Maybe a new classmate will have a physical or intellectual disability, or your family will see someone in a wheelchair, or it’ll come up on TV. (Sesame Street recently introduced a new Muppet, Julia, who has autism, so maybe it already has!) It might not be a comfortable conversation—after all, even talking about developmental differences among adults can feel awkward at times—but it’s a necessary one when raising compassionate kids. Here’s what you should keep in mind.
- Use the Right Words
Your child will speak about developmental differences the same way that you do, so be sure to use inclusive language that’s up-to-date.
Making appropriate word choices and speaking from a place of positivity is the ideal way to talk to kids about a friend or classmate’s developmental difference. Explain that certain terms can make people feel left out and unhappy, and that using the right words helps you avoid hurting their feelings.
- Focus on Ability
Highlight what a person can do rather than focusing on what they can’t.
When talking to younger children about cognitive differences, start with a general discussion about what makes each person special, making sure to highlight positive traits rather than negative ones.
You can start the conversation by asking your kids what makes them unique, and have them identify their own physical abilities and personality traits. Then, if your child has a classmate or friend with an intellectual disability, talk about challenges he or she might have with learning, whether its reading, doing math or speaking up in class.
- Encourage Compassion
After you’ve talked about some of the challenges that developmental differences can cause, it’s important to emphasize the importance of empathy. First, talk to your children about their own strengths and weaknesses; then help them see that they’d want help from others in areas where they struggle, too.
When it comes to children, it’s important to remember that progress is always possible, so long as adults play to their strengths.
Separating cognitive skill from personality is also helpful. Being a kind, thoughtful and helpful person has nothing to do with a person’s developmental differences. By considering the way you talk to your child about people with disabilities, you might find that you’ll change the way you think about them as well.