Recently I read an article on Facebook, one of those “what I wish people knew about…..” type of articles, written by a transgender person. In it, they (preferred pronoun) say kids often point and ask questions. I can empathize greatly; it is very difficult to live in any way outside societal norms. I am a fat woman in a skinny world and I understand the often unwanted stares and comments.
The author says they wish parents would “have a productive and affirming conversation” instead of saying, “It’s not nice to talk about strangers.”
When children see someone like this individual who is outside their level of understanding, they may say something like, “Mommy! That man is wearing makeup, and a dress!” This isn’t a bad thing at all, no matter how awkward or embarrassing it may be. It’s a teachable moment, if parents use it correctly. It gives parents the opportunity to teach their children manners, etiquette, and understanding of diversity.
For example, the parent could then say, “Yes, honey, I see. But it’s not polite to point and raise your voice like that. It makes the other person feel embarrassed and that’s not a nice thing. I know you didn’t mean to.” But also explain what the child is seeing. So: “That person was born a boy, but they feel like they are a girl, so they dress the way they want to feel. I understand you’ve never seen a person dressed like this, so it’s surprising. But there’s nothing wrong with it.”
Unfortunately, too many adults are dealing more with their own embarrassment and discomfort than seeing this as something their children need to learn. While pointing is rude and unacceptable under most circumstances, we shouldn’t discourage, or even worse, stifle a child’s desire to learn.
That last point is the source of our issues as parents, and really as adults. It may be uncomfortable to have these types of conversations with our children. These discussions may cover topics like race and racism as well as sex, sexuality, and sexism, among many others. But protecting our comfort zones doesn’t help our children at all; in fact, it harms them because it shuts down their attempt to understand the world around them.
Years ago, I worked as an aide to a profoundly handicapped quadriplegic man. As a child, he’d been in a car accident and was thrown through the windshield. The car rolled and landed on him, pinning him underneath and depriving him of oxygen. It’s truly a miracle he even survived. When we were out in public, we constantly had children approaching us with questions: “Why is he in a chair? Why can’t he walk? Why won’t he say hi to me, is he mean?” I welcomed all of these questions, especially from children of parents who were mortified and tried to shush their kids. I’d explain that he had been in a very bad car accident when he was about their age, and because of that his brain was badly hurt and affects the way his body works now.
Generally that was enough of an explanation, but occasionally the child would have more questions. I was that child growing up, so I never minded. How else are kids supposed to learn?
The next time your child asks you an awkward, embarrassing, or uncomfortable question, take a moment to remember that as a parent, this is what you signed up for. It’s our job to raise our children to be strong, intelligent, inquisitive, respectful, and productive members of society. How will they manage this if we don’t teach them? Even worse, if we dismiss them and their questions now, then maybe they won’t feel safe and open to come to us with important issues in the future. Today it’s just, “Mommy, that man is wearing a dress!” Tomorrow it could be “Someone is touching me”, “My teacher is bullying me”, or “I feel really sad, all the time”.
Are these the conversations you really want someone else having with your child?
Featured Image: Encourage conversation with children, especially with uncomfortable questions. | Pixabay
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