Daddy, That Lady is Big! – How to Handle the Not-so-subtle Questions

We’ve all been there.  You’re out in public, someone who is a little different walks by, and you hold your breath in hopes the out loud question doesn’t come…but it does.

Kids will be kids.  They are naturally curious and have not yet learned to be subtle in asking questions, especially in public. What to do next is now in your hands to be able to stave off dirty looks or the need to apologize and backpedal on behalf of your child.

The way I handle such questions is to be open and honest.  Below are a few scenarios that I have had the personal pleasure of dealing with in public:

While in line behind an obese woman at a grocery store:

  • SON: “Daddy, that lady is really big!”
  • DAD: with enough volume so she could hear “Yes, but everybody is different.  Everyone comes in different sizes.  Some are tall, some are short, some are thin, larger or in between.”

It was a fair statement.  But to hush him without explanation would just cause more questions.  The answer satisfied him, and from what I could tell, satisfied the lady ahead of us.  Later I explained to my son that some questions or comments should be whispered to daddy if you are not sure whether it might hurt someones feelings.  Remember, you have to tell kids thing several times before it sinks in.  Next real-life scenario:

At a park:

  • SON: (were outside so this one was pretty loud!) “Daddy, why is that man so dark.  Is that black or dark brown?”
  • DAD: “People come in all different colors but under that skin they are the same as you.  I’m darker than you and you are darker than mommy.  That man or his mommy or daddy or grandma or grandpa may have come from a different part of the world where peoples skin is darker.  There are parts of the world where people’s skin is really white, or really tan, red or even yellow/brown.”

Again, being open and honest and not making it seem like he said something wrong is key.  It was an observation which needed an answer.  In fact, the man came over and introduced himself to my son, told him his mommy and daddy were from Jamaica (which my son related to since we went there on vacation) and we chatted for quite a while.  No red face, no hurt feelings, and my son now knows about skin color.

Walking out of a grocery store behind an oldish couple:

  • SON: “Are they someones grandma and grandpa?”  Now, they may have been perhaps in their 50′s, but to my son they looked older.  The man whipped around as if offended.
  • DAD: I gave polite smile “They could be someone’s mommy or daddy, or grandma or grandpa and some people don’t have kids – I’m not sure.”  I left it at that and he was satisfied.  I’m not sure if the man was (it didn’t seem to phase the woman) but too bad.  People need not be so hypersensitive.  If you look old, you look old.

Open conversation is best in these situations.  by trying to cover it up or apologize only makes things worse.  My take is that if the person is offended by a comment from a child about their appearance, then they have security issues.  You are who you are and you should embrace the opportunity to educate and explain about such things as disabilities, disfigurements, body size and shape, skin color and the like while also teaching your child how to politely or quietly ask such questions when in public.  The last thing I want to do is make my son feel like he is doing something wrong for asking a question, and by apologizing on his behalf is sending that exact message.