Children are not the most tactful people in the world, especially when they’re very young. They don’t understand that staring is rude, so it’s up to us to teach them. Here are some ideas you can use instead of simply saying, “Honey, don’t stare” when someone is different.
It’s not that children intend to be rude or to stare at people that are different than them. In many cases they are merely curious and don’t know how to handle themselves. No matter what their reason, staring is not acceptable behavior and they need to be taught how to act appropriately.
Teach your children that people come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and with all types of limitations. Some have physical limitations which cause them to need help to walk, or they may not be able to walk on their own at all. Regardless of the differences, each one deserves to be treated like a person, with the same care as you would treat someone without limitations.
When your child sees a person in a wheelchair, they may be frightened or confused. They may have many questions, which is understandable. Don’t allow the child to stop. Draw their attention and keep them moving. When you’ve gone a safe distance with your child, sit down and talk with them.
Answer any questions they might have regarding the person, the wheelchair, and the need for a wheelchair. You may tell your child how people are sometimes injured and lose the use of their legs, or that some people are born without use of their legs. The benefit is that the technology exists that so these people are able to get around on their own.
Perhaps the person your child is staring at isn’t in a wheelchair or has a physical problem. Maybe they are a different color or they are overweight. The fact remains that staring is rude and your child wouldn’t like it if someone stared at them.
That may be one way to break them from the habit of staring at others. One day when they’ve stared at someone, make a pointed effort to stare at them. Just look at them until they make a comment about it. Ask them how they felt when you stared at them. When they say it made them feel bad, tell them that’s how others feel when they do it. Those with differences want to be treated as “normal”, and not staring is one way to help them.
Using empathy is often the best way to change a child from one who stares to one that cares. They will learn that everyone has feelings of inadequacy and staring makes people more self-conscious. The next time your little one begins to stare, you can tell them “honey, don’t stare” but you can also help them understand that doing so makes others feel bad.