If you have a child, you know firsthand how inquisitive they can be. Naturally, they learn through observation about the world around them and, often, point out the obvious.
My daughter has always been a curious child. A couple of years ago, we attended a conference out of town with my husband. Just as we were about to get on an elevator, she noticed a man with a cast on his leg. The man was hunched over and barely able to stand, even with crutches. I noticed my daughter’s long gaze at him and then heard her almost immediate question, “Momma, what happened to his leg?”
This innocent and understandable question from a three-year-old prompted a much-needed conversation in our family about how our words affect others. It also reminded me that I should have been prepared for such a situation and laid the groundwork for my child’s curious nature, but I had not.
Because children learn by asking questions, we quickly reassured our daughter that her questions are always welcome. However, we also cautioned her about commenting on someone’s appearance in his or her presence because this can lead to hurt feelings. After that incident, we set a family rule—questions about others are saved for the car because that is our private place for family discussion. This has really helped. Many times now when we are out, my daughter will whisper to me, “Momma, when we’re in the car, I’d like to talk to you about something.”
But a deeper and more important lesson is evident here as well—while others might look different on the outside, they are like everyone else on the inside. We all desire to be accepted, loved, and respected. Given this, we should treat others in a manner that respects God’s image in them, regardless of physical or intellectual disabilities. Ultimately, the character is what really counts.
While no two children are the same, all children are blessed with strengths and “growth areas.” Although some weaknesses are more obvious than others, each weakness is only a small component of each child. Children with disabilities are like all children—they want friends and inclusion.
When you encounter a child with disabilities, encourage your child to not only say “hi” but to keep talking just as he or she would interact with any other child. Emphasize what your child and another child with a disability might have in common instead of focusing on what might set them apart. These can be simple commonalities, such as being the same age, liking the same cartoons, or attending the same church. As parents, this is how we model Jesus’s teachings about “love for all children.”
With the right tools and God’s word, parents can proactively teach their children about the nature and manifestations of disability, which increases awareness and encourages compassion. For example, you might find a helpful book or video at the library or read more about a specific disability online. When discussing people who are disabled, remember to choose words carefully in order to model compassion and understanding.
Remind your child that those with disabilities—although they might struggle with certain activities—often find creative ways to accomplish ordinary, and even extraordinary, tasks. Focus on the common ground your child has with others by naming a specific activity or skill your child finds difficult, even when they try very hard. Finally, encourage your child not only to treat all children equally, but also to think of all children equally. We all have issues that we struggle with in life; some are just more evident than others.
Further, we do not know what the future holds. Each of us, both children and adult, due to age or circumstance, might encounter issues that lead to disability. And wouldn’t we desire compassion then as well?
The most important lesson is that God made every child with love and for a unique purpose. No one is here by accident or mistake. All His children have value! Each child is fearfully and wonderfully made so that God’s works will be displayed within the individual (John 9: 1-3).
The Old and New Testaments contain numerous examples of important people who faced challenges due to disabilities: Moses had a speech defect, Mephibosheth had trouble walking, and Samson was blind. Disabilities aside, God used these people in magnificent ways to make His will known and accomplished (John 9:1-3).
While the world tries to send a different message at times—reducing people to and defining them by their disabilities—we know that God’s true word affirms the value of individuals. Each person is created in God’s likeness, regardless of his or her capabilities. Each person is fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Help your child to overcome the barriers of difference and to see others as Christ sees them.
Suzanne Stamboulieh is the founder of Scarlett Gray Publishing, a Christian publishing company dedicated to producing children’s books centered on God’s Word. Suzanne is a homeschooling mom living in Mississippi with her husband, Stephen, and daughter, Scarlett. Her latest children’s book can be found here.