Let’s Foster Inclusion – By Jeanne Darling
Zooming my grandson.
Most days, I zoom in with my grandson, who lives in the USA. It is a pure delight to converse with him, even though a computer. We share books and songs and, now that he is almost three and a half years old*, our thoughts as well.
While our general lifestyles are similar, my grandson lives in a different world than my daughter did while growing up. Then, my husband and I faced challenges that included balancing work and family life. Our difficulties pale in the face of the struggles forced on young families now.
Adjusting to the pandemic.
My daughter and son-in-law faced one of their most difficult moments when daycare ceased to become an option for two-career families when the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020. After several months of sharing responsibilities, there was a clear need for childcare help. My daughter found a lovely family with a child-minder. The other couple and the child-minder were willing to include my grandson a few days a week. This arrangement would provide some relief but my daughter and son-in-law wavered.
They hesitated because the arrangement would see my grandson, a typically developing verbal child, spending time with a less developed child. Indeed, the little boy required both motor and speech therapy. There was some concern that my grandson might be adversely affected. Additionally, the other child expressed himself physically and often by pushing or hitting. My son-in-law worried that his son would not only regress into these behaviours. And that their play would not be appropriate, much less stimulating.
They asked me what I thought.
It wasn’t the first time I observed this kind of concern from parents. I was a director of a private daycare centre in Basel that served mainly highly educated professionals several years ago. Once, I faced a backlash when a child with Down Syndrome joined the centre. A few parents raised the same concern: would this affect their child’s development?
I don’t remember exactly how I responded then. But I am convinced that neither my words nor my reassurances turned the tide. Instead, the experience of having their child interact with a child with special needs calmed the waters. Within a month, various parents thanked me for accepting the new child into the centre. The unfamiliar had become comfortable. Many parents even admitted they could not have imagined how easily their children warmed to the newcomer.
As far as the children were concerned, the child with Down Syndrome was “still learning”. Without standardised expectations, the children quickly accepted him as “just one of them”. Life at the centre went on as usual. The only accommodation to the schedule was extra assistance.
I related my observations to my daughter and son-in-law.
Afterwards, I suggested that sharing time with a child with special needs is a rare opportunity to develop critical emotional and social capabilities. I also posited that my grandson would not consider the differences negatively. He would continue to grow at his own pace, as would the other child. I furthermore predicted that my grandson would not be as bothered by pushing as a form of communication as adults seemed to be.
Of course, it was important for my grandson to learn to say, “No, I don’t like that” if he was hurt. Still, I thought that two three-year-olds playing together would be much like puppies rolling about and nipping at each other for the most part. I encouraged my daughter to give it a try, starting with a few half-days a week and seeing how things progressed.
The boys now see each other Mondays through Fridays. They alternate homes so that both children get to share their toys and environments. The families get together to share a meal on the weekends from time to time.
Whenever I asked my grandson about his day with his friend, he answered that he had fun. Developmental delays may be temporary, and with proper therapy, my grandson’s friend may catch up to his peers. Or he may need continued support when he reaches school age. Either way, time together has not delayed either of the boys’ developments.
Let’s push ourselves to overcome prejudices.
On the rare occasion when my grown children seek my advice, I try to provide whatever insight I can, considering their reality. I also take the opportunity to re-examine my experiences raising and teaching children.
As a grandmother, I don’t want to impose practices that no longer fit the world that young parents face. But I also feel that we must continue to cultivate respect for one another regardless of differences. Indeed, it should permeate all our decisions about how we help our children to grow.
Most parents want to give their children the best experiences possible. And what could be more important than gaining the emotional and social benefits of inclusiveness?
We readily accept that all children are different. Still, we often discriminate when those distinctions are more significant than familiar ones. However, let’s push ourselves to overcome prejudices. By doing so, we will emerge with a new understanding of every child’s uniqueness and humanity.
Jeanne Darling is a retired educator, having taught young children for over 25 years in Basel. She continues working with children, offering ‘Story Times’ and workshops at several schools and libraries.
* Editor’s note: We first featured this write up in the BCT’s Newsletter – “Parenting” in April 2021. We have edited this piece to meet the blog’s requirements.