Maybe I’m Not Understanding Something Here

In surfing around to many of the blogs that I read, there has been a lot of talk about differences and children and the inability of adults to deal with differences — physical or mental differences, I mean.

1. Gina goes on an entirely appropriate WTF rant about some stupid people in the UK (Profanity ahead)

2. Some people in Oregon don’t understand why a 16-year-old is at a Blazers game
3. And my Plurk-buddy Rocking Pony reminds herself to take it easy on herself and forget about what other people think about her “baby” on the occasion of his 6th birthday

Maybe I’m missing something, but aren’t we supposed to be raising our children to be loving and accepting of everyone? Isn’t that a given? I mean, for good God’s sake, we put a man whose mother was white and father was African in the White House. Am I missing a fundamental disconnect out there?

If that boy who wandered away from the Blazers game was, say, a “developmentally normal” 5- or 6-year-old, would people be questioning why he was at the game? If that woman on the British TV show were… I don’t know… Chinese or black, would outraged parents be calling in to have her removed because she could scare their kids? (And if so, shame, shame, shame on them.)

I have a very precocious 4-year-old child. She points; she comments; she asks questions (like many other precocious children out there). I am frequently a touch embarrassed by her inquiries or comments, but I usually simply say, “God made everyone different, Monkey.” I know I will have to start explaining things to her soon. Here are a couple of examples I have been thinking about.

At a local restaurant we visit, one of the hostesses is a midget — or little person, if you prefer. Monkey has pointed to her and said, “Look how puffy her belly is, Mommy.” I’ve asked her not to point, and I’ve said my line from above. The girl (she is a teenager) seems to take it in stride. But I know that soon Monkey’s going to ask why the girl is so short, or why her belly is so puffy. If I simply say, “Because she is a midget, or a little person” I’m sure that will prompt some other questions. “What’s midget mean?” “It means very short.” “Why?” “Because God made her that way.” “Why?”

See where I’m going?

We have a teen boy at our church who has severe developmental problems; he is in a wheelchair; he can’t talk except to groan; it looks as if he has mental challenges as well as physical — my heart goes out to him and his parents every Sunday. What do I say when Monkey asks what’s wrong with him? What’s the most appropriate thing? I can’t say “Nothing.” That would be a blatant lie. I could say, “I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter. He still deserves our love and respect as a person.” Would that be all right?

I’m an information person: the more information I have the better (this drives DearDR batty and it’s one of the reasons I love Lost homework). When it comes to my children, it’s difficult for me to stop explaining things. But I try to remember that there is only so much 4- and 2-year-olds can process. I want to be honest, but I don’t want to be simplistic, I guess.

What do you tell your children? If you know someone differently-abled, what does that person want to hear parents tell their kids?

********

Side note to H: Thank you. For coming over with your son for dinner; for hanging out and appreciating some wine and pesto tortellini; for cleaning my kitchen and picking up after the kids; and most of all, for taking three boxes of 18m clothes for your daughter. Love you. Next time, we’ll let the guys clean up & put the kids to bed, and we’ll go out with A for a drink!

12 thoughts on “Maybe I’m Not Understanding Something Here

  1. I don’t really have much advice for you as my experience with children is much less, but it sounds like you are doing everything right. I would probably say something about how some people look and act differently. There are black people, white people, asian, hispanic, women, men, tall, short, autistic, down syndrome, and everything in between.

    I think it’s okay to be simplistic sometimes. If Bun asked you “What’s that?” you could probably just say “a person.” Obviously Monkey would need more than that 😉

    Obviously I’m not yet in that situation with an 18 month old, but I know I will be soon. And I hope I can handle it well.

  2. I’ve found that honesty is always the best policy. Always. In our case with Micah, I tell other kids who ask that he was born with Down syndrome. It’s a part of who he is, and because of it he’s slower in learning some things, like talking. Kids love honesty. You can never go wrong with it. Sure, it may spark more questions, but that’s how kids learn.

  3. I agree with Karen, honesty is really the best policy. With younger children, I think, it is fine to just say that God made people different, the questions will come when they get older. With Little Miss she was about 7 when she decided she needed more.

    I have been really lucky, having grown up with relatives with disabilities, she isn’t one to stare or point, but she asks a lot of questions. The best thing to do is be honest and if you don’t know the answer, tell them you don’t know. At some point they have to learn Mom doesn’t know everything. heh!

  4. I was lucky enough to grow up with a boy who has Cerebral Palsy. While very few of the other kids could understand him, I never had a problem. My childhood relationship with him taught me the best of life lessons – its only a problem if you make it one. Our differences make us more awesome and more interesting to know.

  5. I tell my daughter that her brother’s brain just doesn’t work like other people’s. I’m not sure what else to tell her at this point, but I’m trying to be as honest as I can in a way that an almost 4-year old can understand.

    Before his hair came in, children would sometimes comment – never unkindly- about his shunt and want to know what it was. I explained as best I could and the kids just seemed to accept it. Their parents, though? Looked like they wanted to DIE. It’s kind of amazing to watch a parent squash a child’s natural curiosity.

