Back to School

As you start your back to school rituals of new haircuts, countless trips to Target and uniform or clothes shopping, I’d like to urge you to sit and have a conversation with your littles before that first bell rings. What I am asking you to discuss is the topic of children with disabilities, children who look different, and the children who might get excluded, or sit by themselves at lunch. Sit with your kids while you still have the summer hours and talk about what kindness looks like in the classroom, the lunch room, and the playground. Talk about what they can do or say if they have any questions about another child’s differences. How should they ask if they want to know what those little boxes are on the sides of a little girl’s head? Or why her ears are small or why she wears that cool pink headband?

Talk about this “hard” stuff with your little ones before school is in full swing and you’re focused on homework and their new teacher, constantly looking through packets and cleaning out their backpack, and the schedule doesn’t allow for nightly conferences on such topics. I’m asking that you open the door to the conversation and see what they fill it with. Ask if they noticed a kid last year who was different, had a disability or simply looked sad often in the lunch room. Ask them if they’ve been in a situation where they were curious about a child and didn’t know what to do. Tell them it is okay to ask you questions, or even ask the child and give them the tools to be kind with their questions. Explain what acceptance and kindness look and sound like.

No age is too young to start this conversation. As children approach Pre-K (and sometimes sooner), these notions of what’s normal and “different” are forming. At 4-5 years old, girls and boys are looking more, pointing sometimes and want an explanation. Much of it is innocent, but some has an added layer of teasing or nonacceptance. All of it can be handled now, as soon as you can, with a conversation.

We sat the other night with my stepdaughter and asked her to reflect on her school year last year. Did she notice anyone with differences or disabilities? We gave her examples to trigger her memory- did she remember meeting or seeing any children with hearing aids like her sister’s, a wheel chair, someone who walked differently? We asked her if she recalls seeing any children sitting or playing alone often. We engaged with her on what she could do to make sure no one felt alone during the school day. What could she say to a child who was somehow different because of a disability (and explained what I meant by that word).  I also told her that I think it’s okay to notice the difference. It’s totally fine to ask how something works. She could also simply sit down and say hello, to be friendly and smile. We openly encouraged her to choose to sit with the kid who sits by themselves.

A lot of adults avoid these conversations because they feel it’s just too hard or maybe you worry you’ll say the wrong thing. Adults often tell their children not to point, don’t notice that difference, stop asking about that little boy and change the subject to avoid anything unpleasant. Inadvertently, adults often close the door to teaching kindness without even knowing it. By not suggesting our children make the kind choice to sit with another child who appears lonely or was made fun of by other kids, we are avoiding it ourselves. WE the parents need to give them these tools, not just the teachers.

Many of you have now read the book Wonder or watched the movie trailer that I’ve posted as often as social media will let me. Many, like yours truly, are struck by the scenes in the cafeteria when two different kids sit down with Auggie and they are friendly, joking with him and laughing together. One of the most poignant moments for me is when a little girl named Summer sits down with him and he says to her “you don’t have to do this,” and she is hurt by that statement, saying “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Auggie.”  I’m curious if any of you thought “would my kid sit down?” I wonder if you simply hoped so or believed they would. Possibly they would, but have you sat down and asked them? Have you talked to them about differences of any kind, not just what’s polite but what actions embody kindness? If not, it’s time.

In spreading kindness, acceptance and love, the conversation isn’t that hard after all. You might fumble through it at first, but that’s all of parenting isn’t it? Sit down, ask them questions and get them talking. It’s more important to try and start somewhere than avoid it because it’s possibly awkward or you worry about what you might say. Children are born to accept and love. Babies and toddlers do not see differences or disabilities. We teach them what to see, how to act, what to say over time and we can change the narrative in the school hallways. We can start with a conversation and spread our message of kindness.

Kindness is contagious, after all.






Published by

Leave a Reply