A boy in my 8-year-old daughter's class has a cleft palate. I know that he has trouble finding friends because other kids — including my daughter — are wary of his difference. How can I encourage her to reach out to him so other kids will too?
This is an excellent opportunity for you to teach your daughter about accepting others. Kids are often sharp observers of physical appearances and, like your daughter, many are initially wary of others with noticeable differences.
Provide basic information about cleft palate so your daughter will understand it. Emphasize that although some kids may look different, they are just like other children in many ways. Keep it as simple and direct as possible, perhaps saying something like: "Johnny was born with an opening on the roof of his mouth, called a cleft palate. His doctors are working to make it better and he sometimes has trouble saying certain sounds."
Focus on how the boy is just like other kids, perhaps saying something like, "He's a good reader like you and likes to play soccer."
Encourage your daughter to talk to him or ask him to play in the same ways she does with other kids. If she's reluctant to do this for fear of what her friends think, ask her to consider how she would feel if others excluded her based on a physical feature that she couldn't help, like glasses or a birthmark.
Forcing your daughter to develop friendships with specific kids isn't likely to work. But you can continue to gently encourage her to reach out to the boy, help her feel more comfortable and confident interacting with people who are different for any reason, and teach ways to be more accepting of them.
And don't forget to pay attention to the way you treat others with differences, as the example you set will strongly influence your daughter's behavior.