Talking to children
I'm not very confident around children. Their staring and questions make me uncomfortable. And when they get scared of my appearance, it makes me sad. Sometimes when they are scared and turn to their parents, their parents comfort them, as though I am something not to be looked at. If children ask me directly why I look the way I do, I say
I was born this way, like you were born with your blue eyes. But if they stare or point, I am often not sure how to respond. I'm sure it's a hang up from my childhood, remembering the way children treated me. And my clumsy and sometimes verbally defensive and persistent interaction with them.
Last year over dinner, a friend who has a disability taught me something. A child was staring at us, two people who looked remarkably different. I grew uncomfortable but my friend smiled and said hello. She told me she often asks children whether they have any questions about her. I liked this approach and made it a bit of a resolution to engage with children more. I hope to make them more at ease around me and others with disabilities. And it's children who will change the world.
On the tram recently there was a little girl who was staring at me so I smiled and said hello. She was such a cute poppet. She wore a pastel chiffon dress and massive Dora the Explorer sunglasses that kept falling off her nose.
She struck up a conversation with me. We talked about her party dress, her princess Barbie and her mum. I asked her what her name was and then I told her mine. She said
pleased to meet you Carly.
Her father told me it was her fourth birthday that day. She told me she was out with her dad while her mum baked her birthday cake and prepared for her party that afternoon.
As she got off the tram, she said goodbye, blew me a kiss and said
I wish you were coming to my party. I melted.
So cute. I am glad I smiled at her. And such a positive experience. I didn't have to explain my appearance to her. By simply talking to her and taking interest, she felt more comfortable sitting next to me. I'd won her over and she wasn't frightened. And that made me really happy.
It is often parents who shape their children's beliefs and prejudices. This little girl was clearly raised well. We, with disabilities and visibly different appearances, can also help to shape children's beliefs and acceptance. We don't need to parent them, just educate them at a level they can understand. We can show them we are friendly and willing to chat as much as any other person.
My advice for talking to children about your disability is:
- Smile and say hello. Ask them their name and tell them yours.
- Ask them if they have any questions about the way you look.
- If they do, explain your disability in simple terms. For example,
I was born this way,
my wheelchair helps me get to workand
my guide dog helps me find my way around.
- Tell them everyone is different.
- If their parents talk about you incorrectly, speak up and explain your disability correctly. Be polite of course.