When children are discovering more about the world around them, disabilities can be confusing or intimidating. How do you teach them how to be engaged and friendly with their special needs peers?
Early on, introduce your child to the concept of disabilities and help them become more comfortable. Read books or watch TV shows (such as Sesame Street) that discuss and feature children with special needs. If your child has questions, do your best to answer them! Express that it is okay these children are different from your child. Spend some time explaining disabilities to your child using the four C’s recommended by the United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Indiana. For example, emphasize the importance of compassion, but don’t act like your child should pity their peer.
There are both similarities and differences between your child and their disabled peer. Help them appreciate these and how that makes them both unique. Emphasizing that these differences are okay, and encouraging your child to recognize the similarities, helps them become more comfortable with their peer. You must also model respect in your own interactions with disabled people. If you’re not sure how to interact with special needs children, understand it can be simple. Introduce yourself, don’t be afraid to ask questions, don’t stare, and don’t avoid them. Remember, your children are watching you.
Teach your child not to ignore their peer, but to smile, say hi, and treat them like they would other children. Encouraging positive interaction helps your child not to be shy around a special needs peer, and helps the child with disabilities feel welcomed. Get to know the parents of the special needs child, and grow a better understanding of them and their child. If your children get along well, reach out and organize a play date. Ask how you can help their child feel welcome and at ease during the play date.
Encourage warmth and friendliness in your child’s interactions with everyone as they learn and grow!