20111223

Reddit parents, please don't just tell your kids to look away

I initiated the following thread of conversation with other reddit users. My aim was to offer parents a chance to ask questions of a person with a disability, and offer possible means to positive learning experiences. For the sake of this blog post I've put a few of my favorite comments and responses--


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Original Post:
I'd really like to offer my experience to the parents of reddit about alternative ways to teach their children about people with disabilities. That is, ways of addressing the presence of a person with a disability around your kid besides taking them by the shoulder, directing their attention away, and whispering some variation of "don't stare."
Curiosity about difference is totally understandable, and in this world where parents tell their kids not to look at people with disabilities, it feels like we've developed a social complex of not addressing curiosity and feeding distrust/fear. Fear of when (/when not) to offer help, fear of incorrect handicapped stall manners, etc...
I don't have answers per se, but really want to open a dialogue forFont size parents who want to make good teaching moments.
I also use a power wheelchair sometimes, which often draws attention. A frequently-heard kid comment, "I wish I had one of those."
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Here are a few selected comments and subsequent responses

I have a 3 year old who is always very curious. He points at people and talks about people around us and I tell him that that is impolite. But he's also very outgoing and loves to talk to people, often about their physical being. (Mostly it's just "I like your hair" or "Your shirt is pretty.") How would you react to him asking about your hands and how do you think a parent should act in that situation?

>Me:
I am hard pressed to think of any of my friends who, upon being approached by a curious, outgoing three-year-old, would look to the child's parent to answer a question like, "what's wrong with your hands?"
Basically, though the opposite is often true in this day and age, you as a parent shouldn't feel obligated to justify your kid's willingness to ask about an obvious difference. If the person is obviously uncomfortable, then your son will learn that such questions may make some people uncomfortable. If the person wants to engage with your son, then your son will learn that some people don't mind or even like being asked about themselves.
My reaction to him asking something like "What's wrong with your hands"?
Me: They're different than yours. Kid: Why? Me: I was just born that way.
If a kid wants to know more, I'll explain more. If they want to look at them up close, I am also usually happy to oblige. Hope this addresses your questions.
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>sarahcasarah
This is a good discussion. I have dark freckles on half of my face. At first glance it looks bizarre. People tell me after they get to know me they forget about them (is this a good thing for them? Not being thrown off by my weirdness anymore?)They are not a birthmark- showed up when I was three-ish. I've always been annoyed by parents telling their kids to hush or not answer them politely or frankly that people are different and their differences are good.
Also a great point- you never know what kind of crazy pants (me) you're going to run into out there- or if your kid was the 700th person to remind me about my freckles today.
As a former 8th grade teacher and a yoga teacher I try to welcome these questions with honesty and love and tact- but some times when I'm in Target and you've hit me with your cart three times and then you tell your kids to shut up about strangers' differences...I may sing a different tune.
>sarahcasarah
Yea, they were not cool in grade school- got called half freck. Kids are nice. Now, they get me a ton of street cred.
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>Billy_Reuben
What is your condition? RA? Psoriatic arthritis? Something genetic?
You don't look particularly different. I'm saying this because this may very strongly color your response in terms of how you want people to react as opposed to someone with a more marked disfigurement like amputation or burn injuries.
For example: My kid was staring at a cute high school girl at Panera a while ago. This is normal for him as at 3 1/2 he likes girls. The thing I didn't see was that he was drawn to her amputation, which was right leg above-the-knee. He wanted to tell her "Hey. I like your robot leg. its really cool." I allowed him, but ultimately he was too shy to approach her.
I deal with amputees professionally, so I thought this was a safe thing, but I'd like more input into how to behave around people with more sensitive and disfiguring features than yours.
>Me
The wonder that most kids experience as a result of seeing my hands, arms, feet, the way I walk, my wheelchair, and my standing posture (among other things), is the same kind of wonder that I have seen when kids look at amputees. I guess what I'm trying to say is that if my features aren't markedly disfigured, I don't know whose are.
>PhalangesDancing
Thank you for the third paragraph. The first two seemed fairly natural to me and this is how I try to encourage my child to interact with anyone that looks different than her. However, your perspective on how adults can sound is eye-opening to me, and a valuable lesson. I really appreciate your candor.
>Me
Please know that my candor would be impossible without the education that I have been lucky enough to receive.
>Jellogirl
It's not the same for every disabled person. Some of us are cool with anyone asking questions, some of us are ok with children asking but not adults, some of us will not like questions from anyone. Us disabled people, the only thing we have in common is being disabled.
animalia_ seems to even have issues with the word "disabled"
I think it's presumptuous of animalia_ to come and try and tell parents what parents should and should not be teaching their children.
He "feel disrespected when you try tell me which parental behaviors should or should not bother me."[sic] yet thinks it's acceptable to come and tell parents how to parent.
The fact that we as parents do not know how a person, normal or not will react to a child asking them personal questions is all the more reason why we should teach our children that it is rude and unacceptable to ask personal questions. Unless it was in a setting where asking questions was the intended purpose. That is how we in our western society have chosen to have it.
A major aspect of parenting is teaching our children the social rules of the culture they live in.
Will some parents teach their child that disabled people are "eww icky!"?
Yes
Is it really any business of ours how they chose to parent? Should we feel the need to want them to adapt their personality to be more accepting?
Not really. That is their decision to make and their right to teach their children as they see fit.
There are lots of things taught to lots of children that we may not like, but we as a society do not get to make these decisions for parents. For that I am glad. I want to be free to teach my children as I see fit. This being the internet and all I feel the need to add; that this teaching of our children as we see fit does not include teaching them things like murder is ok or some other over the top trollish idea someone can come up with. But if you say choose to teach your children that gay people are Evil and will burn in hell for all time, or that disabled people are scarey and should be feared, then I feel you have the right to teach that. I may not agree with it, I may not like it, but I have no right to not let you have that freedom.
>istara
Thank you for your detailed response. I really hope I am able to raise my children never to see disability or difference as icky, and that they realise there is a person there first and foremost, who is no different to them on the vast majority of levels. The same goes for gay people, old people, non-white people (since I'm white) etc. If they can be more tolerant than I probably was then I've achieved something.

>Me

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