Writer asks parents to teach our kids about empathy and inclusion
No parent wants to hear their kids are being jerks. Most of us strive to teach our kids the importance of kindness and empathy, so we raise good humans who put good things out into the universe as they grow. Mom and writer Jill Robbins recently shared a Facebook post about how important it is to teach kids to be kind after an incident with her son left her heartbroken.
“People, please teach your kids not to be jerks. Please,” she begins.
“This is my son Zack. He’s seven and getting ready to start second grade. He has a limb difference, which means not having part or all of a limb. As you can see, Zack’s right hand is not completely formed. We call it his little hand because…well…that’s what it is.”
Robbins explains that when they adopted Zack as a toddler, they thought of the limb difference as “no big deal.” She says Zack is just like any other rambunctious kid his age — he plays sports, does martial arts, climbs everything in sight, and helps around the house.
“My son is capable of doing just about anything any other seven-year-old is capable of,” Robbins tells Scary Mommy.
“I’ve never held him to a different standard or told him he can’t do something because of how he’s put together. I try to teach all my kids that people come in all different shapes and sizes and to treat people kindly. He’s made the way he is and we can’t do anything about it – although he does wear a prosthesis sometimes.”
Prior to a recent “meet your teacher” night at Zack’s school, Robbins noticed her son’s trepidation about returning to school.
“People who are new to my school might stare at me and ask me questions about my little hand,” he said.
Robbins assured him it was normal, because his hand is “pretty different than what most people are used to seeing.” She asked her son if it was okay if the other kids asked questions about his hand.
“Yes,” he responded. “It’s okay if they ask questions but I get tired of saying ‘this is the way I was born.’ Is it okay if I’m tired of answering questions?”
She told him it was perfectly okay for him to feel that way, and explained that anyone who asks questions is just curious. And that’s when Zack said, “Please don’t let them be mean to me, Mommy.”
Ouch. There’s an emotional gut punch if we’ve ever heard one. Robbins agrees. “This is the part of the story where my heart sinks to the pit of my stomach,” she writes.
Her son eventually opened up and told her some kids had teased him during summer day camp.
“Here’s my take-a-way,” Robbins writes. “Ask questions and be curious about people who look different that you look. But before you stop to ask questions, consider that there is a living, feeling person on the other end.
“And, if you have a child who is different, in any respect, keep paying attention to what they’re experiencing, thinking, and feeling. Their perception of being taunted or ostracized MATTERS. Listen. And please…don’t let your kids be jerks. Talk to them about differences and inclusion.”
A solid life lesson for parents and kids alike.
When it comes to sharing advice to parents in similar situations, Robbins tells Scary Mommy, “I think it’s important to pay attention to what kids don’t say. My son didn’t come right out and tell me someone had been picking on him…it came up as part of another conversation. Obviously, we want to teach our kids to be kind an empathetic, but I think it’s important to teach our kids how to react and respond to curiosity over other people’s differences.”
This just proves it’s never too early to talk to our kids about respect, kindness, and inclusion — even when they’re simply just curious.