If you haven't experienced this, you just aren't living! haha! Seriously though. I have even been through something similar with two year old, not-yet-talking Chandler, who is around Christian every single day of his life! A friend invited me to a meet and greet of a sweet man named Frederick. I was so excited to attend this meeting with Chandler in tow. Frederick lived in Rwanda in the 90's during a mass genocide of Tutsi people. We listened to Frederick recant the harrowing day that the bus he was on was stopped by a group of Hutu, who were the perpetrators of the killings. He can tell the story much better than I can, but in short, all the passengers on the bus were removed. Frederick was given a weapon (I can't remember now if it was a knife or a gun) and asked to kill all the other passengers in exchange for his life being spared. Frederick refused, and so the Hutu group cut off both of Fredericks hands past the wrist, tied him to a tree, and left to die. The rope actually acted of tourniquet that stopped blood loss. Frederick amazingly survived, but was left, of course, without his hands.
After Frederick spoke, he took time to meet folks who came to hear him. I was excited to get a book signed and talk to Frederick. When it was our turn, Frederick's eye lit up at Chandler. I mean, what can I say? He's a cute kid. Frederick seemed to especially love children from what I gathered. He reached out and asked Chandler to come to him. Chandler just stared at Frederick's arms where he knew hands should be. Frederick continued to reach out and asked Chandler if he could hold him. At this point, Chandler began grabbing me as if Frederick was trying to kidnap him and screaming an ear-piercing, earth shatter scream. He was absolutely terrified of Frederick because of Frederick's difference. I felt a wave of emotions, including but not limited to wanting to just dig a hole and crawl in it right then and there. I apologized to Frederick profusely and tried to comfort Chandler. Frederick was kind enough to hold his arm out and let Chandler watch me touch it so that he would know it was okay, but alas, nothing quieted Chandler's terror except to get away from what scared him. *sigh*
That day sticks out to me because I finally knew what it was like being on the other side of the isle. I felt what these parents were feeling when their child did something embarrassing around my Christian. I always saw their embarrassment, but I had never felt it the way I did that day. So, I can say that, even though we are mostly on the receiving end of some embarrassing comments, I have lots of sympathy for parents who just want to raise decent humans and yet still feel like it's an uphill battle. I've been there!
I was asked this week on social media, and I get asked often, what my advice is for teaching children about people with differences, acceptance, and inclusion. And TADA! This blog post was born. I want to take a little pressure off and give you guys my pointers for helping your kids learn about differences so that maybe one day they
Five Tips To Teach Your Kids about People With Differences - Part 1
Rule Number 1 - Don't Avoid People with Differences
|A cute photo of Christian just because!|
Noticing and asking me about Christian's facial difference is truly okay. It isn't going to bring about some shock. I am not going to look at his face for the first time and realize that it's different. I already know and I happen to love his face! I squeeze it all. the. time because it's so cute! I don't mind talking about Christian or his difference. In fact, you might have trouble getting me to stop blabbing about Christian once I get started. (Have you seen this blog?!) I'm pretty much his biggest fan. Christian has even learned to tell people when they ask him what happened to his eyes, "That's how I was born!" as he bounces and hops about happily. He knows he has a difference and as far as he's concerned, he's cool with it. We know he is different. Issues would arise if you judged him poorly based on his difference. That would not be cool.
You also don't have to walk on egg shells around people with disabilities for fear of offending them. I have seen it so many times, and I appreciate that people care enough about our feelings to go to such lengths to avoid hurting us, but we really don't have paper thin skin and our feelings are just not that fragile. I have found that most folks are not offended by well meaning questions, even poorly worded ones. I have also noticed that especially when someone realizes that a parent is bringing their child forward to help them understand, people with differences are generally more than happy to talk to those children! Why wouldn't they be? Each person they reach is one less person to carry on the stigma that so many differently abled people have to live with every day.
If you, in all good intentions, talk to a person who happens to have a difference and they are rude to you, I can almost guarantee that you can chalk that up to them having a bad day or just not being a nice person. I wouldn't count that as you doing something wrong. Maybe you did say something that wasn't exactly kosher. It's easy to do. That doesn't give anyone an excuse to be rude. If it bothers them that much, they can take time to educate you on what language they would prefer.
People with differences are just people, and they generally want human connection like the rest of us. Please realize that you don't have to, nor do I encourage, that you focus on the person's difference when trying to initiate a conversation. I would even suggest that you don't start off with, "Hi, so, I noticed you're in a wheel chair." Their response might be
May I suggest, instead, some of these introduction lines:
- Hi, how are you doing?
- Good day! How's it going?
- Hi, my name is Lacey. What's yours?
- Nice to meet you.
- Love your Backstreet Boys shirt! They're my favorite! (I tailored that one for me, but you can insert your own favorite band. 😂)