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Down with Differences {Down Syndrome Awareness Month}

October is National Down Syndrome Awareness Month and a great time to talk to kids about differences and how to be awesome with them.

We all (okay, almost all) want to raise kind kids who accept and celebrate others, but many parents aren’t sure what to do when it comes to communicating with their children about differences.  As a mama of a kid with Down syndrome, I see this all the time – the Halloween when someone spanked their kid in my front yard for asking me why she looked different being one notable example.  

On the other hand, some parents are incredibly good at teaching their kids about acceptance and inclusion. We recently attended a pool party where the birthday girl was inclusive, polite, and patient. My daughter was thrilled to be included – with an invite and real inclusion at the party.  This didn’t happen by accident – I know her mama, and she does a great job of educating her children about all different types of kiddos.

So, here are the four Ds of talking to kids about differences:

1. Delight.

Notice and celebrate the ways humans are different from each other. Pay attention to the shows you watch, the dolls you have, and the people you know. Grow your circle. When you read a story about a child in a wheelchair for example, take the time to talk about what causes people to be in wheelchairs, and how people in wheelchairs can adapt to their environment.

2. Do discuss.

So many parents don’t know what to say about differences, so they skip the topic entirely. Anytime we do this, we miss the opportunity to shape our kids perspectives and unintentionally lead them to believe these topics are something that are somehow secret or shameful. This conversation should be done in a matter of fact way, with a normal tone. No one wants to be whispered about!

I am amazed by the number of parents who have told me that they “didn’t think their kids notice differences.”  These are the same parents who are working hard to teach their kids to classify and sort everything from shapes to colors. Bottom line: your kid notices disabilities, so be their guide and help them learn what it means to live in a world with so many different types of people.  

3. Describe.

A brief description of the difference or disability is so helpful. This could be as simple as “Joy has Down syndrome. That means she grows and learns slower than other kids,” or “that girl is a little person. She is shorter than most 9 year olds but can play with you just like any friend. You can ask her if she wants to play with you.”

4. Direct.

Sometimes kids just don’t know what to do when meeting someone with a disability. This is your chance to coach your kid on this opportunity to grow socially. Some pointers here:

a. Encourage your kid to say “hi.”

b. Teach your children not to stare at other people.  This is a hard one, I know, but it’s worth working on.

c. If your child is unsure of how to interact, you can let them know what might work by saying something like “Fred likes to build with blocks, just like you. Do you want to make a tower or a castle together?”

5.  Debrief.

After your kid has met any new person, you have an opportunity to talk about the experience and answer any questions your kiddo may have.  This is another chance to serve as a coach and cheerleader for your child as they learn to make new friends.

As a mama of a kid with an extra chromosome, I can’t begin to describe how much it matters when parents help their children learn to be includers.  It may not seem like a big thing, but it’s a very big deal to our family and lots more like ours.  

Eventually, kind kids are gonna grow up to be kind adults.  

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