It can be difficult for parents to know how to talk about disability to their children. Some parents may feel like they need to protect their children from the realities of disability, while others may feel that it is important for their child to understand what disability means. In either case, parents need to find a way to discuss this topic with their children. This article will offer some tips on how to talk to your child about disability in an age-appropriate and informative way.
How to talk about disability?
We have all experienced that sinking feeling when our child points at someone with a disability and asks in a loud voice, “What’s wrong with that person?”
You may instinctively wish to avoid the question, but the best approach is to deal with it honestly.
It’s important that your child knows it is OK to notice differences. We are all different in many ways. Ignoring differences shuts down our ability to appreciate diversity.
What to say to your child
The objective is to explain disability in a way that does not scare or confuse the child.
Explain disability as simply as possible, using language appropriate for the child’s age and level of understanding. For example, you could explain disability by saying, “That person has some difficulty seeing…or walking…or hearing.”
You do not have to go into a lot of detail, as the child is probably just curious and will ask further questions if they need.
In many cases, this explanation may be all you need to say.
Be respectful and factual
Explain to your child what the disability is using respectful terminology. The more we demystify disability to our children, the more they can understand, normalise and be inclusive.
It’s also important to discuss that some children need special equipment such as walkers, frames, wheelchairs and communication devices. Our children should learn to respect how others need this equipment, and that they should avoid playing with it. Children are naturally curious, so explaining how the equipment is used will build their understanding.
Emphasise the similarities
As well as talking about differences, it’s also important to point out what we have in common with others, such as going to the same school, eating similar food, enjoying being with friends and enjoying feeling loved or being part of our group of friends.
Encouraging children to think about what we all need, such as love, play, and friends, helps children recognise that we are similar and fosters empathy and caring for others.
What not to say to your child
It is never OK to say disability is contagious or that disability is an illness. This language conveys that disability is bad and that those with disabilities are less worthy of dignity, compassion and equal rights.
How to deal with difficult questions
If disability has been a topic in the news or your child met someone with a disability for the first time, your child may have developed fears or misconceptions.
In these cases, you should sit calmly and without shame, answer any questions they ask you honestly, and then reassure your child that disability is nothing to be scared of.
Answer your child’s questions using respectful language. Let the child lead the conversation by asking more questions is they are interested.
It is OK to be curious
If a child is interested and wants to know more about a friend’s disability, it is OK to ask the teachers. These conversations don’t need to be shut down. They are opportunities for children to learn more about each other and understand each other.
Be aware of teasing and excluding
If your child is teasing a person with a disability, it’s best to intervene immediately. Let them know it’s not an appropriate way to treat people. Children with disabilities can be teased or excluded, so it’s important to teach children that teasing words and behaviours can hurt.
Resources for further reading
You can find a list of 7 Children’s books to help explain disability to children here.
We hope you found the information in this blog post useful. Also, don’t forget to check out our Empathy Guide for more tips on how to develop empathy in children. The guide is packed with research-backed advice. It also includes activities and exercises you can do at home to foster a sense of understanding and compassion in your child.