Inclusivity matters. Many people don’t know the struggle that individuals with disabilities face in our society.
The problem extends well beyond occasional teasing — significant social constructs prevent the disabled from fully participating in life.
As parents, we can do our part to help shape attitudes, starting with our own children.
Here are nine ways to teach your children to be more inclusive toward those with disabilities, and illness, and even race:
1. Increase Their Exposure
Does your child have any friends who use wheelchairs or other assistive devices to walk? What about someone with hearing issues or a chronic illness?
The best way to learn about the struggles those with disabilities face is to make friends with them. You could find the experience enlightening.
For example, according to the CDC, while only 5% of children under 18 are uninsured, nearly half have public coverage — which means when they reach the age of majority, they sometimes face insurmountable difficulties if their employer doesn’t offer insurance. This hardship is far from minor, given the gig economy.
What does this situation mean to you when promoting inclusion?
Go easy if your child’s friend comes from the “wrong side of the tracks.” Many conditions, like Type 1 diabetes, tend to run in families. Even if the child qualifies for aid, the parents likely do not.
Choosing between costly medical care and paying rent represents a considerable hardship for those with chronic diseases requiring ongoing care. Many members of this population live in perpetual poverty even if they work hard.
2. Play Games
Yes, you take your kids to the park so that they can run and jump to their hearts’ content. However, one way you can promote inclusivity is to suggest games that everyone can play — even those who use a chair.
For example, why not propose a game of Through the Hoops. All you need is a hula hoop, a collection of balls, and a rope. Unlike basketball, they have to throw the ball horizontally, helping develop upper-body strength and coordination. Everyone can join in the fun.
3. Consider Public School
If you have deep pockets, you might choose to send your kids to private school. However, you should know that one drawback of this model is reduced diversity because these entities can pick and choose who attends.
Likewise, those who go to private schools often come from higher socioeconomic backgrounds, meaning that your child won’t get to “know the struggle,” even secondhand. While this approach works if you want to keep them more sheltered, it can lead to a narrowed perspective. Ultimately, you must do what’s best for your child, but you should remain aware that public schools promote more inclusivity because they have to accommodate all.
Related Reading: How To Create An At-Home School Experience For Your Kiddos
4. Teach Reaching Out Strategies
Children aren’t born with inherent prejudices. Their typical reaction to the unusual — like someone using arm crutches to help them walk — is curiosity, not derision.
However, it is best to teach them to reach out to others early in life. Not everyone has the ability to develop and do so.
If you are at the park and see someone with different abilities playing alone, encourage your child to speak with them. Coach them how to ask, “can I join in on your game,” or, “would you like to try this one?” Some children are naturally more shy than others, and they’ll appreciate the tips.
5. Encourage Quiet Play
Children love rough-and-tumble play. However, there’s a time to hit the gridiron and another for getting lost in a fantasy world.
Encourage quiet play in your children from a young age using tools like a tot-clock to time-independent sessions. Once your kids discover the joy of coloring or acting out a story with their dolls, they won’t want to stop — but they will love to share their activities with others.
6. Model Anti-Bullying Techniques
Anti-bullying programs in schools help reduce such behavior, but you as a parent can do more. Make sure you not only scold threats, intimidations, and put-downs but model the appropriate way to act.
For example, if your kids hear you talking about how a depressed friend always wants preferential treatment at work — when all they want is a telecommuting accommodation — they’ll pick up on your judgmental attitude. If you treat adults with mental and physical disorders dismissively, your children will imitate what you do despite your instructions to do otherwise. Don’t act surprised when they come home with a note from the teacher for picking on a classmate who requested quiet time to prevent a meltdown.
7. Learn Sign Language Together
Do you need a fun activity to do during a quarantine period? Why not use the extra time at home to learn sign language?
While it takes a while to master, this activity helps promote inclusivity in kids by introducing them to hearing impairments. They’ll love it because they can sign “secret messages” to their BFF in class without getting in trouble for talking out of turn.
8. Monitor Off and Online Interactions
You can’t correct non-inclusive behavior in your children if you don’t know when it occurs. Please continue to monitor their off and online interactions and discuss problems as they arise.
You have to tread lightly with older children who will cite privacy concerns.
However, it’s okay to say, “I overheard you using the ‘R’ word. Let’s talk about why that isn’t okay.”
9. Walk the Talk and Become an Advocate
The ultimate way to teach your children to be more inclusive to those with disabilities is to become an advocate yourself. Educate yourself on the issues and mobilize your efforts to bring improved equality for all.
Advocate for policies such as universal coverage — they have proven to work time and again. For example, the implementation of a unified health system in Brazil dropped infant mortality rates from 46 per 1,000 live births to 17.3.
Such measures would lift millions out of poverty and, more importantly, improve the quality of life for scores of kids. Here in America, the Supreme Court will soon decide whether to dismantle the Affordable Care Act at a time when millions already lack access to health services. Speak up for parents currently struggling with disabilities and future generations who may also have to face the hardships this population grapples with today.
Teach Your Children to Be Inclusive With These Tips
As a parent, you play a vital role in increasing acceptance and equal treatment for those with disabilities. Please use these nine ideas to teach your children to be inclusive for a brighter tomorrow for all.