Thanks for joining me once again for my five part series on teaching your kids about people with differences! I am so enjoying sharing my heart with you all!! If you have missed any parts of the series, you can start with part two here: Creating A Safe Space to Get It Wrong. Part two includes a link to Part 1, so it should be easy to navigate to where you want to go.
So, Part 3 of my series is Called "Be Honest." I think it's so important to be open and candid with kids about differences, without, of course, divulging so much information that the child gets scared or put off. Sometimes disabilities can result from traumatic accidents, and while it's the truth, some kids might be too young to understand and process the fact that it could happen to any of us. So, I will preface this post with a disclaimer. Please use discretion when being open honest with children about disabilities. Age, development level, maturity, and so much more goes into consideration about how much and what to divulge. So, please do so wisely!
Now, on to the good stuff!
For my family, speaking about Christian's disability is a way of life. I travel the country, getting invited to speak about Christian. Just tomorrow we leave for San Antonio where I will be sharing about Christian at the Cleft Strong 5k. I have written a book about our lives
(Shout out to Through The Eyes of Hope!!! Find it here!!! )
I have spent more hours of my life talking about Christian, not only to journalists and media outlets, but also to doctors, social security case workers, teachers, therapists, and everyone in between, that I know I couldn't begin to figure it all up. It is something that we are used. Living with the differences that Christian has are just a way of life for us. There are days when we honestly don't even think about Christian's difference because we are so intimately acquainted with it is our normal, and so that we don't think about it when we see it or deal with it.
So, saying things like "Christian was born without his eyes. Christian is blind. Christian has facial difference." Those are just everyday words and phrases in our house. They are facts. They are not inherently emotional, but I realize that for everyone besides us, they are not common place issues. Sometimes, as people who have emotions, we can place our own emotions onto facts and then convey those emotions to our kids along with the facts of the situation. When talking to kids about a person's difference, I suggest talking about the facts as facts and leaving emotion out of it until the child decides what emotions to have about it. Then we can guide children into appropriate emotions about the situation. For example, if a child feels sad that Christian doesn't have his eyes, you can help them understand it's okay to be sad about the things that Christian struggles with. (Sometimes it makes me sad, too.) You could help them think of ways they could help Christian with those things he struggles with. Maybe they can help him find his toy he dropped, or they can tell him about the colors on the pages of the book being read. It's a win/win when things like this take place because Christian is getting much loved interaction with peers and some help that he really might need, and the other child is learning empathy and compassion and service.
|Love This Wild Child|
Sympathy or apathy are not emotions I wish kids would pick up on about people with differences. Empathy, YES!!! But, Christian surely doesn't need pity. He does need friends though, and acceptance, love, appreciation, hugs, encouragement, empathy, and inclusion, to name a few. Pitiful, he is not.
Using matter-of-fact details about a person is always a good place to start when explaining why that child doesn't have eyes. Cool, calm, and collected. "Yes. He is missing his eyes. He is blind. That means he can't see. He does look different than you." "Yes. That woman uses a wheel chair. It helps her get from place to place. Maybe her legs don't work like yours to carry her, so she needs the wheel chair. We can go talk to her if you'd like." There is just nothing offensive about saying a person in a wheelchair is in a wheelchair. I highly doubt it will offend them. As I said in an earlier blog post, they already know they use a chair for mobility. You won't surprise them with your statement. Haha! It won't shock my family for you to say that Christian has a difference. He sure does. Whenever we talk about his difference, I have taught him to say "That's how I was born, and I was born awesome!" :)
|Christian's joy over wiggling a noodle|
at dinner time
For me, saying that Christian doesn't have his eyes is about the same as saying Christian has dirty blonde hair. It just is. To say Christian is blind is like saying Christian is six years old. It's just factual and descriptive information about Christian. It's not inherently bad to be blind or to not have eyes. We just perceive it that way sometimes. But I assure you all, Christian gets along just fine without his. :)
I feel like maybe the hesitation that some folks feel in making these matter of fact statements is their fear in offended a person with a difference. So, I just want to assure you that it's not offense to make a factual statement about a person. It's an observation. It's reality. Disability is no longer taboo. It is no longer something we hide. We are living in a time when disability is more accepted, I believe than ever before. The disabled community is proud of who we are. We are proud of the people inside our community who are mostly just amazing people. (Have you met my kid?! :D) So, please don't feel as though you have to tip toe around a disability or sugar coat it. Please also don't feel as though the disabled community needs pity, apathy, or avoiding.
The disabled community has embraced itself, and we hope you will embrace us, too!
|Christian and his sensei, Mr. Bill Taylor|