There is a sign hanging in a first grade classroom that says, "Words can either hurt or heal. What did your words do today?" That sign is a reminder that every word can send a powerful message to children about respect.
- Choose language that focuses on individuals, not their disabilities or differences.
The words adults use to describe other people are important because they reflect how we think. Using words that describe a person and not his disability reminds children that a person's disability is only one part of who that person is. Carlos may see only shadows, yet he is a child, much like any other. It is more respectful to speak of Carlos as a "child who is blind" than as a "blind child," because he is a child first and foremost. Instead of calling Angela a "cripple," you can show more respect by saying that she "uses a wheelchair to move around." This is called "people first" language and it is a simple, yet powerful, way of showing our respect for others.
- Avoid making jokes about others.
Names CAN really hurt. Children learn respect by listening to how adults talk about others. When adults tell jokes about people, it sends a message that it is okay to make fun of others. Children can learn that there is nothing funny about name-calling or telling a joke about a person who walks, talks, dresses or learns in a way that is different from them.
- Teach children to handle anger constructively.
Anger is a natural emotion that both children and adults feel, but even when we're angry, we should respect those around us. We can teach children different ways to handle anger, such as deep breathing, writing in journals, creating pictures or poems, or talking to someone who cares. If children do harm to something or someone, we can teach them how to apologize and how to better handle their anger next time. (For more information on handling anger, go to Mad Feelings from Mister Rogers.) Yoga is another effective way to show children how to handle their emotions. For more information or how to get started, read Let's Practice Yoga.
NEXT: Using Media Wisely