Children are innately keen observers of the world and when they see something out of the ordinary, they’ll say so. As a parent, this can be excruciatingly embarrassing. Our children tend to speak loudly – “Mommy! That girl doesn’t have a hand.” They also point. “Mommy – why is that man so small?”
Even adults are curious, perhaps compassionate, as they look the other way but steal frequent, quick glances. Are we extending ourselves into the lives of others – wondering what it would be like to live a life different than we know? Do we consider offering a helping hand but hesitate concerned of the line that exists between kindness and pity?
It is the things we are not often exposed to that seem out of the ordinary to us. What seems strange and unusual to one person is “just how it is” for another. It can be as simple as a name or as complex as a life-altering disease. Within the Jewish community where I live, for example, people often name their children with Hebrew names. Those names sound odd and difficult to pronounce – until you become accustomed to them. Then you forget about the oddity of sound and pronunciation. Exposure.
Exposure is the key to helping our children overcome the differences they notice in others. Whether it is religious upbringing, physical distinctions, or academic capabilities – children should be taught to understand, respect, and accept the differences in others.
We all have differences or as Meg Zucker says, “we are all born lacking”. Some of our differences are easily visible and some could never be guessed. Meg Zucker is the superhero behind Don’t Hide It, Flaunt It, an online space where children, teens, and adults can flaunt their differences. She encourages people to write down their flaunts and share it with others by submitting their stories to her website.
Her blog of flaunts is there as well. Meg was born with ectrodactyly, a condition involving the absence of digits on the hand and foot. Meg has one finger on each hand and one toe on each foot. She shares her life experiences to inspire others. One of the most powerful messages I gleamed from her site is “What you think of me is none of my business”.
Why is it that our children not only point in curiosity but bully and tease someone who is different from them? How can we help our children around the awkwardness of differences?
Attitude Your attitude is going to impact your child’s beliefs. We all adhere to stereotypes and prejudices. We all make judgments on a daily basis. Make an effort to adjust any stereotypes you cling to. Demonstrate tolerance for others even when you are passing judgment.
Respect Teach your children to value and demonstrate respect. This includes how we talk about people, whether they are with us or not, and not pointing at people in public. Instruct your child on how to approach someone and have a conversation if they are curious about a “difference” they see.
Celebrate Each of our children have something that makes them different from others. Each of our children has something that is “lacking”, as Meg Zucker says. What is it that causes your child to stick out? What is it that your child tries to hide from everyone else? Let us help our children to celebrate who they are and not be reluctant to put their differences out in front of everyone else.
Self-Confidence When our children have a solid foundation of self-confidence, it does not matter what others think of them. Furthermore, a child who has a strong self-concept does not need to waste his time picking on other children. Help your child’s self-image by giving her opportunities for success and positive feedback. It is also important to let her experience failure so that she can see she has the ability to overcome it.
Celebrating differences is a value that begins in the home. When our children are not exposed to others who are different than they are, those differences will stick out awkwardly. To help your child feel comfortable about sharing his differences or approaching someone who is different than he is, teach him about the uniqueness that is within each of us.
Encourage him to invite his differently abled classmate over for a play date. Help her to ask the questions that are on her mind. Watch movies and read books that will help broaden your child’s understanding of people’s differences. Help your child learn to celebrate diversity, have compassion for, and honor others.