I remember being told as a child, “Don’t stare!” when we’d meet someone with a turned eye or scarred face, or a person with an artificial limb. But telling me not to stare just confirmed to me that this person was “odd.” Yet subconsciously I wondered, “Are they different inside also? What do they feel, or think? Don’t they need friends too?”
Each of us has differences, some are just more hidden than others. Perhaps it is through our own differences that we find a doorway to help others.
Since those early days, I’ve had the opportunity to know the real person inside many people with various physical deformities. My background as a nurse has taught me much about these wonderful people, and their courage and strength. But I wonder, what can we do as individuals to get past the cultural barriers society builds for those with a lazy eye or crossed eyes or other physical differences?”
Rather than tell a child not to stare, why not swallow your own intimidation, smile, and say, “Hi, how are you?” the next time you encounter a person with a physical abnormality. You can engage them in a brief conversation by asking for directions, or the current time.
“Do you know which isle the frozen pie shells are on?”
“I’m not sure.”
“I’m not either. I thought they’d be here with the frozen desserts. I promised to bring a pie to our office pot-luck lunch and I hate making pie crusts from scratch.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean.”
“Ok, well, I’ll just keep looking. Do you think they might be in the freezer with the dairy products?”
“They might be a couple isles over. I think there are some frozen breads on isle 6.”
“Great, thank you very much! I’ll go check it out! I haven’t decided if I’m going to make a cherry pie or a lemon pie. Guess that’s the next step.”
“Ok, hope you find them!”
“Thanks. Nice meeting you.”
If you are unable to develop conversation with the person and your child’s stares become obvious, perhaps you can divert their attention temporarily. If they whisper to ask what is wrong with the person, tell them, “That’s a great question. Let’s talk about it when we get in the car.”
Your child’s curiousity provides a wonderful opportunity for you to tell them how lots of people with physical differences have used or overcome those difficulties. You may want to look up stories on the internet of people who have accomplished something special in spite of a physical impairment. Help your child include some of these people in their list of heros.
By helping your child appreciate others’ differences, you will not only be enabling them to express genuine friendliness toward those with physical impairments. You will be equipping them to make the most of their own differences as well.