Sunday, November 6, 2011

Teaching toddlers that "Everyone is different"

The other day, I took Ethan with me to the grocery store, leaving Aiden behind with his daddy. I rarely get to spend one on one time with either, so I love these rare moments. Ethan was being especially good - I think because he know the store had toys and he was hoping to talk me into a purchase. Which he did. I let him choose something for under $5 and he was thrilled to finally get the "Barrel of Monkeys" he'd had his eye on for a while.

About halfway through our trip, I turned my back to face the meat case and choose some chicken breasts, when a small Asian woman tapped me on the shoulder.

"'Scuse me, he hit her," she said in broken English.

I flipped around to see Ethan standing near this woman's cart where her 2 year old little girl was sitting quietly. The look on his face confirmed his guilt before I'd even had a chance to react. My face flushed red. I grabbed his hand, spun him around and marched him over to apologize. I apologized on his behalf to the girl's mother and we walked away.

"What happened?" I asked Ethan. "Did you hit her?"

"Yes," he replied as his eyes welled up with tears.

He went on to tell me he slapped her hand because he didn't like the way she looked. He didn't like her eyes - they looked different from his.

I honestly couldn't believe what I was hearing. Here he is, 4 years old with a brother who clearly has some physical differences, and he's mistreating a perfect stranger for nothing more than her looks. I couldn't help feeling like I had failed in some way. Needless to say, he did not get that Barrel of Monkeys, and he threw quite a fit as I took them out of the cart. It was not a good day at the grocery...

We have always been very forthcoming with our kids when it comes to talking about differences. We have stressed from a very young age the whole "Everyone is different" mantra. We point out how some people are short, others tall, some have dark skin, others light...and some people have disabilities and need things like a wheelchair or trach to help them do everyday normal things. We started talking about Aiden's hands with Ethan when Aiden was still a baby - not to point out his differences, but to help Ethan understand that if he had questions, he could ask them without hesitation.

Despite all the preparation, I suppose every parent will find themselves in situations like the one I had in the grocery store the other day. Perhaps it is just an instance of a 4-year-old acting out. Even so, I used it as an opportunity to remind him about everyone's uniqueness, and that if he had questions, he should ask mommy in private and I would help him understand.

However, the very next day, Ricky took the boys to lunch and found himself in a very similar situation. Ethan was passing a little girl in the McDonald's playplace and called her "weird" because of the way she looked. Now I'm beginning to wonder if perhaps this is an indication of something more than a 4-year-old acting out. Maybe he is finally starting to realize how his own brother is different and is finding inappropriate ways to project the way he feels about it.

I'm not really sure how to address it. Do I continue to talk to him about Aiden to encourage questions regarding the way he feels about having a brother with differences? Or do I keep it more broad, focusing on how every person is unique and that it's just how God wanted it? I'm at a loss. Does anyone have any advice?


  1. I remember the day Jessica said something about Ashley's teacher who has a birthmark on her face. I was so upset, knowing that she has Ashley for a sister and she would say something like that :( But when we go out in public.. Ash also stares at people who look different. I kindly remind her to say hello and ask her if she likes it when people stare at her and of course she says no and then looks away :(
    My Guess is Ethan is saying and doing things that maybe he has seen or heard things said or done to Aiden?
    Lisa Bock

  2. I think E is upset and he probably feels it's challenging for him to have a brother that looks different. At his age, that is how he going to express his frustration. He never too young to be taught the appropriate way to express how he feels and thinks.

    I wouldn't bring God into it especially in public. Some people aren't religious or/and believe in God or just disagree that God made children with facial differences. My friend who is a christian and she believes God made me that way. That's fine. It's her belief. But she is a adult. She needed to know HOW I got Treacher Collins Syndrome. I told her and she knows now.

    I think it's fine and simple to tell the children. But not all parents want to say "God made you that way". Like my mother, she was more straight forward than that. What can you say to a 4 year old? I just know my mom talk to me as adult since very beginning.

  3. Thank you Lisa and Meg. Hopefully I can teach my kids to be accepting of everyone, and find the right words to use in difficult situations.

    I appreciate your input!


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