Have you ever given much thought to how your own child may treat a fellow classmate that has special needs? After discovering the reason behind one mother’s facebook page asking for birthday wishes for her son, it will really make you think. Taken straight from the "Happy Birthday Colin" Facebook page, here is why she did this:
“I am Colin's mom, I created this page for my amazing, wonderful, challenging son who is about to turn 11 on March 9th. Because of Colin's disabilities, social skills are not easy for him, and he often acts out in school, and the other kids don't like him. So when I asked him if he wanted a party for his birthday, he said there wasn't a point because he has no friends. He eats lunch alone in the office everyday because no one will let him sit with them, and rather than force someone to be unhappy with his presence, he sits alone in the office. So I thought, if I could create a page where people could send him positive thoughts and encouraging words, that would be better than any birthday party. Please join me in making my very original son feel special on his day.”
It brings to mind a lot of thoughts and questions. But most importantly, it should cause parents to pause and think that even if their child doesn’t have a disability, do they understand how to treat those that do? As adults we are working hard to end the stigma of mental illness and help people with disabilities, but we must remember it begins at home and it begins with children.
Dr. Oscar Bukstein, medical director for DePelchin Children's Center, provides some important points for parents to remember as they assist children in growing up and navigating these social areas that will inevitably impact their entire life:
- Teaching your children the importance of including others needs to start early – even in kindergarten or 1st grade. Reinforce the importance of acting with kindness toward others and help your child to resist peer pressure to exclude others.
- Parents need to reinforce positive behavior in children by rewarding desired behavior through their words or actions. Parents need to make sure to acknowledge in a positive way when their child is acting with social kindness towards others so they will want to continue doing it in the future.
- Make sure your child knows what it means to have a disability and how the excluded child may feel. Don’t assume they understand because most of the time they do not. They are receiving social cues from their peers in the moment and will not think to ask you later how to respond.
- Be specific. Give your child the task of saying something nice to the child who may be excluded or doing something nice for them once a day. It is important that even though they may not be close friends, they are treating the child with kindness and respect and know how to do this.