img src: C. Szeto: San Francisco, CA
I love how innocently little kids speak. They are generally still free from the burdens of other people’s dysfunction.
When a toddler looks at a fat woman and asks, "Are you having a baby?" he isn’t being mean. He’s simply asking a question based on his life experience. In fact, he probably loves babies and feels some sort of joy or excitement that the fat lady gets to have something so cool.
I’ve had a kid matter-of-factly say to me, “Your bottom won’t fit here”. Of course the woman/girl in me, who has fought negative body images her whole life wants to push that kid down and yell, “You’re mean!”, and stomp off crying. Thankfully I have just enough maturity to allow me to pause, think about what just happened and realize, 1. He’s not being mean and 2. The kid understands physics and is just stating a fact.
A friend of mine shared a similar experience she had with one of her kids. The child came up and hugged her from behind and exclaimed, "You're nicer to hug than Grandma. She's too bony." The negative talk inside of me would think, "You're calling me fat!" My friend's response? She hugged her child tighter, laughed and then retold the story to her friends, still laughing.
Another friend could see a situation arising as it happened. Her daughter would be in the grocery cart, and someone “different” would pass by; obese, disabled, homeless, etc… and mom could look at her eyes and see the questions forming. She would lean forward and whisper, “keep it in your head, keep it in your head.”
One of my kids was so happy when he told me, Mom, some people have dimples in their cheeks, and you have them on your thigh!” <sigh> Yes, the truth hurts, but knowing he meant it as a compliment, it would have been wrong, and frightening to him, to react quickly and in anger or hurt.
After the “dimple” comment, I was able to laugh, hug him and even thank him for the compliment. (I did give a short biology lesson explaining why this might hurt other people's feelings.) He immediately apologized, realizing what he said. I was able to be graceful and laugh about it (thanks Jesus) because I knew his heart.
On the contrary, I remember when I was around 8 years old and I made what I thought was an innocent observation about something. I was rebuked, and chastised for saying what I did. In hindsight, I can see how my words could have been hurtful, even though it's not at all how I meant them. The experience left it's mark on me. I don't think any child expects such a reaction from an adult. I haven't forgotten how rejected it made me feel and how it left me feeling like I needed to protect myself even around people I thought were safe.
If we can laugh and be gentle with our kids and the kids in our “village”, it gives them a safe, trusting relationship with us, and a positive experience with their questions, so that we can kindly and gently teach them what’s appropriate or not. If I can laugh off the true statement that my “bottom won’t fit there”, I believe it gives me a greater “platform” to teach them. They know I won’t be harsh and in turn, they also know I’ll answer questions honestly when they have them.
Ideally, as we react appropriately instead of reacting out of our insecurities, these kids will grow up into adults who can in turn respond well, encouraging freedom and better communication.
Unlike dimples on faces, I have the dimples on my thighs whether or not I smile. I hope most often, I make the choice to smile.
Have you ever had a child make a comment that stung? How did you respond?