After a tragic afternoon the day before, my son was suffering from his recent collision with a toy truck and his teeth. We were heading to a paediatric dentist to assess the situation. He was around 2 at the time. We entered the building and needed to go up a level to get to the appointment. We proceeded into the lift (elevator), my son in a stroller and a lady followed from behind. In the few short seconds that we were all in the lift together, this lady who was a stranger going to a level above ours, shared her concern (without invitation) about the color of my son’s hair! “I hope he’ll be happy with that color hair…” I had experienced other comments before in reference to his hair but this lady insisted on continuing with her thoughts “My son hated his red hair, still does and he is in his forties”. I wasn’t comfortable and was hoping the lift would reach our destination quickly but I also wanted to respond somehow, so it didn’t seem like I wasn’t listening! I came up with a response to protect my son, speak calmly to this opinionated stranger with “I guess it depends on your attitude…”
Every child is born naïve of difference, not racist or prejudice. They observe and learn from their parents and close friends and opinions are formed early. Learning about oneself is part of the child’s development. So how was my son going to learn about himself? From strangers with a negative tone in their voice and facial expression to go with it, or was he going to start to question why people are looking at his hair and commenting? Prior to these occasions, had other people already asked questions or made unnecessary comments that he also recognised as being to do with his head region. Is that how he discovered that his hair color was different. I never pointed it out – there were plenty of others doing that!
The innocence of a child is a beautiful thing and the perceptions sit happily with the child until it is pointed out, disputed, argued over, an ongoing discussion that alerts the child to a topic that questions their belief. I remember working with a young 6 year old blind girl who was in a Prep class of 40 students with her being the only one with a vision impairment. It was obvious to us that she was the only one in the school. Her perception was that in each class was one blind child. I coordinated a group of 3 children with a vision impairment to further enhance their skills at one of the girls’ schools on a Wednesday afternoon. The first day the group started, a young boy took one look at the group of “blind girls” and became quite concerned about the fact that the other two girls had eyes but still couldn’t see. The girl in his class had never had eyes and therefore, his perception of a blind person was simply that – no eyes.
A clear and brief explanation was all he needed to learn about similarities and differences and acceptance of others for who they are and what they look like. There was no particular way to be “blind”, just as hair color, eye color, height and weight all varied amongst the classes. Children can be different but they can also be the same. Help shape your child’s thinking with an attitude they can learn from and model positive discussions.
NDIS Registered Provider no. 4050011793
Kerri Weaver is a service provider for children with disabilities.