It is differences that make communities and families strong. If we were all alike, we would be weak as a group. Every family needs a planner and someone who is spontaneous. Every community needs people who are great at tending to relationships and people who are great at taking care of practical tasks. And every school needs children with different qualities so that everyone can learn from each other.
As a parent, you want to give your children the clear message that while it can be challenging for everyone to find common ground when we have our differences, differences are cool and have value. Here are some ways to help your child appreciate their differences. And keep in mind my sensory kiddo’s wise insight that “We’re all different or we’re all the same. It just depends on how you want to look at it.”
Use movies, TV shows, videos, and books as “cinematherapy” or “bibliotherapy” to start conversations about differences. Notice characteristics that are admirable in the characters portrayed and ask your child what they think about these differences. For instance, if you and your child are enjoying the Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osbourne, you might say, “Jack seems more shy than Annie. She seems quicker to talk to new people. Do you think you’re more like Jack or Annie? ... Do you wish you were sometimes more like one of them than the other?” In this way, you can help your child look at the pros and cons of different qualities in different situations.
Point out the positives of any quality that makes someone "different." Focus on the positive aspects of differences we too often overlook and encourage your child to do the same. What are the positive aspects of being impatient? Can being impatient help you to start getting into a creative, imaginative mindset so that you come up with solutions and new ideas you might otherwise not think of? What about the upside of impulsivity? Does being impulsive make it easier to say “hello” to a potential new friend before they walk away and you miss the opportunity to connect with them?
Express admiration for people who are different. Remind your child of the many qualities we can admire in others. Whether it’s an aunt who is always so organized that planning a family gathering is easy for her, or a friend who is great at cracking jokes that make everyone feel more comfortable when they’re in a frustrating situation, talk about what you like about everyday people. What makes people different in ways that makes you happy to have them in your life? Express your admiration for how they act or dress a little differently, and use it as a starting off point about your own goals, what you like about yourself, and what you would like to change. Encourage your child to engage in a positive conversation about kids she knows and how their differences make them unique.
Want to learn more strategies for parenting your child who has sensory issues? Check out Raising a Sensory Smart Child.