If You Can’t Think of Anything Nice to Say…

In addition to being opinionated about people’s underwear, Owen has also started making untoward personal comments, which we really must nip in the bud. I know that I put my own mother on the spot a couple of times when I was small. She passed these stories on to me because they marked her.

The first story relates to my cultural ignorance. I was living in a rural, very white, environment and, as a consequence, was unfamiliar with differences in skin colour. So when I saw a black man on the bus, I asked him, quite earnestly, if he was made of chocolate. As my mother reports it, the man replied, oh-so-graciously, that yes, he was, and that I was made of vanilla, with just a touch of strawberry (pinching my round cheek). My mother, made of  (very red) beets, was horrified and relieved, in good measure. As she points out whenever she tells the story, the situation could well have gone sour, as in the next example.

Again on the bus, this time I spied a man with fairly severe acne on his face. I asked my mother, in a very loud, chirpy, toddler voice, why the man had polka dots all over his face. Humiliated, the man reddened and got off the bus at the next stop. My mother is still telling this story, decades later, because this incident shows how innocence can wound, as well as heal.

Owen has not wounded anyone yet, but he has made some very unfortunate comments lately.

The other day, when we were visiting an elderly relative, he took her hand to say goodbye. As he did so, he turned to me and said, “I don’t want my hand to get wrinkly like that.”

Luckily, the relative didn’t seem too offended. We all explained that wrinkles happen to all of us eventually, but that he doesn’t need to worry about them for a long time.

We were relieved that she had not overheard the questions about why she wears diapers, even though she’s a grown-up.

Then this morning, as I was dropping Owen off at daycare, one of the other mothers came up to me and told me that the other day, Owen had told her that he didn’t like the mole she had on her face. He asked if it would go away soon, and how she got it. Again, this mother was lovely about it, possibly because she understands the brutal honesty of children.

Still, I left the daycare with a sinking feeling that I need to deal with this “honesty” before Owen does manage to hurt someone with his idle chatter.

I would love to hear your suggestions on this one. I am not sure how to approach the issue without making a mess of it.

3 comments on “If You Can’t Think of Anything Nice to Say…

  1. Cathy Burns on said:

    I think most adults understand that children say it like they see it and they haven’t yet learned the social skills of refraining from commenting on people’s physical appearance. I was on a bus with a bunch of preschoolers once and a large lady got on, one three year old piped up ” Is that lady pregnant or fat or what?”. I think I asked her to whisper her question to me.

    My girlfriend brought her son to the Jewish General Hospital and got on the elevator, coincidentally everyone in the elevator was quite short, he said ” I guess all Jewish people are short!” She just turned away and pretended he wasn’t hers!

    I think it is like any other social skill he will learn to filter his comments in time with modeling and some explaining. Be honest with him without making him feel badly, he is observing his world and probably genuinely interested in the differences amongst people. Children really begin to notice differences around 4-years old. Maybe discuss how everyone has unique physical qualities but emphasize how not everyone likes them to be pointed out.

  2. Cathy, Thanks so much for your perspective on this question. I like the idea that Owen is just starting to notice differences between people and attempting to make sense of them. I did try to explain that it’s OK to say nice things about people’s appearance, but not so good to say anything when you don’t like what you see. He’ll get there, of course, though the journey is sometimes bumpy! xo! Anna

  3. Rebecca Wilson on said:

    theo is obsessed wiht ”morning breath”, and people being ”stinky”. i am just waiting for him to say it to someone he doesn’T know, or that he does know, that might be worse!

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