April 19, 2016

Teach Your Child How to Interact with Special Needs Peers

As you pick your child up from day care, you typically ask him or her about the day, the things he or she learned, and if he or she enjoyed playing with friends. Amidst the discussion, you learn that one of your child’s peers has special needs. Your child is curious, and he or she wants to know a few things about this individual.

You want to make sure your child understands how to interact with his or her friends with special needs, but you don’t know how to best teach your little one.

In the guide below, we offer a few tips so you can teach your child how to talk to and behave towards any special needs children he or she spends time with.

Answer Your Child’s Questions

Children are curious by nature. Everything they see and hear seems new and interesting. At day care, and even in public, your child may see a peer in a wheelchair. Or perhaps your little one notices another child who has a hard time speaking normally.

Rather than tell your child to not stare at or make comments about his or her special needs peer, address your little one’s curiosity. Let him or her ask you questions, and answer them as best as you can. Explain that each child is different and that it’s easier to see those differences in some children than in others.

Keep your explanations simple. After all, your child can’t understand some things as well as you can. The shorter and simpler an explanation, the easier it will be for your child to understand what you tell him or her.

Explain How to Be Sensitive

You should also tell your child that all children want to be treated nicely by other kids. Teach your child how to be sensitive to his or her special needs peer. For example, tell your child that he or she should never say anything that could hurt someone else’s feelings. Tell your son or daughter that special needs children still understand what people say to them, so your child should always be kind.

Read through our previous blog for more tips about teaching your child about social sensitivity.

Find Common Interests

Remind your child that all kids (even those who are a little different) want friends. Special needs children also enjoy the same things that other children do. Tell your little one to find shared interests with a special needs peer. To start a conversation, your child can ask questions such as:

What sports do you like?
Who is your favorite superhero or princess?
Do you like movies? Do you have a favorite one?
What is your favorite color, food, or TV show?
Do you have a favorite story or book?
As your child talks with his or her special needs peer, your little one may discover that he or she has a few things in common with the other child. Let your child focus on those common interests to build a friendship.

Tell Your Child to Be Helpful

When you talk to your child, make sure you explain that some children can’t do certain things by themselves. These children need a little extra help, so tell your child to be helpful when he or she spends time with a special needs peer. For example, explain that if a special needs child knocks over a toy or a book and can’t pick the object up, your child should pick it up for them.

Focus on the Peer’s Strengths

No one likes to feel different or like a disability defines them. This statement is just as true with children as with adults. As you teach your child how to interact with a special needs peer, tell your child to focus on a peer’s strengths—not on weaknesses or differences.

Explain that everyone deserves respect and kindness, and the best way to be kind and respectful is to compliment another child on his or her strengths. For example, a wheelchair-bound peer could be the best painter or joke-teller at day care, or he or she could be the best at shooting hoops, even from a seated position. Have your child compliment his or her friend on these strong qualities.

Continue Educating Your Child

As your child ages, he or she has the capacity to understand more about disabilities. Continue to educate your child about special needs and disabilities as he or she gets older. Look for disability-awareness programs in your community. Learn more about disabilities at home. If you know the parent of the special needs peer, ask if he or she would mind explaining things to you and your child.

Most importantly, teach by example. Your child will follow your actions, and he or she will say the things that you say. Let your example show your little one that differences aren’t a bad thing, and that differences make everyone unique. As you continue to teach your child as he or she grows and develops, he or she will know how to treat others.

Use the tips above as you teach your child how to interact with special needs children. For more information about teaching your little one how to approach different life situations, read through the rest of our blog.