By Christine Bucknell, Executive Director, A Kid Again Northern Ohio
Kids are curious by nature and can certainly ask a lot of interesting questions. “Why is the sky blue?” “How does the TV work?” “What’s on the moon?”
Their growing brains are constantly asking questions to help them understand the world around them. And it’s no different when kids see or encounter other kids who have a medical condition or disability.
It can be challenging as parents to know how to appropriately answer these questions. But it doesn’t have to be.
A Kid Again Northern Ohio helps families of kids with life-threatening conditions feel a sense of normalcy. This includes educating families of typically-abled children about how to be inclusive and accommodating with peers who have medical conditions.
Dr. Sarah Friebert, director of The Haslinger Family Palliative Care Center at Akron Children’s Hospital, says when it comes to talking with kids about medically different peers, it’s all about setting a positive tone, encouraging curiosity, and asking questions so as to not make assumptions.
“Most families we work with that have special needs kids or kids with a medical condition say they don’t mind being asked about it, as long as it is coming from a place of true curiosity,” Friebert says. “Starting with a phrase like, ‘I want to learn and be your friend, and I want to know how I can be a good friend to you’ is a wonderful way to open conversations and dismantle stigma.”
Above all, kids who have medical conditions and their families want to be included, just like any other kids.
To foster inclusivity, here are tips to help parents answer their kids’ questions about peers who have a medical condition.
- Reassure their fears. Sometimes, kids will worry they will get sick, too. Parents can say things like, “It’s really great that you have been really healthy. But there are some kids, unfortunately, that haven’t been.” And then go on to talk about and answer questions about the specific illness in question.
- Find commonalities, and set a positive tone. Differences shouldn’t be a negative thing, and being honest and curious can take away a lot of barriers in interacting with kids with medical conditions. Offer suggestions for finding things in common, such as “you and your classmate are different because he is in a wheelchair, but you both love soccer and drawing.”
- Encourage curiosity. Here are some ways to ask questions in an inclusive and respectful way:
- Tell me about why you have that machine. It looks really cool!
- Wow, I really love the color of your wheelchair. Can you tell me what it does or why you have it?
- Wow, that looks like an awesome piece of technology. What does it do?
- We’re going to play a game, and we want you to play with us. Is there anything we should know about you or how you can play with us?
- Ask questions, and don’t assume. Adults and kids alike should be encouraged to ask questions and not make assumptions about the illnesses or equipment that kids with medical conditions use. Parents should make it normal and natural to ask questions, as opposed to worrying, wondering, and making assumptions.
For parents of kids who have medical conditions, A Kid Again has free Adventures happening throughout the year right here in northeast Ohio, all designed to be accessible to families with all kinds of medical needs. And the families just have to show up — everything is completely free, and they take care of all the details. There are even Adventures-in-a-Box for families to enjoy at home. For families of typically-abled children, there are lots of ways to volunteer and raise money to help provide Adventures in Northeast Ohio. It’s a great way to foster kindness and give back with kids of all ages. To learn more about A Kid Again, akidagain.org
A Kid Again is a national organization with a mission to foster hope, happiness and healing for children with life-threatening health conditions and their families. The organization provides cost-free, consistent, year-round activities that create meaningful shared experiences and joy-filled memories. A Kid Again operates chapters in multiple states, growing and enrolling families and providing support resources and connections to help families cope with the challenges of raising children with difficult medical journeys. With more than 1.5 million children across the United States suffering from life-threatening conditions, A Kid Again is committed to reaching as many of these impacted families as possible. For more information about A Kid Again, please visit www.AKidAgain.org.