Teaching Social Graces to Young Children
My preschooler has started noticing differences in people—the size of their noses or other body parts, their age, their clothing, etc.—and has been making rather indiscreet comments about his observations. When I talked to him about it, he was sort of bewildered about why it wasn’t okay to talk loudly about things like this in public, because a big nose is no better or worse to him than a small one. He sort of has a point, so what’s the best way to explain this social grace to him?
Ooh, first, let me say how much I love that you are even asking this question. Your son sounds deeply honest, aware, and insightful, as do you. I agree that he does have a bit of a point. And I also appreciate your concern as you navigate through this topic with him.
Here’s what I’d probably say:
“Yes, honey, I agree with you that size does not make a nose (or whatever) more or less beautiful. And not everyone thinks that way.
Can you imagine … some people feel bad about how they look? And, there are even some people who laugh or make fun of others who have something sort of unusual about them?
Some people have had really sad experiences when it comes to their differences, and their feelings are a little bit tender. Some people love their differences and wear them proudly.
Since we don’t know which kind of person is in front of us, I would feel better if we didn’t mention their differences where they could hear us. And as soon as we are in the car, you can ask me anything that you are curious about, and we can talk about it.”
The saying “from the mouths of babes” did not come out of nowhere—kids are often candid in their expressions, sometimes refreshingly so. Change may not happen after just one conversation.
Don’t forget how powerful it is to teach by example. You may want to make your social decisions more transparent to your child, by saying things like: “I noticed that her nose was really big but I decided that wasn’t something I wanted to talk about, so instead I asked about her flower garden, because I know she’s so proud of it.”
I hope this helps. I’d love to hear what you think and invite readers to comment on how you have handled this successfully with your child.