Friday, June 25, 2010

When kids are a little TOO observant

Yesterday I was driving with my kids. We were almost home, and on a whim I stopped at a hair salon very close to our house. I'd never been there, but a sign proclaimed "WALK-INS WELCOME" and my hair has been in dire need of a trim. Thankfully the stylist did a good job, and the price was reasonable. I'll probably go there next time too. I'm such a procrastinator when it comes to getting haircuts; maybe I won't wait so long next time when the salon is so close to home!

The kids were very well-behaved. (Parents, isn't it nice when you go somewhere new and your kids cooperate? I'll take all those moments I can get.) But my sweet Chickie is very curious, and as she usually does, she asked a lot of questions.

"Mommy," she said, looking at my stylist, "is she a girl?"

"Yes, honey, she's a girl!" I confirmed. At first I was a bit confused; she definitely looked female.

"Because her voice sounds like a boy," Chickie said.

Ugh. My stylist explained, "I just have a deep voice." Thankfully she didn't sound defensive, but I knew this was a situation that needed to be handled carefully.

"God makes some women with high voices, and some with low voices," I told Chickie. "And he make some men with high voices and some with low voices."

Soon the subject changed. I considered apologizing to the stylist, but I thought that might make the situation more awkward. Of course, Chickie wasn't trying to be rude. I also didn't want to immediately correct her for just being an observant four-year-old. (Asking an honest question is very different than making fun of someone.)

Yet I do want to teach her about being polite. So when we were driving home, I said, "Chickie, I'm glad you like to ask questions. But sometimes you need to ask me questions after we leave somewhere." I told her that a question about whether someone's a girl or a boy might hurt that person's feelings. We discussed it further, and she seemed to get the point.

Of course, Chickie's question today was far less offensive than it could have been. (How many of your kids have asked loudly, "Is that lady pregnant?"...when she isn't?)

While we don't have these situations every day, it's not uncommon for Chickie to ask me things like, "Why is that man in a wheelchair?" or "Why does she have those pictures on her arm?" In general my strategy is to be matter-of-fact, and to treat diversity as a positive thing. If the subject of the inquiry can hear our conversation, I don't want to make them feel uncomfortable by acting like I'm embarrassed. I'll respond, "That man probably can't walk, and so he rides in that chair." Or, "She thought that would be a neat picture for her arm. It's pretty, isn't it?"

In some cases, I don't think that kids' questions are likely to make people uncomfortable. Someone with a tattoo probably doesn't mind others noticing it! But Chickie is old enough now to be somewhat sensitive to context. I'm going to continue trying to be more proactive about teaching her when to ask questions that might be hurtful to others.

What do you think is the best way to handle it when kids are just a little too observant?


Missy said...

My five year old darling is also very observant and curious. I've told her all questions are welcome, but if it's a question about a person, she needs to use her whisper voice to ask. Your responses are great!

Kara said...

More than questions, Abby will just announce things about people - "That little girl has glasses!" "That man has no arm!" "That girl has brown skin!" (I wanted to sink through the floor and die on that one, but luckily the other mom laughed). We have told her that it is rude to talk out loud about people, that we don't know how that person feels about the glasses/missing arm/ etc., and that she is welcome to talk to me about what she saw when we are alone together. When we do talk about it, we basically play up "yay diversity!" like you do :-)

Call Me Cate said...

I have no idea, being that I do not have kids. But I do like how you handled it.

Unknown said...

There isn't anything wrong with asking those questions and having curiosity about why things are as they are; it is more how the people being asked about will take them and being sensitive to that. I really like the way you explained things to Chickie, keeping judgment out of the answer. Just the facts.

Lara said...

Niiiice. The other day our neighbor came to the door and he is a dark black man. Cade has never seen him up close and just STARED. It was pretty embarrassing.

SurvivorBlessing said...

Beth, don't worry!!! Isn't it nice that she is asking? That she is curious verses being ignorant? I love the honesty in kids!

It is very typical 'you' how you see things. I don't see it like that. Being polite is okay, but too polite starts to look you are trying too hard, or that it is fake!!! I don't care so much what other people think. I want to teach my kids. Being polite is not hitting or talking back, but asking questions is fine! Yes, any! How else are they learning. It is called communications. And why shouldn't a kid be a teacher for an adult that gets embarrassed. For what? Tattoos are a subject of taste. I don't like them! Others do. AND they are there to be shown off! So let the kid ask. Teach them that it is okay to be different.

Why is it rude to talk about someone in front of them, but not behind their back??? How would you feel? You are teaching them to use white lies (to an extend!). Sorry, I am a more straight forward person, not a pleaser!