"Stop talking like that. Why do you talk like THAT? I can't understand him. Ugh."
"I don't want to sit next to HIM. He'll get DROOL all over me!"
"Haha. You are slow. You are last. You are the slowest!"
These are things I have heard other children - ages four to six - say to Bugaboo in the last month. Seeing them in print is just as hard now as it was hearing them the first time. Children are mean.
I expected to encounter meanness in the years ahead, but I honestly thought we had a little more time. We don't. With Bug's disabilities we can't be sure if he understands what is being said about him or to him, but does that really matter? The words and the attitudes behind the words are heartbreaking.
Parents, please teach your children to be kind. Niceness isn't enough. "If you can't say something nice don't say anything at all" is a starting place, but it doesn't cut it. Anyone can keep quiet. The world needs kindness, it needs compassion. My child needs a true friend, even if he doesn't realize it yet, even if your child already has plenty of friends.
Parents, you can't just tell your children to be kind, you must model it. Stop making jokes about the short bus. Stop using the r-word or any other word that puts someone down. Be a friend to someone who might not be the most popular woman at church, the prettiest one at the gym, or the funniest one in the office. Don't gossip. Think outside of your usual crew for playdates and zoo trips. Don't assume that a child who is different from yours won't like some of the same things.
Parents, have difficult conversations with your children about differences and disabilities. Read age appropriate books about autism, cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, food allergies, visual impairments, or any other "label" you can think of. Talk about why some children drool, why some children use a wheelchair, why some children say the same phrase over and over again. Help your child to not be afraid of those who are different. Help your child to realize he/she isn't any better than any other child. Kindly ask questions about my child.
Parents, expect your children to be kind. Don't tolerate your child being a "mean girl" (or boy). Think of how you might feel if you were a parent of a special needs child because some day you might be. Nothing in life is a guarantee. Don't parent from the couch. Actually listen to what your children are saying on the playground, at a birthday party, at church. Some of it may shock you.
No one, child or adult, likes to be mocked. No one likes to be intentionally left out. My child may or may not understand that someone is mocking him or leaving him out, but I understand. And it is heartbreaking.
*(I hesitated to blog about this for a lot of reasons. First of all, my children are not perfect. There have been things they have done that have shocked or embarrassed me. They are children. Secondly, I am not perfect at this. I look back over my life at things I have said, at situations I ignored instead of confronting, and at people I didn't befriend because it wasn't convenient, and I feel great sorrow over this. But I think if my parents had known, my attitude would have been dealt with, and hopefully I would have made better choices. Do not read this and think "That isn't my child," because there is a good chance it is or it will be someday. Instead, please think, "I will teach and model kindness to and for and toward my child. I will have the hard conversations ... often.")