Community member Sue Sneed doesn’t have a child with special needs. She has a 9 year old daughter with a friend who has special needs…that friend is my daughter. This is the first in what we hope will be a regular feature of how families and friends are supporting special needs families they love with understanding and compassion. Sometimes, as is the case with Sue and her daughter, it can be used as a way to bridge the gap that can sometimes develop between kids with differences and their peers.
Do you think parents really need to get involved in “teaching” compassion…do kids either have it or not?
I believe compassion is both learned by modeling AND inherent in kids. Kids need to be exposed to stories and situations that touch deeply into their souls and their natural human ability to feel compassion. Perhaps some parents “protect” their children from the information, news stories, relationships, challenges…the hard parts of life, too much. I believe my daughter deserves to know and understand real life stories, the ones we like and the ones we don’t like. Compassion can certainly be fostered and explored by even the youngest child.
Is it our own discomfort we place on our children? Separate ourselves from the painful realities of life that often evoke the strongest feelings of compassion? I am sure there is more there to discover.
Do you actively look for opportunities to teach? Or do you just let it happen then seize the chance?
I don’t have to look far. Every day life experiences of compassion, if I am awake enough to notice them, are everywhere. I do seize them from family and friends, people dealing with disease, an elderly parent, a pet, even a dying fish, news stories, Haiti’s earthquake or the oil eruption, for instance. Everywhere…we turn is a chance to let our kids experience their compassion. They feel it. It’s in there…but is it exercised, allowed a voice, allowed tears if they come and a chance to be evoked into action…a helping hand, a expression of support and the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life? I believe, while she is young, it is up to me to allow my daughter feel her own compassion and to support her to express it out into the world.
What type of things have you done with your daughter to foster compassion and if you had any discussions after the fact with her, how did you approach it with her?
- Visits to elderly grandparent and the offer to hold her hand when she walks.
- “Thinking of you” notes and drawings to friends in the hospital
- TALK about the stories: her friends with PKD or the baby that won’t live but a few days, Haiti earthquake, oil in the Gulf and the people and animals that will suffer.
- SEE the pictures: of the diseased kidney, the sadness on the face of parents who are at a loss to help their baby.
- Allow her a lot of room to FEEL her emotions and let her see mine.
- TELL THE TRUTH. And answer her question to the best of my ability.
How do you discuss the disabilities of others with her? What pointers can you give parents in talking to their kids?
We talk honestly. There is no question she can’t ask and no answer I won’t try to give. Sometimes, it’s just no big deal. Other times she has a lot of questions that go deeper and deeper. I go with her believing she will take in what she can understand and come to me again later sometimes minutes later, sometimes months later, for more information.
Be real. I don’t worry if I don’t know the answers or if I feel uncomfortable or afraid…we talk about that, too.
Connect. I also make sure she knows it’s OK to ask someone about their disability and let them tell her if they want to talk about it or not.
Please let us know if you have a family or friend that would like to contribute to the Family and Friends features…we’d love to interview them!