As a caregiver, you’re likely to be placed in a variety of awkward conversations that you wish you could avoid, but few are as painful as the honest and open stares and statements of a child. While many parents will quickly hush their young ones, this is a prime opportunity to help children understand disability and educate them on the opportunities to help others. Obviously, you should exercise extreme care and only have these conversations if your disabled friend or family member is comfortable with them, but it can help people understand the concerns in a positive way and without judgment.
Speaking with Preschoolers
Many small children may not notice that someone has a disability unless it is physically obvious — such as a wheelchair or someone missing a limb. When you are caring for a disabled child, this can be particularly difficult as kids naturally are more interested and more likely to ask questions of someone their own age. Innocent questions can be very hurtful to an individual with disabilities, so many caregivers find that it is best to confront questions head on so you can lead the conversation in a positive direction.
Let younger children know that just as your skin or eye color may be slightly different than others, there are those with different abilities as well. There’s no need for a detailed or in-depth response at this age, but don’t sweep their (respectful) questions under the rug, either. Be straightforward and honest, and share that the individual may simply need help performing specific actions. It’s always important to focus more intently on the similarities than on the differences — even though someone may be using a seeing eye dog to help enhance their vision, they are still the same as your child in nearly every other way.
Handling Teasing or Negativity
If you encounter a situation where the individual in your care is being teased or is on the receiving end of negativity, it is important that you stay in control of your emotions. Nine times out of ten, it is simply discomfort that is causing the child to ask inappropriate questions. However, sometimes the problem is caused by the child’s parents, who may be anxious or fearful of anyone who is different. Children can pick up on senses very easily and translate those feelings into questions and actions that can be quite hurtful. By educating parents and encouraging them to ask positive questions, you can help influence the behavior of children towards disability in general.
Beware of Personal Bias
As a caregiver, you may find yourself classifying certain types of disability differently than the one you see on a daily basis. Be sure that you’re always focused on using positive language and straying away from terms such as “crippled” or other derogatory terms. Feel comfortable allowing others to ask questions of you when they are truly curious, and provide them with a safe outlet to learn more. Most people are truly sympathetic and empathetic of your situation and are often very focused on providing any assistance possible — especially if you’re clearly encountering difficulties. While it may be tough, consider each interaction as an opportunity to educate others on the beauty as well as the difficulty of living with a disability.
It’s an unfortunate fact of life that you’re likely to encounter negativity as the caregiver of someone who is disabled. However, there are always different ways that you can approach the subject: from a positive direction or from a point of negativity. Keeping in mind that most individuals who approach you do so with love in their heart can help you overcome their potential communication missteps.