Creating A Safe Place to Get it Wrong - Five Ways to Teach Your Child About People With Differences - Part Two
|He's a SuperHero!|
I started this blog series to give my advice on helping teach your kids about people with difference. I get asked all the time how I would want people to approach us, or how I would recommend handling a question or situation that a child is dealing with. I am honored to be asked these questions and so I wanted to share my heart with you all about acceptance, inclusion, and just some practical ways you can teach your kids to apply those things in the area of people with disabilities.
I have so much to say on this topic that I needed to break it up into five parts to make something you could read in less than 3 hours. 😂So, we are now on to part 2!
If you missed Part One of the series, you can read it here: http://christianbuchanan.blogspot.com/2017/09/five-rules-to-teach-your-kids-about.html
Now, on to Part Two! Enjoy!
2. Create a Safe Space to Get It Wrong
Children are not adults. I don't believe in holding children to adult standards. If a child says something inappropriate about Christian, no matter how inappropriate, I always take into consideration the child's age and intent. I realize just how embarrassing it is to parents when their five year old loudly proclaims "Mom! What's wrong with that boy's eyes!?" However, if you are five, that's not such an off based question. If you are fifteen, yes, you should probably have a little more tact, but for young kids, they haven't learned that yet. They are curious and still have so much to learn about the world. They are asking a question they want to know the answer to, and while I know we wish our kid would word things differently at times, they don't know what they don't know, and in and of itself, being curious about a difference is not a bad thing. So, I don't fret over a five year old's innocent question about Christian.
I use something with my boys often that I have found so effective. When they say something that I would like them to rephrase or use different words for, I tell them why what they said was wrong, then, I tell them what words they CAN use to convey the same message, but do it in a way that is acceptable. Giving my boys the words to use has been so effective in helping them have words to communicate in way that I approve of. "YOU STOP IT!!!!" is turning into "Please don't take my toy." Lots of repetition and practice is key, as well as not punishing, but explaining, why some words are just not okay to say.
That's why I believe it's important to create an atmosphere where your child is safe to ask questions, get it wrong, and be comfortable to speak their mind. Let your child be honest. If they see a difference and it scares them, it would be totally embarrassing for them to say it to the person with the difference. However, it is something that kids might feel when encountering something they haven't seen before. Make sure that you aren't punishing your child for having their feelings, but instead, talk to them about why they don't have to be scared. Tell them why they are not allowed to use the word "Weird" to describe that person they saw. Teach them appropriate things they can say instead. Use those opportunities to have an open and safe dialogue. No body knows what they don't know. So, teach rather than react.
I remember distinctly an incident when Christian was just tiny where a mom reacted with punishment to her child saying something embarrassing about Christian. We were at the doctor's office and Christian was sitting in my lap while we waited to be called back. A little girl who couldn't have been older than three walked by, noticed Christian, and said something rather inappropriate by adult standards, but honestly, she was small, so it wasn't really a big deal. Of course it needed to be addressed, but I certainly was not offended. I don't even remember now what she said. What I remember is her mother's look of terror and immediate exit. She grabbed the little girl and headed for the door, chastising her the whole way. I made out "Don't you ever say something like that again..." coming from the mother on their way out. I sympathize so much with this mother. She was mortified that her child had said something hurtful and was afraid that it would hurt my feelings upon hearing it. She was probably also embarrassed that her child was the one who said it. I have been there, I get it.
The well-meaning mother punished her child for her remarks, as I am sure she was only doing what she could in that moment, and wanted to prevent it from ever happening again. I'm thankful that she cared enough to address the issue. However, I fear that little girl learned a bigger lesson that day: People like Christian get me in trouble so I need to avoid them. Don't we all act abruptly and rashly as parents sometimes? Don't we all have that knee jerk reaction on occasion? I have no doubt that mama was well meaning. None. There will be no judgment from me for that mama. I so appreciate how much she cared about my feelings and wanted her child to be respectful and kind to people with differences. But I wish she would have made her daughter come talk to us and ask about Christian instead. What a chance it would have been to show her a cute baby, allow her to ask questions, and hopefully nurture that trait we all want our kids to exhibit of just being kind to others.
So, in trying to teach our kids about people with differences, how to treat them and how NOT to treat them, punishment just isn't the best route when they are young and just don't know, in my opinion. It's a whole different set of standards when a child is older and knows better, but chooses to be a bully. I would hope no one would tolerate that from their child for a second, but when a young child has never been around people with differences and embarrassingly points out a difference for the first time, punishment really does send the wrong message. The best thing we can do is make sure that our kids feel safe to talk about how they feel honestly so we can address the issues that might arise.
I always believe the best, that kids have good intentions, even if what they say or do seems rude at first. There is usually a If a child is scared of a difference, there really could be a good reason for it. I have had kids tell me on occasion that they are scared when they meet Christian. When I ask why, several have told me that they are afraid they will lose their eyes. Their little minds make the connection that if Christian lost his eyes, they could to. It really makes sense when you think about it, the connection they make. Once I explained to them that Christian was born that way and that their eyes are safe, the fear is over.
I've had kids who wouldn't speak to Christian, or who even burst into tears at meeting Christian. That was embarrassing for their parents, I'm sure. Upon further investigation, they tell me that they are so sad that Christian is hurting that they just couldn't speak to him, but instead would just cry. Kids are not born malicious. They can learn it, but I just always assume that a child isn't automatically meaning to be rude. Some kids are so filled with compassion for Christian that they don't know what to say. Sometimes we perceive their actions as rude, but really, little people just don't process or react to the world the way adults do. They are still learning, and because they are not adults who are capable of reacting and responding like adults, I don't think it's okay to hold them to adult standards.
Creating a safe place for kids to get it wrong allows them to learn how to get it right. Taking a step back to teach and correct, rather than jumping to react and punish, opens doors to learning, acceptance, and inclusion. What kids are capable of is compassion and kindness, but we have to model and teach it, too.
Please enjoy these photos of our recent field trip to Old Stone Fort, Manchester, Tennessee just because! <3
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