Don’t Stare: How to Teach Your Little Ones to Interact with Everyone
It never fails, whenever I am out with my wonderful and amazing son, there are always stares.
You see, my sweet 6 year old son looks different than all of his peers. My son, Ari, uses a wheelchair to get around and an Augmentative and Alternative Speech Device (AAC) to help him talk (we just call it his talker).
Ari is adopted from China, where he did not receive the medical attention required when he was an infant. Due to this, his head is very large. He has already had 2 skull reductions since being home and is still working on holding it up without the support of his headrest.
It never fails when we go to a store, people stare. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard little kids say, “Mommy, look at that big baby” - not understanding that he is actually older than they are and that just because he is in a wheelchair does not make him a baby.
As many times as I have heard Ari being called a baby, I have equally heard parents telling their children, “Quit staring” and “Don’t be rude”. We were ALL reared to “ignore” differences. As a special needs Mama, I say let’s EMBRACE them!! Now, more than ever, families are encountering those with different needs when out in the community. No longer are people with disabilities forced to hide themselves away - they deserve a life as well!!
One of the hardest encounters Ari and I have had occurred several months ago. We were just browsing the clearance aisle (because, come on, who can pass that up?!) when all of the sudden I heard a little voice say, “Mommy, he looks so weird!”. Immediately, that little boy’s Mom got onto him - telling him “That was very rude and hurtful. I taught you better than that!”. His Mom then proceeded to begin crying and profusely apologizing. At this point, I was at a loss. This was the first time this had happened and I had no idea how to react other than to say, “it’s ok”.
See, it wasn’t ok - but it also wasn’t the child’s fault. He likely had NEVER seen a child like Ari, or maybe never even seen a child in a wheelchair at all. He wasn’t saying that Ari looked weird to be hurtful, he was stating the fact that Ari looked different from him, which was a completely true statement.
If I had this interaction to re-do, I would take the time to introduce Ari to this little boy. Explain that yes, he looks different, talks different and doesn’t walk like we do - but he is still sweet 6 year old boy who loves to watch Trolls, burp and eat fruit snacks & chocolate chip cookies.
So, how can you prepare your little ones to have good and healthy interactions with children who are different than them? Start with demonstrating how to interact. Smile at the Mom/Dad/Caregiver and just say hello. Seriously, a hello goes a LONG way!
When children see their parents interacting with those with disabilities, they will learn that it is ok to do so as well. When interacting, be sure to keep in mind the age level of the child. If someone who is 18 is in a wheelchair and you are speaking to them as if they are 3, that is condescending. Until you know for sure the person’s cognitive level, ALWAYS assume they can understand exactly what you were saying.
Ask questions!! This is the NUMBER 1 thing that ALL parents of kiddos who have special needs wish happened more. We are more than happy to answer your child’s question - from “Why doesn’t he walk”, “Why is he making such weird noises”, to “Will he ever be able to play like me?”. Children are naturally curious and they really just want to learn; we are more than happy to give them answers.
Showing your children pictures and videos of people in wheelchairs can help them understand that being a wheelchair user doesn’t make people weird, it is just a different way of getting around.
Some favorite YouTubers:
- Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham - some wicked WBMX stunts
- ** May screen some for kid viewing
- Zach Anner
- **May screen some for kid viewing
- Smiles for Brookie
- Special Books by Special Kids
- When Charlie Met Emma
- Jessica’s Box
- Hello Goodbye Dog
- Mama Zooms
- It’s Ok to Ask
- Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You
Other blog posts:
Have questions? Just ask! I would love to help guide you in becoming more confident in interacting with families who have a special little one!