Asking questions about kids' differences is okay, but this mom is asking that parents teach their children empathy.
A mom's post about her fears over kids bullying her son for being different is going viral. After all, don't we all worry about this? Jill Robbins, who blogs at Ripped Jeans and Bifocals, shared a conversation she had with her 7-year-old son Zack, who has a limb difference, on the eve of his first day of second grade.
"People, please teach your kids not to be jerks. Please," this mom's powerful blog and Facebook post pleas. She goes on to "introduce" Zack, writing, "He has a limb difference, which means not having part or all of a limb. As you can see, Zack's right hand is not completely formed. We call it his little hand because...well...that's what it is."
Robbins explains that they adopted Zack when he was 2 and didn't think his limb difference was a big deal. And he has grown up like any other kid, playing sports and helping out around the house, as well as getting into mischief climbing things and touching things he shouldn't.
"Tonight was Zack's 'meet your teacher' night," Robbins continues in her post. "He'd been telling me for weeks that he was afraid to go back to school. I brushed him off and it wasn't until about thirty minutes before it was time to leave that I actually focused on his concerns. Because I'm busy. Because I'm being pulled in a gazillion different directions."
We hear you, Jill!
It turns out that Zack was concerned about kids making fun of him. He shared his fear with his mom, saying, "People who are new to my school might stare at me and ask me questions about my little hand."
Robbins told him, "They might. That's pretty normal, don't you think? Your little hand is pretty different than what most people are used to seeing. It's okay if they ask questions, right?"
Zack responded, "Yes. It's okay if they ask questions but I get tired of saying 'this is the way I was born.' Is it okay if I'm tired of answering questions?"
His mom said it was okay to feel that way, but he begged, "Please don't let them be mean to me, Mommy." And that is when Robbins's heart sank. She soon found out from her son that kids at camp had made fun of him. She writes in her post about her son, "He's a sensitive kid, so it's hard for me to determine whether or not it was taunting or just curiosity, based on second hand information."
But ultimately, her takeaway is this: "Ask questions and be curious about people who look different that you look. But before you stop to ask questions, consider that there is a living, feeling person on the other end. And, if you have a child who is different, in any respect, keep paying attention to what they're experiencing, thinking, and feeling. Their perception of being taunted or ostracized MATTERS." Oh, and she begs other parents not to let their kids be jerks, and to talk about differences and inclusions.
This post truly struck a chord with me because as my kids head back to school, there is something different about them that they will have to answer questions about. It's not visible to the naked eye; instead, it's in their hearts. We lost a baby over the summer, and I know they have fears about what kids might say to them, or ask them. Like, "Are you excited to have a little sister?" Or, "When is your mommy having the baby?"
I'd like to think kids will be kind in talking about it, because the pain is still so fresh for my girls. But I can't control what their peers will say or ask, or how many times they'll press the issue, and if my kids will feel like others are bullying them. I'm with Robbins that we need to teach our children to show empathy, and that starts with how we treat people. Let's set a good example for our kids with how we talk about and to others. Sound like a plan?
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