  6. My girls are a tad older so we have progressed from the stage of pointing and asking lots of questions.

    We have tried to raise them in a non-racist environment and it’s funny because it’s obvious in some respects. They have never referred to a person of color as a black person, they see them as brown people. They describe what they see, not what they have heard…and its okay to see others as different than yourselves but we should love the differences not fear them.

    They do not laugh at others, they are not shy or reserved, they know people are different for a reason and they accept that.

    You are doing a GREAT job and like others have said, honesty is best.

    I don’t believe that someones uniqueness should be ignored, but everyone should be appreciated for who and what they are, turning a blind eye only creates fear and distrust.

    Teaching children to be aware that some people do not have your best interests in mind, sometimes accidentally, sometimes purposefully is the most difficult thing. I say that only so they do not blindly trust everyone. This is the hardest lesson of all, to trust people but not with everything you are … trying to teach them to be nice to other kids that hurt them is really hard. Sometimes a bit of distance is necessary as recently my children are experiencing their own prejudices at school. Our lice problem was pretty much broadcasted throughout the school and the teachers are isolating them and their classmates call them names. I try to explain that these kids do not really mean to hurt them, they just need time to forget about the problem.

    They come home crying every night. Their best friends have abandoned them and they sit alone in the back of the class. It’s killing me.

    It’s so easy for fear to control your life, and the parents of these children that call my girls names and shun them have taught their children to fear.

  7. I agree with RockingPony and the other fine ladies. Honesty is always best.

    More than simply telling the truth, matter-of-fact honesty lets the questioning kiddo know that whatever is “wrong” or different about a person is, I dunno what the right word is here… okay? Autism and DS and all the rest become a simple (if very sad) fact of life – not shrouded in that mystery or secrecy that can imply it’s scary and baaaaad. I mean, I remember when I was growing up and anyone who was developmentally or physically different was shunted off and it just Was Not Talked About. It made that person (and her issues) seem scary and bad and just served to further enforce the divide. I think if someone had just said matter-of factly, “hey, yeah, she has MS and it means she has trouble walking” it would have made a ton of difference…

  8. I always shrug and remind the kids that everyone is different and that’s good. Otherwise, we’d all be EXACTLY alike and wouldn’t the world be boring?

    They’re older than your kids, btw. So now sometimes, we’ll talk about how hard it is for the little boy in class to speak in English. We’ll speculate that maybe they talk Chinese at home, and how cool is THAT? To know Chinese? That spins us off into a discussion of the SIX other kids in that classroom who speak other languages and …

    Different is good. It’s what makes the world so special.

  9. @allison: I’m pretty lucky that Monkey has been exposed to a fairly diverse population of people — between dayschool and the mall and so on. And she’s never commented on a person’s color — it’s not something her dad or I would do, so I figure that’s an easy one.

    I’ll probably just keep it easy, and try not to overreact. If I feel awkward or embarrassed, it’s my issue, not Monkey’s.

    @RP: Thanks. I really appreciate your feedback. I’m pretty sure I’m on the right track; when I read stories like I mention here, I wonder if I’m being naïve or simplistic. Or if the problem is those other people, and what makes them like that. Fear? Fear of the unknown? I guess that’s what I don’t want my girls to feel, fear of things we don’t understand. I want to instill in them the idea that everyone is different, and that’s not just okay, it’s beautiful, part of God’s plan. And even if we don’t understand the difference, we don’t have to fear it.

    @JML: I’m pretty sure my girls have already kenned to the fact that I don’t know everything. Unfortunately.

    @CarolineFB: Thanks. I always say, “it’d be boring if we were all alike.”

    @JOC: As far as the parents wanting to die, I think for me that reaction is based in part that the other parent will think you an ignoramus or racist (or whatever). I fear Monkey appearing rude. It’s a struggle to remember that she’s just a very curious child — that they all are. And to handle it maturely on my part without squashing her natural curiosity.

    @Melissa: I’m really sorry your sweet girls are going through that. As fun and curious as kids can be, they can be mean, too.

    And that’s a good point about trust. I’ll have to mull that over for awhile. So many balances to strike!

    @JenniferC: Right! That’s exactly what I want the girls to know, that differences are part of life, and that’s all. Not scary or bad. I think it’s in the movie “Better Off Dead”, where John Cusack’s mom whispered “bad” words? “did you hear about so-and-so? She has”– big stage whisper — “cancer.” It’s funny in a movie.

    @SHG: That actually sounds like a very cool way to handle things.

    Thanks, everyone, for the comments!

    ciao,
    rpm

  10. I really like your response about love and respect, no matter how the person is different. I think that pretty much covers it.

    Thanks for your note! Hope you got in a little extra reading time 🙂

  11. My Boy Child has problems. My daughter has a hard time with this. Other children do not understand him sometimes on the playground but because he loves to be around other kids and can be quite charming at times they tolerate him – to a point. I get the sideways glances from other moms. We don’t go out much. He does ask loud questions at sometimes inappropriate times but I always answer honestly and he gets it. He is open to all learning and thinking. That is the key, open to learning and thinking.

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