Tuesday, July 14 2015
My 2 year-old’s eye looks different than everyone else’s. Kids approach me quite frequently to ask me about Jax’s eye and why it looks the way it does and I LOVE it. To me, questions beat stares and whispers any day.
The kids all respond to the appearance of Jax’s eye differently. Some respond in a positive way, others in a negative way. I expect this and understand that they are kids who learn by the example of their parents, guardians, and peers.
The most popular response I get from kids is, “He looks creepy.” Yeah, as Jax’s mom it stings a little to hear that other kids think mine looks creepy, but they are kids and I know at a young age they have a small vocabulary and little understanding of what empathy is.
What I really pay attention to in these situations is not what the kids are saying, but how the adults respond to what their kids are saying. These are the top 3 responses I hear from parents concerning their child’s comments:
1. They say nothing about their child’s comment during the interaction.
2. They say, “That’s not a nice thing to say” to their child and that’s that.
3. They say, “He/she doesn't know any better.
- To the parent who says nothing: Saying someone looks creepy just isn’t okay and it doesn't make them feel good. Jax doesn't understand what they are saying right now, but he will someday, and he’s not going to take it as a compliment.
Maybe you didn't hear your child, or maybe you are embarrassed and will say something to them later, but just know that this situation can be a great learning experience for your child if you are prepared for it and say the right things as it happens.
As the mom of the kid who is being described as creepy looking, I’d much rather see you get down to your child’s level and have a talk about differences right there in front of me than to say nothing at all.
You might go home and have the conversation later, but I won’t know that. I will either do your job on the spot and have the conversation with your kid myself, feeling like I am stepping on your toes the whole time, or I will think about the interaction later on and wish that I did say something to spare the next "creepy" looking kid your child encounters.
- To the parent that says to their child, “that’s not a nice thing to say.”: It was very nice of you to stick up for my child and all, but kids hear the phrase, “that’s not nice” on a daily basis. This sentence is a good start to the conversation, but to me, it feels like you are just saying this out of obligation. The lesson probably won’t stick if they don’t understand the reason why telling someone their physical difference makes them look creepy is insensitive and rude.
I am begging you to teach your kid the meaning of the word empathy. Actually sit down and talk about it. Teach them how to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Teach them the Golden rule. If you forgot what the Golden rule is, it says to treat others the way that you would like to be treated.
It's as simple as saying, "how would you feel if you were him and someone called you creepy for being born a little different?"
-To the parent who says, “they don’t know any better.”: Regardless of your child’s age, hearing you use it as an excuse for why your child said something mean to another person, whether it was intentional or not, is not a response from a fellow parent that I respect.
If they honestly don’t know any better because they are young, that’s fine, but I’m going to respect you a lot more if you say they don’t know any better, but it is definitely something that we are going to work on.
It’s our job as parents to make our kids know better and that is why I created this post.
I understand that parents get busy and might forget to have a conversation with their kids about social etiquette, kindness, and empathy towards others. I also understand that although some parents try their hardest to instill these qualities in their kids, kids still slip up and unintentionally say hurtful things, but being ready to handle the situation with your child so a stranger doesn't have to is important.
Hopefully this post will inspire a family or two to sit down and have this conversation. Show your kids a picture of Jax or anyone else who looks different and tell them that it’s okay to ask questions and be curious, but to be mindful of the way their comments might make the other person feel.
Not only can you teach your child a valuable life lesson in this situation, you can also bring comfort to a mom or dad who is most likely worried about these interactions his or her child will face in the future when they aren't there to stand up for their kid.
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