I went shopping with the kids at a bad time. Bang on 12 noon. I had one child in the front of the trolley who wanted to be on the ground, one in the back who wanted to be in the front and two walking beside me that wanted to hang off the back. To make matters worse I managed to land a dud trolley. You know the ones you take from the bay and seem perfectly sane until you put a child in? And then crooked wheel syndrome kicks in at about 100 metres from the closest trolley bay. Why is that? As I was fighting with the trolley around a stand of glass vases, I heard my youngest daughter yell, “MUM THAT MAN LOOKS WEIRD!” I mean — sweetie — could you have said it any louder? I looked around saw a man with one leg in a wheel chair.
Kids are brutally honest and this type of situation has occurred many times as each of my children learnt what is socially acceptable and what is not.
When these situations happen I can:
1. be angry;
2. apologise to the person in question for my child’s behaviour;
3. make my child apologise to the person in question;
4. communicate with my child; or
5. dig a hole in the floor.
I pick number 5! Number 5! Please floor, just swallow me whole.
Fortunately for me in this case, the man in question seemed to have good sense of humour and responded, “My leg fell off!” I thought: good on him! In fact, I almost gave him a hug… but he had already moved on.
I then got down and talked quietly to my daughter. I can’t remember exactly what I said but it was something along these lines:
“Sweetie, saying someone looks weird is not kind. If you want to ask me something quietly at home, you do that and we can discuss it. Calling someone weird is not kind and it’s not okay.”
How I react in a situation like this depends on many factors, including how the person reacts, how stressed I am, the age of my child, the situational circumstance and if the person in question heard or not. I really don’t know how to make the right call but I’ve written down some comments here:
1. Be angry: I don’t believe very young children are intentionally rude. Sure, if my 7 year-old said someone looked weird, that would be a different story, but in young children, their blunt honesty is part of a their beauty. I love it how they say what is on their mind and I don’t want to stop that, just shape it a little.
2. Apologise to the person in question for my child’s behaviour: I’m happy to apologise to a person my child has offended and do so if I can. But I apologise for the offence rather than the child.
3. Make my child apologise to the person in question: This is tricky. I say in number 1 that the child is not at fault so am I contracting myself if I make them apologise? Or, are they learning if they hurt another’s feeling, regardless whether it was intentional or not, an apology is in order? Both are true I expect and I usually judge each situation separately and act accordingly and hopefully wisely.
4. Communicate: Absolutely, every time. How can kids learn what is socially acceptable if we don’t tell them/show them?
5. Dig a hole in the floor: I MUST take a shovel on my next shopping trip.
In my experience, when children are very young, it’s sometimes hard to know how they are going to respond to certain situations and people. Maybe it’s just my kids, but they have all said inappropriate things in public. I take the opportunity at moments like this one, to invest instruction into my children’s lives. I don’t like to think of it as training to be “nice” — anyone can be nice — but rather “kind”, a truly edifying attitude.
In my mind, I’m working towards the model detailed in my post Three Gates: Words of Wisdom. The idea is to teach my children to think about what they say before they say it by challenging them to mentally put the words through three gates before they speak. The diagram looks like this:
Read the post if you are interested in how the system works.
I guess we all say things that hurt other people, even as adults. I know I have, and I’ve said inappropriate things too. This is not unique to children. When I’ve hurt someone I try and make it right when I can and constantly apply myself to kindness.
Has your child said something embarrassing or inappropriate in public? What do you do?