|Completely unrelated image: Lila drew this. It’s a volcano. I love her.|
It happened to Craig first.
He and Lila were at the airport a month or so ago picking up his Mom. They were inside in the waiting area along with the general public. One particular general-public-er was an overweight, American man wearing a Tommy Bahama-style shirt unbuttoned. (Really? WE CAN STILL SEE YOU WHEN YOU’RE ON VACATION. BUTTON YOUR SHIRT.) Obviously, his body was showing.
The man was standing maybe 3 feet away and then it happened. Lila, as a 3-and-a-half-year-old asked the $100 peso question:
“Daddy, why is his belly so big?”
What did Craig do? Stuttered out a response and made a mental note to figure out the right response to an observation like that. As soon as he got home he told me about Lila’s comment and I’ll be honest, I was so glad it happened on his dime and not mine and I think that one should wear closed shirts to the airport lest toddlers (and anyone, for that matter) through comments their way.
I mean, Tommy Bahama was asking for it.
I’ve read about this aspect of toddlerhood. I get it. It’s natural and normal. Toddlers are beginning to notice differences among people, toys, shapes… you name it.
I also remember a cousin telling me years before that she was in the store with her toddler and her little one asked, “Mommy, why is that lady’s butt so big?”
I laughed. Because it didn’t happen to me.
Then, it happened to me.
Last night Lila and I went to the grocery store which happened to be filled to the brim with Americans buying supplies for Thanksgiving dinner. In the dairy section there stood an American Dad with his four teenage sons. The Dad was bald and not small. He actually was very, very big. (Not tall.) And? He was bald.
Lila: “Why does that man have no hair?”
(You know, there really are not many (any?) shaved-head, bald Mexican men down here so bald men are a relatively new phenomenon to my little Choyera who had only seen one bald man previously.)
Me: [thinking to myself, “Easy! I’ve got this one: Lila noticed that my co-worker had a bald head earlier this month and I handled that. I also was thinking, “We’re totally not close enough to the bald guy so I don’t believe he heard that. We’re safe.”] “Because some people have no hair, some people have hair, some people have blonde hair, some have curly hair. See? My hair is different than yours. Peeps are all different.”
Lila: [appeared to be satisfied.]
Then, she stopped in her tracks about 2 feet from the big, bald man; looked at him and said in her outside voice, “Mommy, why is the man so big?”
Me: [Thinking: “No you did not. No. Omg. No.“]
I actually stuttered: “Well, um, because we’re all different… um… people come in a whole bunch of different shapes and sizes… um, you’re a small kid and I’m a big Mom and… um… we’re all different.”
I honestly was like, “REALLY? We live in MEXICO. Why couldn’t you have asked an awkward question in front of a kindly Mexican gentlemen who didn’t speak English?” (Sorry, it crossed my mind.)
I inhaled and then exhaled, continued to push my cart and silently prayed that the big, bald man remembered back when his four grown teenage sons were toddlers.
Then I came home and googled, “toddlers noticing differences in people” (of course I did) and I found this:
“For a toddler, there is no “wrong” information. She sees
something interesting or unusual, comments on it, and waits to hear
your response. You give her meaning and context for what she is
seeing—this helps her learn. For example, your toddler says, Ducks are swimming! You say, Yes,
the mama duck is in the front and the baby ducks are swimming behind
her so they don’t get lost. Just like I ask you to stay close to me in
the mall so you don’t get lost. When your toddler says, Why that man has no legs?
she is doing the same thing—looking for information and meaning from
you. The challenge is to find a way to provide information at a level
your child can understand, while also introducing ideas like
sensitivity, respect, and empathy. Not an easy task!
do? First, when your child makes these kinds of statements, it is
important not to react with anger or shame. Why? Because it will be
confusing to your child (who is not purposefully trying to be hurtful).
Your anger would indicate that you are assigning malicious meaning to
her comment, which is not the case. The wonderful thing is that your
child does not yet know that a person might feel bad about carrying
around extra weight, for example.
Instead, say something that
validates your daughter’s observation while also modeling tolerance and
acceptance of difference. When she comments on someone’s body, you might
say, Yes, people come in all different shapes and sizes. Look at our hands; how are they different? When she comments on skin tone, you might say, People come in all different colors. Let’s look at our faces, what color is yours? What color is mine?
Help her see the different tones, for example beige skin, reddish
cheeks, etc. By responding sensitively, you are teaching your child how
to be sensitive to others’ feelings and to respect differences. You
can also tell your child, You are so good at
noticing people, like the color of their skin and the size of their
body. But sometimes people can feel hurt if we talk about how they
look. You can always tell me in my ear what you see, instead of saying
it out loud. We can talk about how people are the same and different
Through discussions like these, you help your
child become an accepting and empathic person—one who would never ask
(as my preschooler did once): Mama, why does your bottom jiggle when you walk?”
I can pretty much guarantee the butt-jiggling comment is next.
At least I’ll be prepared.
And this little video? I took it in the car after we left the grocery store. Oh. I love her.