Children are innocent as they’re growing up. They ask questions which may embarrass their parents but they honestly don’t know if what they’re asking is inappropriate. As they’re growing, teaching your children about disabilities is important so they are aware and can avoid hurting another’s feelings.

We want our children to treat others with concern, particularly those with disabilities. We would also like to think we model empathy for others to our children.

What do you do when you see someone who is disabled? Perhaps they’re in a wheelchair or they use a walker. Many people shush their children and become embarrassed when their children ask why that person is in a wheelchair. But did you know that meeting someone with a disability can be a great learning experience for your children?

In general, children don’t understand disabilities or handicaps. They don’t have preconceived ideas about what is considered ‘normal.’ Children look at everyone with the notion that they are the way they are and that’s just fine with them. The sad fact is that children learn how to react to people with differences from us adults, who maybe haven’t done such a great job of training them.

Rather than looking away, pointing, or ignoring those with disabilities, engage them. Make a point to acknowledge them; give them a smile. You may want to go over to them and ask them if you and your child can speak with them.

Most people with disabilities or who look different from others are used to being ignored or whispered about. They long to be treated like everyone else; they may be different but they have the same desires and feelings. By engaging them in conversation, even if your children do ask questions you’d rather they did not, you may be surprised how open people with disabilities are about themselves.

If you’re some distance away from the person when you notice them and your child asks you a question, you can tell them “They aren’t able to hear like you do, so they communicate by sign language,” or “Some children have legs which don’t work the same as yours, so they need help to get around.” Explain in simple terms but stress to them how people with disabilities, no matter if they are children, teens, or adults, may be different in some ways but are really more alike than they are different.

Reinforce to your child what is considered the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In other words, treat others as you’d like to be treated. If your child doesn’t like being called names, they want to realize others don’t like it either.

Read story books which feature children or adults with handicaps or disabilities. Stories can sometimes explain things in a way parents can’t because they’re geared toward teaching.