Lessons from a red-nosed reindeer

Published 4:10 pm Tuesday, December 13, 2016

With the Christmas season comes an object lesson in the form of “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.” Immediately, we see Rudolph’s father trying to hide the glowing nose so his son fits in better. That is a lesson for parents. We should teach our kids to hold to social expectations as best they can, but pretending a disability doesn’t exist benefits no one.

Rudolph’s rejection is swift and complete once his nose is revealed. Yet, in the middle of the mocking comes a doe who doesn’t care about the bright red light. Clarice even tells Rudolph his glowing nose is better than the false one he was wearing. We all pray for our kids to find a friend like that.

As I have seen in the lives of my boys, there are kids in the world who will accept them even as others reject and ridicule them. Yet, sometimes it’s the adults who are thoughtless. Clarice’s father insists she not play with Rudolph because of his nose.

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While Rudolph is dealing with his rejection, we meet an elf named Hermie. He concluded he prefers dentistry over toy making. This, of course, is unheard of and his boss doesn’t take the news well. Rather than give up on his dream as instructed, Hermie determines to run away. It doesn’t take long for him to hook up with Rudolph and the two label themselves as misfits and strike out on their own.

Rudolph and Hermie are certain there is no one like them. They are misfits, outcasts and rejects. They are quite surprised to discover an entire island of toys, with varying “disabilities” who feel the exact same way they do. Like Rudolph and Hermie, the toys are convinced no one wants them. As we know, Rudolph ends up the hero by saving Christmas with the very nose he was mocked for.

Our special needs kids may or may not have the opportunity to show the benefits of their disability to the world. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t teach them about them. We need to find our child’s strength and play to that by purposely creating situations in which the child uses the strength. This is a two-fold concept. First, it teaches the child they have something valuable to contribute. Second, as they use their strength, their self-esteem grows. A child with a healthy self-esteem is less likely to succumb to the psychological warfare of bullies.

We cannot change how other people behave toward our child, but we can teach our child ways to deflect the hurtful things others do. It is how our child responds to the bully that is crucial. Hermie was so certain in his dental calling that he didn’t back down despite all the mocking. That’s what we want, kids who can remain self-assured in the face of cruelty.

So, as you watch Rudolph this year, take a moment to review the points of the story and help your child uncover his unique contribution to the world. Who knows, he may even save Christmas one day.

Joan Grave is a mother to five boys from Winchester and an advocate and activist for children with special needs and their families. For more, go to www.thejoanzone.com.