You weren’t trying to be rude. Your young mind was just trying to figure out why they were in a wheelchair or how they lost their arm or why they walked “funny”. Your curiosity got the best of you and your mom caught you staring. She quickly turned your head and in a hushed tone told you, “Don’t stare. It’s rude.” You took one more glance and accidentally made eye contact with the person. Darting your eyes away, you look at your feet, at the ceiling, at anything except the person. After all, your mom taught you kindness and you didn’t want to hurt the person’s feelings, right?
Moms, you got this one wrong. Or rather, you didn’t finish the lesson. You need to follow it up with instructions on what is okay. Staring is rude, but seeing is not. “Don’t stare. It’s rude… Instead, it’s okay to look, see and smile.” You cannot stop a child from noticing something unusual. Teach them that it is okay to look, but it is important that they see the person. Teach them that after they notice something different, they should then look the person in the eyes, see that they are living their lives just like they are and to be sure to give them a nice smile. Not an it’s-okay-that-you’re-different smile, but an it’s-a-beautiful-day smile. There are few better things in this world than a child’s smile, so don’t let the fear of embarrassment deprive another person the chance to enjoy it.
Keep in mind, that person has experience being different and can probably handle the situation a lot better than you if you would just give them the opportunity. I guarantee that person would rather respond to an innocent question from your child than to be avoided altogether. Staring is rude, but ignoring is far worse.
Look. See. Smile.
Oh, and moms, one more thing: be sure to practice what you teach.