This week, I was in a supermarket with Baby G and she innocently pointed (index finger and all) and loudly exclaimed, “Look at that fat lady!” I was mortified.
I know that it’s innocent and really, in her four year old mind, fat doesn’t have ‘bad’ connotations like it does for so many adults. I still desperately wanted the ground to swallow me whole, though. I ungracefully shushed her and ran as far away as possible as fast as I could, all the time worrying about how terrible that comment must have made that poor woman feel.
It got me thinking. As adults, we have learned that fat is bad, wrinkly is bad, pimply is bad and so on. We make judgement calls every day (whether we do it out loud or not) and our judgements are direct reflections of our own self-worth, most of the time, and are based on the sum of our life experiences. Maybe we have issues with our hair, our noses, our heigh or weight. Maybe when we were six, we were teased for wearing glasses and the insecurity stuck. So, when we hear a child point out what they see, we interpret it through the lens of our own baggage and take offence.
How do we teach our kids to be honest, without being hurtful?
How do we teach them to freely and genuinely express themselves, while also editing their thoughts before they speak?
After Baby G and I had finished paying for our groceries (and I had calmed down the heart-palpatations from the ridiculous cost – but that’s another story…) I decided to take her out for a mummy-daughter babycino date and have a chat. I explained to her that people don’t like to have their physicality pointed out a lot of the time, regardless of whether you’re observing their weight, skin colour, height or any other anatomical point of interest. I tried to explain that even though she is just saying what she sees and doesn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings, when people hear these comments it can make them feel bad. We started to discuss how we should be looking at people for what they DO, rather than what they look like.
We then looked at people in the shop and tried to find better ways to analyse them. Instead of “Look at that tall lady!” we tried, “Wow, that lady is lucky to be able to reach the high shelves!’ Instead of “Look at that boy in the wheelchair!” we tried, “Cool wheels!” She giggled, as she caught on.
I reminded her about how she gets upset when people see her and comment on how small and cute she is. I explained that they are simply verbalising what they see and asked her what she would like to hear people say. She said, “I want people to say ‘Look at that big girl with strong muscles who can skip and write alphabet letters!'” That was amazing to me and it helped me to help her understand that it feels better to comment on people’s abilities rather than their looks.
She really got it. She gets that words have power and that what we say has impact. I hope that she has learned, just a little bit, that we should always be honest and feel free to express our thoughts, but that tempering our honesty with kindness and compassion goes a long way.
I was really proud of her, a the age of four, being able to observe people with kindness. Until we got home, that is. Before bed, she hugged me tight, looked me in the eye with a smile on her face and said, “You have a lovely big tummy for fitting in more babies one day, Mama!” Um…thank you?
How do you handle your children’s brutal honesty? Have they embarrassed you in public recently and made you wish for a Harry Potter invisibility cloak? If you have any advice, please share!
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