We have had the great opportunity to spend the last few months out in Washington DC because of my husband’s work and it has been an amazing experience. One of our favorite parts has been having the opportunity to see so many different cultures and people wherever we are. One of the many great things about my little boy is that he doesn’t care what you look like, what you wear, what color you skin is, or how you’re getting around, he’ll throw a smile to anyone. I’ve seen this with many other children but have realized that they quickly take on worries and concerns about others from the cues of their parents. Working in the past with people with disabilities, I have a special place in my heart for those who must overcome these types of challenges. I have noticed that most children when they get to about four or five start to shy away from those in wheelchairs or people who are different than they are. The other day I was at an exhibit with a friend of mine. She is a mother of two little girls and she is such a model mom! I always look up to how she is constantly teaching her kids. As we passed a wheelchair in the exhibit, she stopped and talked to her girls about it. She had them touch it and sit in it and told them that some people are not able to walk like we can so they have to use a chair to get around. She explained that even though they get around differently than us, they still like to do the same things we do and have the same feelings that we do. What a perfect way to teach your kids about loving those that are different!
One of the focuses of Recreation Therapy is working with those who have a disability. In different courses we were taught to use “people first” language. This concept is simple, but I think very important as we teach our children about understanding others’ differences. When talking about someone who uses a wheelchair, you should not call them wheelchair-bound or a paraplegic. These phrases define them as their disability and not the person. It also connotes someone who is trapped and downtrodden because of their situation. A better way of talking would be, “Mary who uses a wheelchair” or “Ben who has down syndrome.” In this way, you are giving them the identity that s truly theirs and not labeling them. Most of the people I’ve met with these types of disabilities have done amazing things to overcome them. They have learned to do thing in different ways and use other skills to compensate for those they do not have. Even those people with mental disabilities have personalities just like you and I. As we teach our children these things we can not only make life easier for those who our different but teach our children to overcome challenges in their own lives with these people as great examples.
Growing up, I loved this song that we would sing in church:
If you don’t walk like most people do; some people walk away from you but I won’t, I won’t.
If you don’t talk like most people do, some people talk and laugh at you but I won’t, I won,t.
Jesus blessed all He could see then turned and said “Come Follow Me” so I will, I will.
I will, I will. I’ll walk with you, I’ll talk with you, that’s how I’ll show my love for you.
What a sweet reminder of how we should treat others. My challenge today is to talk with your kids about how to treat others that are different than they are. One positive conversation can not only help your child accept others but also except themselves when they find that they are the one who is different than others. Have this conversation today!