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We have all seen post about being kind or teaching children about disabilities but what does that really mean to young children? How do you as an adult answer questions that perhaps you don’t really understand yourself? Is it rude to ask or even approach someone in a wheelchair or who has braces on their legs or maybe they just look, speak, eat different then you and I? What is the importance of teaching young children about engaging with someone who has a disability? How do you as a parent support a young child with developing a friendship with a child who perhaps is non-verbal?

The adults in a young child’s life has many influences and this includes how you interact with someone who may have diverse abilities that may make you uncomfortable because you just simply don’t know how to respond or engage. To create a culture of acceptance and inclusion, it is very important that we demonstrate and model appropriate and respectful responses to people we encounter in day to day life as well as those we pass on a daily basis.

If you are in a situation that it is appropriate to ask a person either about themselves or their child simply ask, “Do you mind if I ask about your child?” When we as adults avoid or ignore we are not modeling for our children that it is okay to have differences, we are all different in some way, and our differences makes us unique. When we model acceptance through simple gestures we are creating the foundation of inclusion on the most basic level.

Parents often say, "I wish someone would just ask me instead of telling their child don’t stare that is rude." Remember when asking someone about their disability or why they use a specific piece of equipment such as braces, wheelchair etc this does not give you permission to ask more personal questions, keep it general.

When young children that have never been around medical equipment and suddenly find themselves in a preschool classroom with a child who needs suctioning throughout the day or at the grocery store and pass a child who is different from them, they may find this a little scary. It is up to the adults to help this child understand that it is ok and our role is to help that child look past that device and see that this is just another little boy or girl in their class that likes to read and sing songs or at the store picking up groceries just like them.

Be honest! Answer the hard questions truthfully and directly but remember age appropriately. And remember disabilities are part of everyday life in every culture and across all socio-economic levels but most importantly remember we are all more alike than we are different. 

Author: Lisa Spurlock, Coordinator, Family Voices of Tennessee Southeast Partnership

Children can experience a lot of different emotions when returning back to school after the summer break. Anxiety is one of the most common feelings children experience at the beginning of the school year. Anxiety often is our reaction to the unknown. 

There are a lot of unknowns in a child’s life when they return back to school. 
Some common worries children have may include: 

  • Who are my classmates? 
  • Will I like my teacher?
  • Who will I sit next to? 
  • What will I be served for lunch? 
  • What will I play during recess?
  • Who will I play with? 
  • And the list continues…..

Some children are able to communicate their feelings using words; others express their emotions through behaviors (oppositional, socially withdrawing etc.) and physical symptoms (complaining of stomach aches, headaches, difficulty sleeping)

Here are some ways in which you can help ease their transition back to school: 

  • Encourage building of your child’s emotional vocabulary by helping them connect their internal feelings with behaviors and emotion words (e.g. when I feel nervous my hands get sweaty). This can help the child better recognize their feelings and ask for help or use their coping skills as soon as they notice their body’s physical cues.
  • Normalize their feelings. Remind the child that there are no good or bad feelings. Feeling anxious is very normal. 
  • Re-establish morning, bedtime and mealtime routines a couple of weeks before school starts. Discuss the drop off and pick up plans in detail so the child knows what to expect. This can be done by writing it down or making a picture schedule. The more your child can anticipate events, the more she will feel in control of her daily environment. 
  • Develop a back-to-school narrative with your child. Work with your child in making up a story about going back to school. This story can include your child as the main character or someone else. Help your child problem solve through storytelling. Children often share their inner feelings through play. Storytelling is a wonderful way to learn more about their concerns and fun way for them to learn adaptive coping skills!
  • Openly talk about them returning back-to-school. Ask your child about things they are excited about and things they are nervous about with respect to school. Openly (but in an age appropriate way) share about some of your own challenges as a student and talk about how you overcame them. This can be a casual conversation you have in the car or while coloring together. 
  • Teach and practice relaxation skills including deep breathing, meditation, etc. regularly. Blowing bubbles is a great way to practice deep breathing. This can help decrease some physical symptoms of anxiety. 
  • Visit the school with your child. Re-orient your child to their school. If the building is locked, walk around the school or play in the playground 
  • Built up the excitement! Help your child get excited about their return to school. Go backpack and school supplies shopping together! Help them pick out their outfit for their first day back! 
  • Transitional objects are a great way to help some children feel emotionally safe as they transition into a new environment. Depending on the child’s age this can be a teddy bear they take with them; a sign they make for the classroom or a note from a parent that they carry around in their pocket. 
  • Assign a “safe person” at school. This can be a teacher or staff member. This person can remind your child to use her relaxation skills when anxious. 

By: Dr. Amrita Uttamchandani, Clinical Psychologist, Siskin Center for Developmental Pediatrics

About the author

Dr. Uttamchandani  is a Clinical Psychologist with expertise in developmental delays. Dr. Uttamchandani’s particular specialty is working with children and adolescents who exhibit behavioral and emotional problems. She provides support for parents while working with children and adolescents to identify their struggles and develop adaptive ways to resolve them. Her perspective encourages collaboration between teachers, parents, family, and healthcare providers as they support the well-being of the child. Dr. Uttamchandani conducts psychological assessments to provide diagnosis clarification and treatment recommendations. She provides therapy in English, Hindi and Urdu, and, for clients who do not speak those languages, she is trained to provide therapy in the presence of an interpreter. 

As the use of technology and screens increases with young children, we asked Charity Somo from our Developmental Family Therapy Center to share her top 4 tips for ensuring our kids use these devices in a helpful and not harmful manner. See below for her tips and tricks to help parents help guide their child in the healthy use of technology.

1. Make an informed decision about technology. 

  • Is that technology age appropriate for your child? Having certain technological gadgets can be trendy. However, before investing in a certain technology ask yourself if your child needs that technology and what he/she will do with it.  
  • Is that app/game/website age appropriate for your child? Children often appear to be digitally advanced. While they can search and find apps and information with ease, they do not know how to judge and evaluate the information. Children need parental guidance to evaluate the online information they consume. Take the time to sit and go over apps/games/information with your children and teach them good decision making on digital activities.  

2. Be pro-active about technology. 
  • What is your child doing with the technology?  Children can do a lot of cool things with technology. This does not mean parents should leave them to their own devices. Devise a way to monitor your child’s digital activity. Try a family media agreement contract! 
  • Did you set up the parental controls on the technology? 
  • Does your child ask for your permission to be on that app/game/website? Parents can use parental controls to help children select non-harmful ways to engage with technology. Since parental controls cannot safe guard all digital activity, make sure your children ask for your permission before they download an app or visit websites.  
3. Manage your own technology use. 
  • How do you engage with your technology? Loving or hating technology are neither good options. Parents should have a healthy appreciation for technology and maintain healthy habits with their own technology. Moderate participation with your child on their apps/games is a healthy way to mentor them on good use of technology. Maintaining your own healthy use of technology sets a good example for your child. 
4. Build healthy family routines and habits. 
  • Do you have family time set aside daily? 
  • Do you intentionally interact with your child daily? Family time is important to enhance social skills, including communication, conflict management and emotional intelligence. Be intentional to create daily moments when they spend time engaging with their children, this can include dinner, watching TV together, or reading a bedtime story. 

Learn more about managing screen time by attending the upcoming workshop, Finding Balance: Screen Time.

References | Heitner, D. 2016. Screen wise: Helping kids thrive (and survive) in their digital world. Bibliomotion:  New York.  Bully Stoppers. Growing up digital: opportunities and challenges for parents. 
Additional Resources | 
Common sense media. Select “parents need to know” tab.