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Raising Kind Children Who Reflect the Heart of God

“Therefore welcome one another, just as Christ also welcomed you, to the glory of God.”

Romans 15:7

It was a hot July day, and we had picked up a few of my children’s friends to take them to the pool.

My youngest daughter, who lives with intellectual disabilities, jabbered excitedly in the car, talking about water and goggles and pretzel bites (her favorite snack to get at the concession stand). But because of her speech delay, I was likely the only one who could understand what she was specifically talking about.

As we pulled into the parking lot and piled out of the minivan, my daughter grabbed one of the friend’s hands and continued speaking enthusiastically to her, pointing at the pool and laughing as they walked in.

“I can’t understand anything she’s saying,” the friend said to my older daughter, with a nervous laugh, as she tried to pull her hand away.

My older daughter, who is 7, replied, “She has disabilities. But you can still be friends with her. She makes a really good friend.”

As a mom to a child with global disabilities, I often see the discomfort children have when interacting with others who are different from them. I understand this! Even as adults, it’s natural to feel hesitant when observing behaviors or movements that we’re not used to.

But God calls us, as believers, to move toward those who seem different from us and to extend kindness and compassion. What my 7-year-old daughter said that day to her friend was a deep truth that reflects God’s heart. “Therefore welcome one another, just as Christ also welcomed you, to the glory of God” (Romans 15:7).

So how do we help our kids model God’s love for those with disabilities? There are many ways, but here are four to get started:

Teach them about the Imago Dei.

Every person on the planet — no matter their abilities — has been made in the Imago Dei, or image of God, (Genesis 1:26-27) which means they have inherent dignity and value. The Imago Dei reminds us that it is a privilege to know another human being, and there is not one person who is not worthy of our time.

Help your child to see how they have sameness with another person.

Research shows that having diverse friendships is healthy and helps make children (and adults!) more well rounded and compassionate. But research also shows that no matter how different two people are, friendship is always formed on sameness. That might be a similar upbringing, a similar taste in movies, or a similar love for a certain type of food.

By pointing out similarities, we can help our children see that they have sameness with those with disabilities. Maybe both children love dogs, or maybe they love playing tag, wearing the same color shirt, or even simply wanting to laugh and be included. Above all, we can show our children that no matter what, they have sameness with another person simply because of the Imago Dei.

Expose your children to various disabilities.

Sometimes, a child simply feels discomfort around disabilities because they haven’t been exposed to adaptive equipment or haven’t had different behaviors explained to them. Thankfully, these days there are a lot of positive representations of disabilities and adaptive equipment in books, shows and media that you can pause and take time to explain to children.

In addition, when you see a person with disabilities, tell your children that you’ll explain and answer questions privately, later in the car or at home. Of course, if your child says or does something mean or rude (even unintentionally), it’s best to address it immediately.

As a parent, model God’s heart for those with disabilities.

As an adult, I sometimes need to be reminded of the truth my 7-year-old shared as well. “More is caught than taught,” as they say, and our children are watching to see if we have diverse friendships and live what we’re teaching them. We won’t do this perfectly, but we can pray and ask God to show us whom He wants us to move toward and love, and then act accordingly.

Because God loved us first, we can love others and see the beauty of His design in all people, no matter what they look like or how they act. As parents, we can teach our children to see all people the way God sees them — with compassion, love and tenderness. Not just to create a kinder world (though that’s a good thing) but, more importantly, to reflect the heart of God — welcoming others just as Christ welcomed us, to the glory of God. (Romans 15:7)

Father, I long to raise children who share in Your heart for those living with disabilities. Help me to model this first in my own life; then help me to teach my children. Give us all a deep understanding of what it means to be made in Your image, and show us how we can honor it in others through friendships and love. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Jo Ann Steward


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