Child Truthiness

7 Aug

Letterbalm Kid with Hand Over MouthDear LetterBalm: What can I do when my three-year-old makes embarrassing comments in public? He’s alert and smart and recently he’s come out with “Mommy, that lady is so fat!” “That man has dirty clothes” and the capper, “Why is that man’s tummy so big? Is he having a baby?” (He also announced that his great-aunt “smells stinky” to the assembled family last Thanksgiving.) I’m so mortified. I don’t want to discourage him, but what can I say to teach him what he should and shouldn’t say?

–Mother of a Big Mouth

Other than explaining to your youngster that only ladies have babies, you’re experiencing the joy of having an observant, clever child who doesn’t yet know how to edit his thoughts. He’s doing nothing wrong – he’s just being a kid. So, Ms. L.B. says you need to be calm and neutral, incorporating his statements into teachable, non-judgmental moments. When your son comes out with a zinger, respond by saying something that supports his comment but suggests tolerance, empathy and respect for differences. For example, if he says a person is fat, you might tell him that he’s good at noticing things, but tell him that people can get their feelings hurt if others talk about how they look. Try a version of this, in bite-sized pieces:

Chuckie, you are so good at noticing people, but sometimes people can feel bad if we talk about how they look. Do you remember yesterday when you said the man in the store was very black? Well, if we look at our skin, we’ll see that everybody has different colored skin. Just look at you and me and Daddy and Sarah! Everybody is different – big, small, old, young, different skin colors, different hair colors, different ways of talking and walking, some in wheelchairs because it’s hard for them to walk, even, like your great-aunt Emily, different smells. If you’re out with Daddy or me and you notice someone and want to say something, why don’t you whisper in Daddy’s ear or my ear instead of saying it out loud? That way, we can talk about the ways that people are different and the ways they are the same.

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