5 Ways New Movie ‘Wonder’ Can Help Kids #ChooseKind
Child Life Specialist on opening a dialogue to discuss our differences
“What happened to his legs?”
My 4 year old blurted this out with her finger pointed toward a man in a wheelchair. My mom intercepted and gently whispered, “It’s not kind to point.” The gentleman smiled and graciously nodded toward my mom indicating he was not offended. I think we can all agree, we do not want our kids to be that kid – the kid that points or blurts out curiosity so loudly. I was so grateful for the man’s gentle response to my curious daughter. As we piled into the car, the questions came. We proceeded to share with my daughter better ways to respond when we see something we are curious about.
Unfortunately, because we don’t always allow open dialogue with our kids about these hard topics, children’s curiosity can make them feel insecure and unsafe and they can express their insecurity with unkind words, judgmental thoughts, and often times it can escalate to bullying. It’s important for children to have healthy conversations in safe spaces and tools to help them respond appropriately to other kids that look or act different than themselves.
As I watched the trailer for Wonder, the new movie about Auggie Pullman who is a little boy with craniofacial differences, I was struck with anger toward the kids that make fun of him. We are better than this, I thought. The official movie hashtag, #ChooseKind, says it all. We want our kids to choose kindness every time, no matter what.
However, it’s important for kids to have an opportunity to process in a safe space what they are seeing and feeling when they are around people that look or act differently than them. These conversations are important to have with children at any age. It is important to start talking to your kids about this as soon as possible so that you can help shape their responses and teach them what choosing kindness looks like.
There are a few main things to communicate to your children when helping shape their responses:
- Every person you meet has value. Every person you meet has something special and important they can share with you and the world. Every person matters.
- It’s OK to ask questions about what you see or experience that’s different to you about another person. However, it’s not always OK to ask those questions in front of the person. If you have questions about the way someone looks or acts, think about your questions and wait until you are not around that person to ask your questions to an adult like your mom, dad or your teacher. Children respond much better to things when they understand what they are seeing or experiencing.
- Take the time to get to know someone. The way someone looks or acts at one glance doesn’t help you really know them. Ask their name, offer to play with them and learn what is important to them. Take time to find things you can enjoy together.
- Use your voice and your choices to stand up for others. When you see or hear others choosing to be unkind to someone, you can say something. Tell an adult what you are seeing or hearing when others are being unkind. Don’t be a part of conversations that are unkind or disrespectful of someone because of how they look or act.
- Always remember the Golden Rule. Treat others as you would want to be treated. If there was a part of you that made you stand out to others, would you want to be laughed at, pointed at or made fun of, or would you want someone to get to know who you are?
Our differences are part of our identity. Each person’s identity encompasses who they are on the outside and the inside. We want to teach our children to celebrate and value differences as opposed to ignore or avoid them. However, people are all in a process of learning how to accept their own identity and the identity of others. As parents and adults, we want to provide safe space for our children to ask questions and express their feelings of curiosity and concern while still choosing kindness. We have an opportunity as adults to help shape how this next generation responds to our differences. We want to be the catalysts to our children choosing kindness. Just like Auggie says in the movie:
“We all deserve a standing ovation at least once in our lives.”
Let’s teach our kids how to stand up.
Take your children to see Wonder and use this as an opportunity to facilitate conversation about kids that look or act different. There are also several children’s books about children with differences that could help facilitate healthy conversations with your children.
Child Life Specialists not only support children during their hospitalization, we also support children as they re-enter school following extended illnesses, new diagnosis, or traumatic events.
It is our job to partner with teachers and school counselors to help educate, prepare and support classrooms and peer groups as they process through changes of one of their own.
Children are able to cope with their feelings and curiosity more effectively when they have explanations and safe spaces to process their thoughts and feelings. Child Life Specialists often conduct school visits to educate and facilitate this safe space for the classrooms and peer groups of our patients and families.
Get to know Ashley Pagenkopf
Ashley Pagenkopf is a Child Life Specialist in the Emergency Department at Cook Children's Medical Center. The Child Life program at Cook Children's offers a variety of services, all designed to make your experience at Cook Children's the best it can be. Our services include educating, preparing and supporting your child through tests and procedures, as well as coping with any life challenges you and your child may face. Child Life specialists work with kids and families to make their visit to the medical center easier and more comfortable. We offer your child and your family an opportunity to express and work through any fears and concerns you may have. We'll also provide an explanation about what's going to happen during your visit and work with parents, brothers and sisters and other family members who may be involved in your child's daily care.