Kids can be cruel but, in many cases, insensitive comments are made from a lack of awareness or understanding. As a parent, it is your job to teach your child to be sensitive to people of all ages, races, and abilities - this includes people with disabilities. Disabilities awareness should start from an early age so you can turn your child into an advocate. Here's how to do it:

Start by Teaching Simple Ideas

Depending on how old your children are, they may not understand exactly what a disability is. Instead of trying to unpack this complicated subject, start by teaching your child basic ideas like the following:
  • Everyone is different - no two people are the same, but some differences are more noticeable than others (ask your child to point out differences he sees in different people).
  • Children with disabilities are just like everyone else - they still want to have fun, make friends, and go to school.
  • A disability is just one characteristic of a person, just like hair or eye color - children with disabilities still have likes, dislikes, and interests.
  • Children with disabilities are often born with them or the result from accidents or illness - you can't "catch" a disability from someone.
  • Just because someone has a disability limiting their physical ability, it may not affect their ability to think or participate in activities.
It's also important to teach your child that while a disability may change the way another child looks or acts, it doesn't mean something is "wrong" with them. Disabled children may need assistance, or it might take them longer to do things, but they are just as capable. You should also reinforce the idea that name-calling is always wrong, even if it is meant as a joke.

Give Your Child Time to Interact with Children with Disabilities

Teaching your child core concepts about children with disabilities is important, but these lessons may not truly take hold until your child spends time interacting with someone with a disability. Encourage your child to be friendly with all of the kids in his class and to include them in activities.

If your child is in the same class as a child with a disability, consider asking the parent about setting up a playdate. Make sure to invite everyone in your child's class to birthday parties and outings, making a special effort to contact the child's parent so necessary arrangements can be made.

In addition to teaching your child about disabilities, it is a good idea to learn more yourself. Children often have an easier time interacting with people with disabilities because they are less inhibited - they don't learn prejudice until they are a little bit older. The best thing you can do is set a good example for your child by being kind and accepting toward all people.

One other thing you might look into is whether your child's school offers any disability awareness programming. Volunteering yourself and involving your child can be a great way to teach awareness.

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