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Teaching Children Not to Stare

One thing that can be very difficult for parents of young sons to deal with is trying to teach them not to stare at and/or comment on people who may be different from them. If youíve had a young son, you have undoubtedly found yourself in this situation. It is likely that you felt embarrassed and tried to tell your son that it is rude to stare. It is also likely that your son didnít understand what you were trying to say. Why is it that our sons canít seem to understand that staring at people is not okay?

Like other behaviors that boys eventually outgrow, staring is developmentally appropriate for all children. Children learn by gathering information through observation and question asking. When they see something that they donít usually see, they look at it trying to figure it out. For young children, this prolonged looking, or staring, is far less about being rude and far more about gathering pertinent information. Of course, they very rapidly progress to the next dreaded step: loudly whispering, ďMommy, why is that kid in a wheelchair with his head all twisted?Ē

It is at this point that many mothers, in a genuine effort to teach their sons manners and to avoid embarrassing the object of their sonsí interest, miss an opportunity to truly educate their sons and to reduce the chances of the incident repeating itself in the same way in the future. If your son is staring at someone who is different, and especially if he asks you about that person, simply tell him what he wants to know. Depending on your sonís age, you can be as general or as specific as you want. Very young boys who are curious about wheelchairs will be satisfied with the answer, ďThat child needs help walking and the chair does that for him.Ē

Older boys, many of whom are already fascinated with looking things up and learning about new things, will appreciate being given more information. ďThat child probably has an illness that makes it difficult for him to breathe. See how he is using oxygen to help him breathe?Ē Also, donít be afraid that the party in question will overhear you and be offended. Most people who are the objects of the stares of children (and, sadly, adults) would much rather be asked about their illness by a child than simply hear a parent hush that child and hurry him away as if any difference or handicap was something to be feared and shunned.

Having your son stare at someone is never a comfortable feeling for a parent. Remembering that staring is developmentally appropriate behavior and that it serves a purpose, though, can keep the discomfort in perspective. Treat your sonís questions matter-of-factly and donít make him think that being different is something to be afraid of or ignored. As he gets older, you can begin to teach him that staring is bad manners, but for now, be patient and use his staring as the teaching opportunity that, by its very nature, it is.

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Content copyright © 2013 by Laura Delgado, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.
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