Sunday, June 10, 2018

To the mum of the child without special needs......

The other day I watched Emma at the playground climbing up a rope ladder. She moved slowly and deliberately making sure her arms compensated for her weak leg muscles and that her grip was strong enough to compensate her poor balance that could see her topple off at any moment. 

I watched with pride as she struggled, persisted and made it to the top.

What an achievement for a child who was told she may never walk!

With a renewed sense of confidence, she came down the slide ready to attempt the challenge again. 

But this time - two children appeared who also wanted to climb. One boy began screaming angrily at her to "Hurry up!" while the little girl closest to her began pushing her in frustration. Emma knew she would fall if she tried to move too quickly so she froze and held on for dear life.

Before I could intervene, I watched as the mother came to the rescue of her little girl, exasperated at having to wait, and literally picked Emma up and moved her out of the way to let her daughter climb to the top.

Surprisingly, I wasn't angry or even annoyed.

I was perplexed and disappointed.

Mum! You just missed a valuable teaching opportunity!

Mum, this was the perfect scenario to teach your child to be patient and wait their turn.

But instead you just taught your child that HER needs are more important than the needs of others.

Mum, this was an opportunity to teach your child self-control.

But by not correcting her exasperation, you inadvertently taught her that intolerance of others is okay.

Mum, this was a perfect opportunity to explain to your child that some kids are different and cannot climb as quickly as you.

But by not stopping to take your daughter aside and explain special needs, you perpetuated the cultural narrative that disabled people are 'less' - that it's acceptable to simply push them out of the way.

See, it's not only my daughter that is negatively impacted in scenario's like this..........'s yours as well.

See, every time you allow your child to ignore a child with special needs, exclude them or listen to them make a demeaning comment without correction - you empower unkindness in your child.

Of course no parent does this intentionally which is why I'm writing this.....

When we fail to actively teach kindness and compassion and lovingly correct and discipline behavior that does not respect the rights of others - we deprive our children the opportunity to see the incredible power they have within them to make a positive difference in the world - to do good, to help, to give, to love....

Mum, in that one simple moment you thought you were empowering your daughter by pushing the disabled kid out of the way. 

But you actually dis empowered her by failing to point out her power to do good in that situation - by failing to teach her that instead of responding with frustration she could have chosen to say, 

"It's okay. Let me help you."

As adults, we must be very careful about the cultural narratives we model and instill in our children. This means confronting our own intolerance, judgment and attitudes towards those who have special needs or a disability. Our children will mirror our own attitudes and provide miniature reflections of our indifference and ignorance towards the needs and value of others.

In conclusion.......

Mum, if nothing else, my disabled child provides you with a powerful opportunity to teach your own child love, compassion, empathy, kindness, patience....and that people who are different are not 'less'.

Mum, as you take the time to talk to your child about mine - you give your child an amazing opportunity to learn about their power and capacity to help - to bring change, hope and happiness to others. 

Mum, in future, please don't encourage your child to ignore or push my disabled child out of the way - Instead choose to seize the teachable moment to help your child grow into a better human being. 

Your child - and mine - will thank you.

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