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5 Ways to Teach Kids About Belonging During Down Syndrome Awareness Month

by | Sep 25, 2023 | Parenting

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. All month long, through October 31, when you come to KidSnips for a full-price haircut Monday through Friday, we’ll donate $1 to Gigi’s Playhouse. With locations all over the U.S. and Mexico, Gigi’s Playhouse provides FREE, life-changing therapeutic, educational, and career training programs for individuals with Down syndrome and their families.

Down Syndrome is a condition that one in every 770 babies in the United States is born with each year. Down syndrome is caused by being born with one extra chromosome, and that one small difference can create other differences in kids’ physical and cognitive abilities.

During October, which is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, one of the messages your child may hear is that kids with Down syndrome are “more alike than different.” That’s not a bad thing to tell kids – finding similarities can often bring us closer and help us be less afraid of each other.

But underneath this simple phrase could be something we may NOT want our kids to learn – that differences are scary, it’s better if we’re all alike, and we should try to hide what makes us different so we can fit in.

“Just try to fit in…” might have even been something you heard when you were growing up, usually because whoever said it wanted you to feel like you belonged. However, Brené Brown, author and social scientist, in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, talks about how through her research, she had a big Ah-ha moment—she realized that fitting in and belonging are not the same thing.

Fitting in is about trying to be who you need to be – not that different from everyone else. Belonging, Brown says, “doesn’t require us to change who we are, it requires us to be who we are.”

So, how can we teach our kids to celebrate differences, so everyone feels like they can be who they really are and truly belong?

Here are 5 ideas you might try this Down Syndrome Awareness Month to help your kids appreciate and celebrate differences  – those of other kids – and their own.

1. Read all about it.

This month, your local public library may be showcasing books about Down syndrome – especially ones for children like “47 Strings: Tessa’s Special Code” by Becky Carey, or  My friend Has Down Syndrome” by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos…and if they aren’t, you might want to suggest they do. You could bring some of those books home to read with your child. Or you could even volunteer to do a children’s reading time at the library with one of these books or others that embrace the differences of kids with Down syndrome.

Can’t make it to the library? Sit down with and watch this recorded reading of the beautiful book, My Friend Isabelle, by Eliza Woloson, together. Then you might want to talk with your child about their own friends and how they don’t all have to be alike to enjoy spending time together.

2. Get to know someone.

If your child knows someone with Down syndrome, through their school or church or another group, you may have already been thinking it would be great to invite them over for a playdate. But maybe you’ve haven’t because you’re so busy, or because it’s hard to try new things. This month might be a great time to take the leap, make the phone call and get that playdate on the schedule. You might want to plan a group outing for several kids at the park together as a first step. You can read a story about a mom who did that here.

If you don’t know someone with Down syndrome personally, this is a time when the internet is your friend. There are many videos you and your child can watch together about kids with Down syndrome. Some of our favorites come from The Lucky Few. The Lucky Few is a “national Down syndrome advocacy organization and nonprofit shifting narratives to create a more inclusive world where everyone belongs.”  You can find a video here about a little boy named River and his first-grade class.

3. Make a big statement together.

Does your child like to do sidewalk chalk drawing?  Maybe one day during Down Syndrome Awareness month you could take an afternoon to put some positive messages out in the world together. Talk ahead of time with your child about how it feels to them when someone makes fun of them for being different…or doesn’t include them.

Then ask them how they think children with Down syndrome might feel when they are left out or made fun of. Talk together about the importance of kindness and of including others in games, activities and conversations. Then come up with some ideas of how you could encourage people to embrace differences and celebrate kids with Down syndrome on your street.

You might want to start by writing “Celebrate Down Syndrome Awareness Month” on the sidewalk then add some drawings and sayings all up and down your street to motivate acceptance. Need some ideas to start? How about the Dr. Seuss quote: “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” Or the famous, anonymous quote: “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” Or the words of Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

4. Be a real Buddy.

Volunteering is always a great way to put your beliefs and words into action and to teach your children that our actions matter. And one event that you and your kids could definitely enjoy doing together is a Buddy Walk sponsored by the National Down Syndrome Society this month. If you haven’t already signed up, you can find out about the Chicagoland walk being held on October 8th, here.

The Buddy Walk® was created by the National Down Syndrome Society in 1995 to celebrate Down Syndrome Awareness Month in October and to promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome.  Since 1995, the Buddy Walk has become the top advocacy event for Down syndrome in the United States. The Buddy Walk has grown from 17 walks in 1995 to more than 250 walks held worldwide this year.

The Buddy Walk is a great way to spend some quality time with your child, meet some new people, and do some good in the world. Want to learn more about the walk?  Check out the Chicagoland Buddy Walk Facebook page, here.

5. Get a haircut and support Gigi’s Playhouse.

At KidSnips we want every child to feel accepted and like they truly belong. That’s why we make sure all our stylists have been trained to work with all kinds of kids – including those with Down syndrome. And that’s also why we support Gigi’s Playhouse by donating $1 for every haircut throughout the month of October to them.

If you don’t know much about Gigi’s Playhouse, visit their website and learn more. Started by a mom from the Chicago area a little over twenty years ago, they now have locations worldwide. They came into existence to change the way the world views a Down syndrome diagnosis and to send a global message of acceptance for all. At KidSnips we are so proud to be able to partner with them this month.

Whatever you do this Down Syndrome Awareness Month, we hope you’ll at least take a moment to remember and remind your kids we don’t all have to be alike to be accepted, embraced, celebrated. To truly belong.

It may not seem like a big deal. But as Dr. Brown reminds us:

“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.”

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