever make friends? I immediately thought that kids would notice that he was different. My assumption was they would point, stare and laugh at his difference. I painted every single scenario that put my son in harms way in terms of other children. We were afraid to introduce him to other children. How would they react? What would they say? Kids are so CRUEL!
But something happened. Kids actually aren’t cruel. They aren’t inherently mean. Actually, most children will love and accept things as is more easily than an adult. In fact, I would venture to say my son’s friends are pretty dang awesome. They don’t care he has any differences. Heck, most of them have their own differences that make them a challenge to like at times. It made me realize something very profound, we as adults are the ones that put these thoughts in our children. They don’t just develop these thoughts over night. They model our behavior. My friends have gone out of their way to make sure their children understand what is going on with my son. They explain things in a way that they can understand, but they don’t make anything a big deal. When the kids see changes in my son, they simply accept it as is because their mom’s told them. If we don’t make it a big deal, kids won’t make it a big deal. His friends do worry about my son’s health. They ask us questions, and they genuinely care about him being ok.
It made me realize there are pretty easy ways you can help your child if they have a friend that has an illness or disability.
- Answer your child’s questions – don’t tip toe around things. Many children have questions and they just want to know what is going on. Talk to them in a way they can understand. Help them know that it’s ok to have questions.
- Model behavior around your child that demonstrates you are accepting of all people. This is the best way to show your child how to treat other people. Be nice. Be courteous. Be respectful.
- Don’t use language in your home that is offensive or marginalizes people with disability and disease. Get rid of words like the “R” word. Just throw it out completely. Even to go a step further and stop using the words – stupid, dumb, idiot, or moron. People with disability and disease need acceptance and these words further perpetuate their place on the margins of society.
- Remind your child to love their friend for who they are – not what they may be going through. Children with disability and disease just want to be accepted. They don’t want to be pitied. They want authentic friendships. While supporting their friend in the hospital is amazing and so kind, the day to day playdates and trips to the park are what most kids want to have. Be there when it’s not an emergency. Show them how to be a friend at all times.
- Teach your kids how to protect their friends with disability and disease. One of my friends has instilled a strong will in her boys to protect my son. She does this by reminding them that my son does have some challenges and needs people to rally around him. There are going to be a lot of people out in the real world that won’t accept children with disability and disease. Having an ally in your child will make a huge difference to the self esteem of the child with the disability or disease. It will also teach your child how to protect, defend, and be above the bullying that is persistent in society toward children and adults with disability and disease.
I believe that as parents it is up to us to model and show our children how to manage difference. If you are a parent of a child with a disability or disease, share your tips with your friends. Don’t be afraid to be outspoken and protect your child. Share this list. Help them understand how to help you help your child. If you are a friend, just be there. That’s the best you can do. It is up to us to change how people view disability. It is up to us as parents to be the change we want to see.
How else can you help shape your child’s view of disability and disease?