Tips to Help Children Include Individuals with Challenges
During the Olympics, many families were glued to the screen, cheering on our Canadian athletes and buoyed by their inspiring stories. I believe advertisers understand the emotions of the viewership and also seek to move the audience through their communication. I was particularly taken with a Canadian Tire advertisement featuring a young boy in a wheelchair called Wheels where a neighbourhood of boys rallied to include this boy in their basketball game as each boy straddled various versions of wheeled vehicles to play their game.
As adults, many of us feel uncomfortable acknowledging, let alone explaining the wonder and difference in humanity. Somewhere along the line, we have been conditioned to think that the kindest offering we can give to anyone with a challenge is to not bring attention their way. We tend to look the other way, not make eye contact, ignore and avoid. So, how do parents help their children to understand and include individuals perceived as different?
- The first step is to acknowledge your own perceptions and understandings. Before you are able to easily model acceptance for your child, you will need to work on your own comfort level.
- Make available children’s books, catalogues and magazines that include people with challenges in their illustrations. This simple exposure to the endless possibilities of all types of physical features will help your child become more accepting of differences.
- Enroll your child in day cares, nursery programs and recreational playgroups that believe in and promote mainstreamed access to all children. Segregated programs tend to reinforce difference rather than promote similarities and understanding.
- Help your child to see beyond the individual’s challenge. Point out other identifiers about the challenged individual rather than identifying them by their handicap. For example, the little girl in the wheelchair can be described as the blond haired girl that always brings her teddy bear with her.
- Take advantage of learning opportunities, such as noticing the one-legged-salesman. This opportunity can initiate a discussion with your child around the art of car sales. For example: “I heard that being a car salesman takes a lot of work. You have to understand how cars run and help people choose just the right car for them and their family.” You can then continue to discuss some simple reasons as to how someone may have become “one-legged.” A discussion of how they may have learned to use other skills to manage the tasks of everyday life with just one leg would also be informative. You could also discuss how this man probably is able to do just about everything that we do in a day. For an older child, this can lead to a discussion on modified cars with hand controls, etc.
When your child sees more similarities than differences, they will accept and include individuals with challenges.