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Children, especially around preschool age, are naturally curious. They like to ask a lot of questions, and when they’re taking classes with others, they might start asking about other kids in their class with special needs. This doesn’t need to be a conversation that causes stress, as it’s much easier to teach your children to be respectful of their classmates when they’re young. Answering their questions truthfully is important, and passing on knowledge about additional needs to them is essential if done in the correct way. Just as daycare centers teach tolerance, they also help to develop acceptance of peers with special needs.
Emphasize Difference And, More Importantly, Similarity
It’s not bad to be different. This is a vital message to pass on to young children, but it has to be explained in a good way. Talk to your child about physical differences, as these are easy for preschoolers to recognize without making it too complicated. Tell them that some people have light hair, some have dark hair, and some have red hair, but that doesn’t change their personality or their interests.
Once you’ve established that differences are okay, emphasize the similarities your child has with others in their class. Even though their friend has a different eye color, they can still like to play with the same toys. As you talk about similarities, make sure to mention similarities between your child and the classmate or friend with special needs. This way, you are making your child look past what they see as physical, and they’re going to pay attention to who their friend is as a person.
Let Your Child Be Social
Interaction is a wonderful teacher. To help with maintaining your preschooler’s friendships, consider inviting a classmate with special needs to visit your home for a play date. Through this, your child can spend some quality time with their friend outside of the school environment and learn more about how to be accepting of their friend’s needs. It’s also a great opportunity for you as a parent to speak with the parents of the child with special needs. They’ll likely have some extra information that you can use to further your own knowledge and to help your child play respectfully.
This kind of interaction is also important for children to observe, as preschool children often learn from watching others and repeating their actions. If you model respectful behavior and show a desire to help and understand, your child will follow in your footsteps.
Aim to use positive language when speaking about others with special needs. Reinforce to your child that there’s nothing wrong with those who are different, just that they have bodies that work in different ways. Glasses are an excellent explanation aid to use, as your child has probably seen many people wearing glasses. By explaining to your child that some people need glasses because their eyes work differently than those who don’t need glasses, you’re staying positive and respectful. If you tell your child that people need glasses because their eyes are bad or don’t work, you’re adding a negative connotation to disability aids.
Device aids themselves are another important talking point. You should explain to your child that some people need service dogs, canes, wheelchairs, or crutches as aids in their daily lives. Just like glasses, it would be rude to try to take them from people or treat them as toys. Empathy is the key message here, teach your child to treat others as they wish to be treated. It’s also important to remember that not every child is going to have visible special needs. Instilling empathy for others will help your child treat all their classmates respectfully, no matter who they are.
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