As Bill Cosby used to say, kids really do say the darndest things. Whether it’s loudly asking in a public place why someone’s so fat, old or funny looking kids are often all curiousity and no tact. Invariably when these statement are made it’s with “the finger” pointed towards the subject of curiousity to make it that much harder to pretend nothing has been said.
Sometimes an explanation will be offered but in the case of disability the response is don’t look, don’t ask, don’t say anything…
It’s like disability is the topic-that-shall-remain-nameless, or as the Huffington Post put it, it’s like disability is Voldemort – don’t say its name!
To that end, the Huffington Post has a great article on what to do in a situation when kids “point the finger” at someone with a disability. It has some helpful advice on whether it’s your child pointing the finger or you’re the one being pointed at:
Would we reprimand our child for pointing out a woman who has blonde hair instead of brown? Probably not. Because it’s OK to have blonde hair. So what are we telling our kids when we reprimand them for pointing out a person in a wheelchair or a person who is blind? We have to help our children to be comfortable with differences. We can’t treat disability like Voldemort.
Here’s my advice:
If your child is the finger pointer:
- Stay calm. I know it’s embarrassing. I know it’s awkward. But seeing you stressed over the mention of someone’s disability will make your child feel that they’ve done something bad by bringing it up. Know that it’s normal for kids to ask questions or even point and stare a bit. Parents like me are used to it.
- Be open to discussion. No need to shush or remove your child from the situation. Try to calmly answer their questions and remember that “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer. When the boy at the toy store asked his mother what was going on with my son, I wish she would have felt comfortable saying, “Would you mind if my son asked you a question about your baby?” Like all parents, people who have children with special needs like talking about their kids, and most of us enjoy raising awareness too.
- Lead by example. Do your best to use positive language when talking to your kids about differences — and not just disability. Try to avoid words that imply disability is sad or bad like “poor thing” or “something is wrong with him.” If your child says something hurtful like, “That person is funny looking,” you can talk to them about using polite words when they see someone who is different.
If your child is being pointed at:
- Stay calm. Remember that your reaction sends a message too. Little good will come from lashing out or reprimanding a stranger’s child. The last thing we want is for children to stay away from our kids for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing.
- Be open to discussion. Answer questions if you feel comfortable. If not, redirect the conversation to what your children might have in common: Do you like video games? Daniel Tiger? My son does too!
- Consider the intentions more than the words. Most of us have been in the special needs community long enough to know what words are OK and what words not OK to use when discussing disability. Remember that most people do not live in the same world of disability parenting, but their intentions are good. Try to remember what YOU were like before your child was diagnosed. Try to remember how long it took you to learn and adjust. Try to assume good intentions. I dislike when someone asks “What’s wrong with your son?” or calls him a “poor thing,” but shutting them down will only end what could have been an eye-opening conversation.
Wise words indeed. Kids say the darndest things, but it doesn’t mean disability has to be like Voldemort.
The article – which was republished in the Huffington Post – originally appeared at this blog.