Childrearing

My Daughter Unknowingly Bullied A Special Needs Kid

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The babysitter told me about the situation in hushed tones that night. She obviously was having a hard time explaining what was going on. “It’s not like Bean to make another child cry,” she qualified, “but Sarah was very upset about being called a baby.”

At home, we had a long talk about special needs and disabilities. We said that even if Brenna didn’t mean to upset Sarah, pointing out her differences had hurt her feelings. We talked about whether Brenna would want someone referring to her as a baby. Obviously not. But the truth was, this was a conversation that I really wasn’t prepared for. I hadn’t even considered how to explain special needs to a child who always looks for the logical answer. I was so worried about keeping my daughter politically correct and kind that I failed to really answer the questions she had about Sarah’s problems.

That’s probably why, about a week later, I had to sit down with my daycare provider again. “We need to talk to her again,” she warned me. “She still doesn’t understand and she’s still asking questions that hurt Sarah’s feelings. Today, we were doing the Slip N Slide and she asked why Sarah “looked funny” when she ran. She asked why she played with baby toys. Really, I know she doesn’t mean to make Sarah upset but she does. And it happened multiple times today.”

This time, I decided to enlist a little support. I called my mother, who has taught in inclusive pre-k and kindergarten classrooms for years. She has plenty of experience teaching young kids about special needs. She gave me a much better understanding of how to actually help my daughter, instead of just chastising her. Here was her lesson.

Explain that everyone has special needs. Some are things that doctors and teachers can help us fix, and some things they can’t. My eyes don’t work right, so I have to see a doctor and get glasses. My husband has back problems, but even though the doctors try to help, they can’t fix everything completely. Just like that, Sarah has problems that she needs help with. That’s why she needs to wear a diaper and a back brace.

What’s more than that, we needed to address the fact that people learn at different speeds. At Brenna’s young age, we’ve so focused on the things that she learns, we’ve never considered comparing her to other kids. But that’s a natural thing for kids themselves to do. People grow up at different speeds. Sometimes it takes us longer to learn things than others. I never could learn to whistle. My husband had a hard time with science, and it took him longer to learn than other people he went to school with. Sarah just has a much harder time learning some things, and it takes her a longer time than it does for Brenna.

(Photo: Ilike/Shutterstock)

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