NEW MINISTER FOR WELFARE MINISTER OF MALAYSIA
Disabled Members Protest
ILTC Malaysia members staged a protest outside JPJ Wangsamaju KL.
Thursday, 19 March 2009
Wednesday March 18, 2009
Teach children to see beyond physical disability.
CHILDREN absorb their parents’ attitudes. They learn how to love and how to hate the differences in people from observing their parents. Sometimes children have a limited view of other people and their beliefs. Their parents try to “protect” them, fearing they may “catch” what others have.
Living in a diverse society, we should bring up our children to respect and value people who are different from us. We need to practise the good values we want our children to inherit.
Preschoolers have very little problem playing with physically challenged children. They do not really care what the less able-bodied cannot do. They are more interested in what they would like to do with them. They are eager to play with the physically disabled and enjoy their companionship.
Children are curious. They want to know why the other child is wearing a leg brace or not able to hear what they are saying. They will ask questions. Parents should help them understand that physical and mental abilities are only part of a person. There’s more to the person than what appears to be. It is important to remind children that all people have abilities. Children can focus on what their friends can do rather than what they cannot do.
It is up to parents to do the right thing by their children. Many adults can trace their own prejudices to their childhoods because their parents and care providers impressed upon them negative messages regarding people who looked different from them.
As psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung said: “If there is anything we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could be better changed in ourselves.”
Be honest with yourself and your children by examining your own prejudices and biases. If you are ignorant about people with physical or mental disabilities, find out more about them. Better still, take the opportunity to volunteer in communities where there is an integrated programme for people of all abilities. According to The Anti-Defamation League’s Hate Hurts. How Children Learn and Unlearn Prejudice by Caryl Stern-LaRosa and Ellen Hofheimer Bettmann, parents must treat children’s questions with respect and seriousness.
Use age-appropriate language and offer correct facts about disabilities. Answer matter-of-factly without being too lengthy in your explanations.
For example, if your child asks about someone who is in a wheelchair without legs or arms, you can tell him that some people are born without limbs and others may have lost them in accidents or in sickness.
Reassure your child that people who have physical disabilities are capable of doing many things in life. Whenever it is possible, read books on stories about children who have disabilities and their success stories.
Do not cloud your child’s perception of people with disabilities with emotions such as pity and fear. Your child should be kind to people of all abilities and disabilities. Discuss with your child how he can play with his friend with a disability. Explore different ideas on doing activities that are best suited for everyone.
More importantly, use respectful language when referring to people from all backgrounds and abilities. No matter what race, creed, religion or disability, the person has a name and should be referred with respect. I remember a four-year-old Korean-American girl who had just met me in her day-care programme, calling out, “Hey, Chinese girl.” The assistant nursery teacher immediately reminded her that I have a name and she should use that instead of calling me “Chinese girl”.
If you are uncomfortable when children ask why some people are born with disabilities, or you are unable to reply, find someone who is confident to answer. You may make a mistake and say the wrong thing. Don’t cover it up. You should admit your mistakes and help the child learn that they can do the same when necessary.
Avoid using words like “us” and “them”. Instead of “We can do this but they cannot”, try saying “We can all do this together.” In your family conversations, offer more positive statements on people with diverse backgrounds and interests. This way when children start making statements of their own, they can find the right words to use.
We fear what we do not know. If children have positive experiences with diversity, they will be accepting and respectful towards people who are different from them. Parents must learn an important lesson together with their children that all people are unique and valuable.