A few weeks ago a friend told me that her daughter had been coming home talking about another student in her class who was doing some things that were off-putting to her. My friend later found out that the student had a diagnosed disability that at times made it difficult to function in a typical classroom environment. This friend wanted to know what to say to her daughter about this student’s behavior and whether or not she should explain his disability, and if so, at what level.
I thought these were all really great questions. I answered them for her and then let her know that they would be featured in a future blog post. I think this is an issue we all face as parents. How do we teach our children about all different types of children and adults and foster a respect for differences? This is a difficult concept for adults to deal with a lot of time, let alone explaining it to kids.
My daughters have been extremely fortunate to attend the public preschool program in our town. This program is for both neuro-typical and special education students. The students are all members of the same class and exposed to the same curriculum. This experience has been life-changing for my girls because they grasp at an early age that everyone is different and everyone learns in a different way. As a result, Lovey and Kitten had/have friends from class with developmental delays, Down’s Syndrome, and physical disabilities. Lovey asked early on why some of her friends didn’t talk. I explained that some things are harder to learn for some people and everyone learns at a different pace but that we can all be friends. She seemed to accept that. In fact, she was more excited about the new things some of her friends were learning in school than she was about her own accomplishments.
So what do you say to your children about the other students who learn differently?
Tell your kids that everyone learns in a different way, and at their own pace. Explain that sometimes some students need extra help with their learning, or help from a variety of teachers. Tell your kids that some kids have a harder time learning and following the rules not because they are kids who like to make bad choices, but because sometimes they think too fast to remember to make the right choice. Based on your child’s age (mine are preschool and first grade so I just stick to the basics) talk to them about the names of some of these disabilities in a neutral way. Most importantly, talk to your kids about making sure they include everyone, even if it might be hard to because of the other student’s behavior.
I did some digging and found some books that might be helpful for talking to your kids about learning differences. These are all for the elementary age level, but there are plenty of books for all levels. I’d recommend searching Amazon or Mighty Girl for more titles. I started a list on my Amazon page that you can find here, but I would definitely recommend this book as a jumping off point.