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What can I say to my child if they call another child “weird,” and should my response change, depending on the child’s age?

First, engage your child in a conversation with the goal of simply trying to gather more information. Try to be curious and ask questions in a non-judgmental manner so the child feels open to sharing thoughts, feelings, experiences, and questions without feeling like they are in trouble or that there is a right or wrong answer. Maybe your child is commenting on what the child cannot do or what they need help with, so you might ask your child about the other child’s strengths or interests. For example, what do they like to do? If your child labels another child or behavior as “weird,” you might ask what “weird” means to them. Does it mean “interesting?” “Different?” Do they ever do anything that is “weird?” Try to dig deeper to better understand what your child is thinking and feeling and what questions they might have. Having an open and honest conversation about differences demonstrates the notion that it is okay to talk about and even celebrate differences.

Next, focus on similarities. What similarities exist between your child and their peer? Does she also like to play outside? Do they ever have the same food at lunch? Does he also get sad or mad when someone crashes a tower that he has been working hard on? Try to get your child thinking about common ground and what we know as adults, which is that we often have a lot in common and share more similarities than differences.

Continue the discussion with your child at different times by talking about similarities and differences within your family. Is everyone the same height? How many different hair colors are there in our house? How many people in our family like chocolate ice cream, and how many like vanilla? Have fun with this. Engage them in a meaningful way that helps them to better understand similarities and differences, while also having fun and being silly together.

This approach can be used with all ages, and it can be applied to any discussion about diversity, including race, culture, and ethnicity. 

It is important to remember that they are learning and that – just like reading and writing – these can initially be difficult skills and lessons to learn.

What do I want to avoid saying to my child?

Try to avoid getting upset or punishing your child for using words like “weird” or other labels with negative connotations. We should use this as an opportunity to educate on different needs, as well as on kindness and empathy, but this is also best taught through modeling. As parents, we all want our children to demonstrate compassion towards others, so hearing your child call another child “weird” might cause you to feel embarrassed by their actions. It is important to remember that they are learning and that – just like reading and writing – these can initially be difficult skills and lessons to learn.

Are there additional ways to keep the conversation going (either directly or subtly) after the initial conversation ends?

Be honest about what questions you might have, and remind your child that you can learn new things together. This can encourage them to continue talking with you, and it signals that we are always learning, no matter our age. Try watching a show or movie with characters who have different needs or are from different backgrounds. Or find books that highlight differences, and read them together.

Here’s a list of books related to neurodiversity to get you started:

  • Just Ask by Sonia Sotomayor
  • Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees
  • You Be You by Linda Kranz
  • The Push – A Story of Friendship by Patrick Gray
  • Happy In Our Skin by Fran Manushkin

(For more book ideas, take a look at this list, too: Children’s Books that Celebrate Inclusion.)

Lastly, explicitly talk about helping and showing kindness towards others, as a way to teach empathy and compassion. Have a conversation at dinner about ways to help others, and have everyone in your family contribute. For example, what are you already doing to help others, and what is one new way you could help someone else? Ask your child how teachers help them at school. Who else helps your family? Point out helpers at the grocery store, on your walks around the neighborhood, or as you watch movies or read books. Try to focus on how helping others makes us feel, so that children become intrinsically motivated to help.

If you have questions about St. David’s Center services, please feel free to reach out. Our CORE Navigators are available to help.

Kari White has worked as an inclusion specialist at St. David’s Center for five years. Prior to this, she worked as an early childhood teacher with a special education emphasis in several therapeutic and inclusive programs in Denver, CO. Kari loves to work directly with teachers and children in the classroom, providing strategies and supports that help every child meet their full potential. She also loves to help educate others on the benefits of inclusion and believes that fostering an appreciation for diversity will help to build stronger, smarter, and more compassionate individuals and communities.

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