This post is sponsored by Corning® Gorilla® Glass
There’s nothing that pushes the limit of being human like an Ironman Triathlon. Consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, followed by a full marathon (26.2 miles) completed one right after the other in the course of a single day, any Ironman race is tough but for these elite athletes, qualifying for the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii is the goal.
My younger brother is an Ironman who qualified twice for the Hawaii Ironman. My family joined him in Kona in 2005 to cheer him on and it was there that I was first saw Sarah Reinertsen complete her first Ironman World Championship and become the first female to finish an Ironman on an artificial leg.
Emily was almost two years old when we saw Sarah compete in Hawaii with her prosthetics. Her personal story of being an above knee amputee at age 7 and Ironman success was inspirational but as an observant and verbal toddler, Emily had questions about Sarah’s leg that we did our best to answer as we cheered on the triathletes as they passed.
An Ironman is tough for any athlete but how does one become the first woman to swim, bike, and run 140.6 miles in a single day with an artificial leg?
As parents, it’s our job to be prepared to answer the tough questions that our kids throw at us all the time. While it may be tempting to shy away from talking about physical disabilities that our kids notice because we don’t have all the answers, it’s better to seize teachable moments and address questions honestly in age appropriate ways the best we can.
Teaching Tough Topics: 5 Tips for Talking to Kids About Disabilities
It can be hard to talk to our kids about topics that we have little or no experience about but it’s not okay to avoid conversations about things our kids are curious about. It’s important for us to serve as role models for our kids by acknowledging their curiosity, talking honestly and in age appropriate ways, demonstrating respect via the language we use, and always exercising empathy and compassion.
Acknowledge Curiosity and Encourage Conversation
Kids are observant about the people and things in their environment so if you notice them staring, BabyCenter encourages parents to address their curiosity by saying something like, “I noticed you saw that little girl has a harder time walking than you do. She has cerebral palsy, which makes her muscles work a little differently.” Encourage them to ask you questions or if you know the person, ask if it’s okay to ask them a question. Chances are the individual will prefer your questions to staring.
Be Honest and Age Appropriate
Young kids don’t need to know all the details regarding an individual’s disability so stick to the facts. Acknowledge their curiosity by letting them know you see them looking and then let them know the person in a wheelchair has problems with the muscles in their legs and a wheelchair helps them move around. A simple explanation for the youngest ages is best while older kids might want to know more that can lead to doing some research together to find the answers to their questions.
Use Respectful Language
“The use of language and words describing people with disabilities has changed over time,” writes The National Youth Leadership Network. Because our kids are always watching and listening to us and picking up behaviors and language based on what they see and hear, it’s important to be aware of how we talk about disabilities. Mobility International USA encourages the use of the word disability but discourages terms like handicapped, differently-abled, or victim. For more suggestions about how to use respectful language when talking about disability, read this tip sheet from Mobility International USA.
Teach Empathy, Compassion, and Sensitivity
“I can’t pick his friends and I can’t tell him who to love, but I can show him HOW to love, HOW to take care of other people, HOW to include everyone, even if they’re different” writes the author Maggie Chung writes In “Explaining” Down Syndrome at the Preschool Level on Parenting.com. Empathy and kindness are things that kids can excel at and the simple task of including all friends can make a huge difference.
Rather than focusing on differences, focus on similarities. BabyCenter encourages parents to talk about what they have in common with a classmate or neighbor with a disability, such as being the same age, attending the same grade at the same school, or a love of the same sport. Sarah Reinertsen’s love of sports, physical fitness, and desire to do it all through triathlon not only makes her “feel like a kid all the time” but “being a fit person has helped me live a life without limits.”
Get inspired to tackle tough topics in parenting while serving as a role model for your own kids by watching Sarah Reinertsen and other tough individuals whose work is featured on the Corning® Gorilla® Glass Incredibly Tough series.
To learn more about Corning® Gorilla® Glass:
- Visit incrediblytough.com and the Corning® Gorilla® Glass website
- Watch more incredibly tough individuals doing incredibly tough things in their everyday lives on the Corning® Gorilla® Glass Incredibly Tough YouTube playlist
- Follow Corning® Gorilla® Glass on Twitter
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- Read my past posts about Corning® Gorilla® Glass
This post is sponsored as part of my work with Corning Incorporated, all opinions are my own.