Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Mommy you're fat and other thoughts children should keep on the inside
Yesterday, as I sat on the couch typing, Max pointed to my belly and made a rocking motion with his hands.
Oh, lovely: He was asking if I had a baby in my belly.
"No, Max, I don't have a baby in my belly," I informed him.
He pointed at my stomach again.
"Max, are you saying that I look big?" I asked.
I'll just say, I was wearing a tight top and my belly is nowhere near flat by any stretch of the imagination. Well, OK, I'll just say that my gut sticks out, thank you three C-sections and a lack of time to tone up. The three beautiful children I've gotten as my consolation prizes have been worth it. Except when one of them is commenting on said belly.
"Max, sometimes after you have a baby your stomach still sticks out," I said. "But that isn't nice to say."
Max has (obviously) yet to figure out what tact is. That may seem ironic, coming from a boy who has some prominent physical challenges. But Max doesn't seem to care or be aware of how others perceive him. And so, it follows that he doesn't get how what he says about people's appearances can affect their feelings. Even as he's coming into teenhood, complete with the 'tude, aspects of his emotional development are still immature.
There have been times when we've been out and seen a little person and Max has laughed (out of earshot, thankfully). I've explained that people come in all sizes and that it is not polite to comment about how people look. It hasn't stuck.
A couple of months ago, Max and I bumped into the elderly guy next door to us. His arm was in a cast; he'd fallen down stairs. As we stood on the sidewalk and chatted, Max had a question for him:
"Where's your hair?"
He gestured up toward the guy's hair.
Now, I knew what Max was saying but luckily this guy didn't. So I said, evenly, "Yes, Max, he is really lucky he didn't hurt his head!" And then I grabbed his arm and made a fast getaway.
This weekend, it happened again. We had guests over, including a friend who is short on hair. As we sat at the kitchen table, Max pointed to him, said "No hair!" then touched his own hair. There was no mistaking what he was saying.
This guy has a great sense of humor and he isn't easily embarrassed, so he laughed if off. I said, "He's still figuring out there are thoughts you keep on the inside!" When Max and I spoke about it, I told him, "That's not nice to say. You wouldn't like it if someone said to you, 'You drool!'" That may sound harsh, but I wanted to find a relatable way to explain the situation. Putting yourself in someone else's shoes can be an effective means of helping children understand other people's feelings.
Max has a good emotional IQ around us—he can readily tell when I am upset over something, for instance, and he will try hard to cheer me up. "Are you happy?" he'll ask. I hope that over time, the empathy will extend to more people and he'll grasp that commenting on others' appearance isn't nice. For now, it's a work in progress, although Max seemed to have a twinge of doubt as we headed upstairs to get ready for bed.
"You're nice, Mommy!" he said. And then he patted my belly.
Posted by Ellen Seidman at 6:37 AM