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How to address topic of physical handicaps with a 4 yr old?

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 
Today I was walking my 4 yr old daughter home from school when we passed a little boy not much older than her in a wheel chair. Being four, she not so discretely said in a loud voice "Mommy, does that boy have a broken leg?" The boy's mother (or caretaker for all I know) overheard and seemed to zoom in to hear my response with a bit of a tight-lipped expression.

So here I was, right IN the moment scrambling to think of the most sensitive way to address her question.

Wat I decided to do is not shush her or rush her away because I didn't want him OR my daughter to feel like there was anything wrong with his disability. And then I started with "That little boy has his very own cool set of fast wheels! And No, he doesn't have a broken leg like your Uncle..." (Which is where she got the idea in the first place I am sure) "But he does use that shiney chair so he can keep up with his friends."

No idea if I still skirted the issue too much... I just hoped to highlight the little boy's disability in a hopefully positive way and didn't think a detailed explanation of paralysis was necessary in the moment nor even really understandable at her age.

What would YOU have said in that moment? Anyone with a child in a wheelchair... How would you PREFER people handle those questions when they inevitably come up. He is such a sweet little boy and I really hope I handled it sensitively enough...
post #2 of 5

With the wheelchair thing, I would say "I don't know why...some people get hurt, some people are born with legs that don't work like ours, some people get sick...there are lots of reasons why people have wheelchairs". Even though sometimes you can tell it's a severe disability....it's easier to keep it simple so that the next time they see someone in a wheelchair, they know there could be any number of reasons why they are in a chair. 


I come from a very conservative, religious area. A lot of people use the "that's how God made them". We don't go to church, but for some reason, my kids picked up on this early on (they went to pre-K at a church). My son had some developmental delays, etc, when he was young and I overheard someone ask him why he couldn't do something and he said "that's just how Jesus made me". I thought it was really cute.


Ironically, that was one of my son's issues....he had NO filter. He was about 5 when he went up to a person with dwarfism and tried to play with him. When the man gave him a weird look and kept walking, my son said "mom, he looked kind of weird". I think he heard.


I always had to prepare myself when I saw a person who looked different coming our way...whether it was a disability or obesity or piercings, etc. After a particularly embarrassing incident at a fast food restaurant, the very next day he started asking questions about a man in a wheelchair....RIGHT after we just had the whole conversation about "it's OK to be curious but you shouldn't stare, and you can ask me questions, but not until later when the people are gone."


I remember one time when he was 3 he and he was just starting to talk he said "wooook!!" (look). He was pointing at a deformed boy at his school. "Wook shoes!". He had big styrofoam balls for shoes due to his deformity. I remember saying "yes, I see those big fancy shoes!" I was also pretty happy that my son was putting words together, as he had speech delays. The boy looked upset by my reaction. I guess he was used to people just hushing their children and making them look away. 

post #3 of 5

We have been on both ends of this.  I've had a four year old with no inside voice and that same four year old used a walker.  She got a lot of looks because you don't often see a child with a walker.  Her own disorder is kind of unusual and specific and we don't know anyone else with it and had never heard of it before she was tentatively diagnosed AND it's quirky so we have that added fun.


There is no right answer.  Every kid and parent has an "ideal" response they'd like to hear and you can't possibly know what they are - and for some parents, there IS no right response, ANYTHING you say is a chance for them to vent their frustration.  Some parents are super troopers and great about answering questions, and some are very worn down by it (totally reasonable).  Some people want you to pretend you don't notice, and some want to face it head on.  Pointing is never ok.  Never describe the child as (issue) kid, it's kid (with issue).


I just go with the general, "don't point, it's rude" and sometimes, "maybe someday if we are friends, he/she will talk to you but we don't ask personal questions" and hope for the best.  She's getting better.  The WORST thing you can do is ignore it while your kid goes ON and ON, or try to shush your child like the other person is shameful or an embarrassment.  If you make eye contact with the other parent and/or child and say, "we are still working on manners" and smile, you've done as much as you can do.

post #4 of 5

Thank you NiteNicole. I forgot about describing people as "person with issue" and not "issue" person. I am still working on this one myself. In my original post, I described one person as having dwarfism (instead of saying "a dwarf")...but then I messed up and said "deformed boy" instead of "boy with deformity". A lot of seemingly educated people, even those who work with kids with disabilities still refer to people as "autistic" or "a downs baby". A child with autism is a child with autism...not an autistic child. The logic behind it is, that is not the ONLY thing that defines them, so why put it first? Once you explain it to people, and they have a chance to think about it, it makes complete sense...but it's just hard to break old habits.  


It doesn't just apply to disabilities either, obviously. We can find other ways to describe people...instead of "that black kid" it can be "that kid in the blue shirt..the one on the slide..." Or instead of "she is an alcoholic" it would be "she has alcoholism". It is something that should be taught in writing classes in school for sure!

post #5 of 5

My youngest had a feeding tube, and little kids would ask about it all the time when they saw us using it. I told them that some people wore glasses because their eyes needed help. Some people needed a wheelchair because their legs didn't work quite right. And she needed a tube that was like a straw to put her special milk in because her tummy wasn't working very well. They seemed to get that right away. 


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