Teaching our kids to respond to children who are different from them

Written by Jen Forsthoff
Published on February 08, 2022

How can we help our children show love and acceptance towards children who are different from them? 

Whether it’s a classmate at school, someone they see at the grocery store, or a family member who receives a diagnosis, our children will encounter others who have special needs. 

It is our responsibility as parents to take advantage of teachable moments so that our children can become empathetic, show compassion, and be a friend to those who might look or act different from them. 

Jesus welcomed the little children to himself (Matthew 19:14). He loved every child, and when there was a special need expressed, he went out of his way to pursue and touch that child’s life and minister to their family. 

We can teach our children to have the heart of Jesus in this same way. There are some basic things we can do as parents that will help our children respond in a loving way to other children or individuals with special-needs. 

5 ways to guide our kids in how they see others

1. Lead by example.

The best way to teach our children is through our actions and not just our words. As the parent, when you see an individual with special needs, say hello, show kindness, engage with the family in a genuine way. 

Lead the way and demonstrate to your child the behavior you want to see in them. So much of what we can teach our children is more so caught than taught. We need to show our children how to live a life that loves others and honors Jesus. 

When you see someone with special needs, lead the way by giving a smile, saying hello, finding something in common or giving a compliment. Show your child how to be a friend. 

2. Let them ask questions.

We’ve all been there—when our child sees someone who walks differently, talks differently, or looks differently and their first response is to stare or even blurt out a question, “Mom, why does he look like that?” 

These are teachable moments that will help our child develop understanding and empathy. Rather than hushing the question and distracting our child to change the topic, we can do something radical. We can answer the question. 

We can engage the conversation, and although you might not know all the details of the individual’s special-needs, you can teach your child that questions are welcome and support their observation. 

3. Age appropriate conversation.

When the opportunity for conversation does come, make sure you keep the language age appropriate and let the conversation continue as long as the child is interested. 

You do not need to over exhaust your child with the genetic details that caused the diagnosis. You do not need to pull up charts and diagrams that are beyond your child’s understanding and level of comprehension. 

Keep it simple. Keep it straight forward. And if your child asks a question that you don’t have the answer to, it’s OK to say you don’t know and to circle back to it at another time. You can learn right along with your child and lead them to a better understanding as you educate yourself. 

4. Find children’s books that address special needs.

Over the years, many picture books and age appropriate books have been published for children to help educate them to meet such a need. Do a search online to find books that could be helpful to guide your conversation and help your child understand. 

I would suggest that you read through these books before reading with your child. I have found some more helpful than others.

5. More alike than different.

This last one is very important! 

As you help your child understand the differences of their friend or the individual with special needs, you can help them focus on what is alike. A child may have special needs, but they are more alike than different. 

Help your child identify what is the same—hair color, television shows they like to watch, sports they like, they wear glasses like someone else you know, they love to play with friends, etc. . . Help your child make connections that will draw them closer and see the individual in a way that makes them want to engage. 

Wisdom and grace from God

These 5 simple things will help you to teach your child how to respond towards those who have special needs. 

As the parent, strive to make the most of teachable moments and welcoming conversation that will help them love others. No one is perfect—you might make a mistake or feel like you said the wrong thing. 

Remember that God will give you wisdom and grace as you journey through this with your child. 


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Jen Forsthoff

Jen Forsthoff is the author of Chosen for Charlie: When God Gifts You With a Special- Needs Child and Champion For Charlie: Rise Up and Advocate For Your Child. Jen and her pastor-husband, Lucas, live in Michigan with their three children. Their oldest, Charlie, was diagnosed with Trisomy 21 at birth and has opened their eyes to the needs of families just like theirs. Raising Charlie, along with her experience as a classroom teacher and in ministry, has fueled Jen’s passion to positively impact families who face the challenge of parenting a child with special needs.  She writes, speaks, and advocates for families who need a message of hope and biblical truth to shape the everyday perspective of their role as the parent and champion for their child. In both ministry and educational platforms, Jen is a voice for parents raising a special-needs child. As God has opened doors through radio, television, community events/organizations, and ministry partnerships, she continues to bring a message of hope to families. You can connect with Jen at jenforsthoff.com and on Instagram @jforsthoff.

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