How to Teach Your Toddler About Disabilities
If you and your little one have ever been out shopping and met someone with a disability, you might have mixed feelings about how things went. Did your toddler blurt out something embarrassing? Did you feel a rush of shame, not knowing if you should say something or just try to move past them quickly with a smile?
Since March is Brain Injury Awareness Month, and since the Buggie Huggie shopping cart tray was designed to help prevent traumatic brain injuries in children... We wanted to offer some simple ideas for helping your kids celebrate all kinds of “different abilities” in people. According to research, there are more than 5.3 million children and adults in the United States who are living with a permanent brain injury-related disability. (And almost 50% of brain injury disabilities are a result of a tragic fall.)
Here are a few tips to help your child understand others with different abilities while shopping together:
- Encourage your toddler to look for similarities when meeting a child with disabilities. Some disabilities are very visible, such as using a wheelchair, and other disabilities are more subtle. Either way, you can help your child practice looking for similarities by pointing out things like “Look! You’re both wearing cute shoes!” or “Wow! You both have a sippy cup and snack!” or “You both have Paw Patrol blankies!”
When you promote a lifestyle that fuels kindness and sensitivity, your child will carry these behaviors and manners through their development as they mature and interact with other people. Instilling a sense of equality and understanding for those who appear different than you can go a long way, both as a child and an adult.
2. Find a picture book (like this one) that helps explain disabilities on their level. Toddlers are much more open to the beauty of diversity than we realize. With picture books, you can provide images and examples of people with different abilities so that when they meet disabled people in real life, they already have a positive framework in mind.
It’s crucial that you discuss the book after each read because children tend to speak about disabilities using stereotypes and misrepresentations. As a parent, you can impact your child’s comprehension through discussions to create more positive attitudes about those who are disabled.
3. Guide your child to understand that different people use different things to help them. Family Education explains this clearly, with some great examples:
“Kids, especially young ones, are naturally curious, so when they see someone with a disability, their first instinct is to ask about it. If you see your child staring at someone with a disability, take the lead and start a conversation, but avoid a detailed explanation or a lot of emotion when explaining it. A short and matter-of-fact description will answer your child's questions while showing her that the person has nothing to be ashamed of.
For example, if you see a child with muscular dystrophy in a wheelchair, you can say to your child, "I see you looking at that little girl in the wheelchair, and you might be wondering why she needs it. Some people's muscles work a little differently, and her wheelchair helps her move around, just like your legs help you."
Try to keep your explanations positive. For example, explain that hearing aids help others hear and wheelchairs help others move around, instead of using a negative connotation (he can't hear, she can't walk, etc.)”
Many moms of kids with disabilities are stressed out and already feeling the weight of mom guilt. You can be a great encouragement with a genuine smile, or even stopping for a moment, looking her in the eye, and saying, “It looks like you are doing a great job, Mom.”
Every child with every ability level deserves to have happy interactions in the grocery store, Mom - keep spreading the love, and growing as you go!