Whenever My Son Looks at Strangers, What Do I Do?
It wasn’t until I worked in children’s hospitals for years that I became accustomed to the visual landscape: children in wheelchairs, wearing burns or terrible injuries and limping around, making bizarre sounds in their sing-song ways of communicating. In my mind, it appeared as a beautiful mosaic of not just physical diversity, but also the fortitude and perseverance of youngsters, which I found inspiring.
Walking through school halls as a parent, I began to think about what these youngsters would look like and how they may react to my own kids as they grew up. It dawned on me that I wanted to start talking with them as young as possible in order to instill in them the idea that these kids who appear different are just like them in every way.
Look first, then talk.
To advise him not to stare is a perfectly reasonable response when you catch your son doing so. As part of being nice, we’ve all been taught to “not stare.” This is particularly challenging for small children who are constantly fixated on something, be it the garbage truck’s mechanics or a human being.
Parents of children with apparent differences have told me time and time again that it is OK to stare. As early as the age of two or three, children begin to notice physical differences, such as skin color, and are fascinated about them. They gain a better grasp of the world and the people in it because of their inquisitive nature. Curiosity, not rudeness, is the motivation behind a person’s staring.
Once you’ve stared at someone, it’s important to use this curiosity to connect with them. Be sure they know how to greet and play with a child the same way they would any other child. Your child can ask questions, even if it goes against everything we’ve ever heard about etiquette. Gettting to know each other before playing and having fun with one another is often welcomed by children with disabilities who are aware of their differences..
Promoting Mutual Understanding and Involvement
Children are more likely to learn to practice compassion and inclusiveness if we, as parents, foster connections between our children and other children who appear to be “different.”. Children who have friends in wheelchairs, for example, don’t have to feel isolated because of their differences.
Having worked with children with a wide range of physical impairments for more than a decade, I’ve learned that what they want most is to be treated the same as any other youngster. Because other children appear to be unclear about how to deal with them, they are upset by the feeling of being ignored and excluded. The taunting and bullying that ensues as kids become older can inflict a great deal of pain.
Demonstrate Positive Interactions with Others
A good model for your son is someone who approaches strangers with warmth and kindness and talks to them as if they were any other prospective friends. Be sure to seek advice from the parents of children with physical differences, who are well-versed in dealing with these situations.
It’s fine to ask your own questions if you feel like you’ve made a mistake, even if you’re embarrassed about it. For sure, this is preferable to walking away from a conversation, which would be upsetting to all parties involved. Consider saying, “I’m sorry if he asks too many questions… just let him know if it is too many!” when you are concerned that your son is not following social limits.
With the opportunity to engage with youngsters that have a form of physical difference, their comfort level may help you feel more comfortable as well.
The End of the Story
Humans, for better or worse, have a natural tendency to form groups based on shared characteristics. A child’s obvious differences can make it difficult for them to fit in with other kids in their age group. So, even something as simple as a playdate, where a child’s natural curiosity can blossom into genuine human connection, can have a profound impact.