09 March 2015

I don't want to parent your child. It's up to you to teach your children manners, kindness and compassion.

This post was inspired by my friend Carly who writes at Smaggle. She wrote something awesome titled "Stop allowing your child to be an asshole".

Carly wrote: 

"...it is inexcusable to allow a child to treat other people badly. Teaching a child to be disrespectful is a habit that can’t be broken."

They say it takes a village to raise a child. But I am always mindful of commenting on parenting, because I'm not a parent. And there's often a backlash when people who aren't parents comment on others' parenting. But when I encounter children, it is easy to judge how they're parented based on their behaviour and reaction to me. I recently met a little girl who initially stared at me, but after I said hello and her parents encouraged her to say hello back, we chatted about lots of things including Frozen, and a new subject at her school called 'snacks' (hah!). When I left the cafe, I told her dad how lovely his daughter was, saying he's done a great job!

Dealing with children can be so hard. Sometimes they ask cute and innocent questions - out of genuine curiosity. I don't mind if they ask what's on my face or stare a little. I recently experienced a gorgeous moment when a little girl couldn't work out why my face hadn't changed colour when we exited the train tunnel - and then she was more shocked that I was 32 yet still carrying a Minnie Mouse bag!

Other times children are downright rude. Little shits. To me and to other kids (and adults) who look different.

Most days I read about friends' children who have been bullied and excluded because other kids think they'll catch ichthyosis. I tear up when friends write that no one attended their child's birthday party. And I'm horrified to learn that children (and adults) ruin outings for my friends' children because of incessant staring, whispering and comments.

Those things happened to me when I was a child, and the memories stuck.

And often children's comments hurt just as much for an adult on the receiving end.

Sarah, a 20 something woman with dwarfism, was exasperated by a child who mistook her for a boy and commented on her appearance. She gets stared at and comments directed at her regularly, so I imagine that having her femininity overlooked stung.

Mel, a gorgeous dancer and mentor (who has Cerebral Palsy) wrote this on Facebook last week:

“I like to think in today's society that perception of "disability" has grown for the better, though after yesterday's experience, I am doubting myself it has... wheeling past a primary school ground some children were eager to know "what's wrong with you" and so I naturally responded with my natural speech, "I....have.....cerebral palsy" then came the laughter when they heard my speech, and then a boy did the body movement, tongue out, eyes roll which he appeared to be very good at….

so my explaining was not working right now and I wheeled on with my friend who was equally disappointed by the children's attitude... I wanted to do something to help these children understand, my world is amazing and not what you think it is.”

While people dismiss children’s behaviour as curiosity or innocence, reactions like Mel received can sting. Mel has since written to the principal, asking if she can do a presentation on disability.

I have become better at responding to children (smiling, saying hello, talking about how everyone's different, saying I was born like this as they were born with blue eyes) but I still struggle with whether to invite questions from them or call them out on downright rude behaviour.

I was on the train one day and a little kid saw me and threw an absolute whopper of a tantrum. He screamed that he didn't want to look at me or sit next to me. He kicked the inside of the train, hit his dad, and said how yucky I looked. It was really embarrassing because people were looking at me to see what the boy didn't want to look at. And I had to say something. Because his father wasn't saying anything. I said to the boy that he was very rude. I told his dad that I write about what it's like to look different, including how to educate kids about diversity, and gave him my card, suggesting he talk to his kid so this doesn't happen again. The dad thanked me and got off at a stop I presume wasn't his stop, because the kid - mid tantrum - said this wasn't the right stop. The dad was so embarrassed. And so was I.

Mother of three, Toushka, told me:

"In the case of visible difference and disability and the lifelong conversation we need to have with our children, it can be difficult to find ways to have that conversation if the circle of people your child sees are all the same. There are some great books and TV shows to help but it is a lifelong conversation that hopefully starts before a toddler freaks out on the train."

I don't want to parent your child.

I can educate your child about my skin to an extent, but it's up to parents to teach them manners, kindness and compassion.

And you also need to remember that while curiosity is important for learning, being on the receiving end of curiosity can be tiring.

It's up to you as parents to have that ongoing discussion about diversity and need to treat people  - no matter how they look - with respect. Because when a situation like the one I had on the train happens to you, you'd wish you had.

Edit: a number of people on my Facebook page and blog comments suggested the child on the train might have autism. Thanks for raising the idea that the boy on the train might have autism. This is something I had not considered. I appreciate you opening my mind to this, and I am sorry if I offended anyone with my comments. If autism had have been the case, it would have been great for the father to provide a short comment like "my son has autism and this could be why he is behaving this way', as I provided a comment to him about me. Please also respect that the incidents that I mentioned - that happen to me and my friends Sarah and Mel - did happen, and often happen on a regular basis and can be tiring. Thank you.


  1. Thank you Carly, for writing about this. I am a parent to two young children and god I hope I am bringing them up to respect people. I know that both my children stare, will turn their heads and sometimes even point at people who have visible differences. They will ask me questions - to which I rarely have the answers. I do try to stress to them that everyone is different, it doesn't make them less. Luckily they have both started their schooling at a small public infants school which has a huge diversity of children attending - I think they are very accepting of differences. Its a difficult topic to try and get right.

    1. Thankyou for telling your kids that everyone is different. It's great they go to a diverse school - I think it can be hard to address the topic of difference if kids don't encounter it regularly.

  2. I think you handled that situation with so much grace and composure. Curiosity is something that kids will always have - and that's a good thing. But demonstrating kindness and manners definitely needs to come into it.

    1. Thankyou - it can be tricky to handle such situations, and also to write about them.

  3. Hey Carly, I really love your blog and I love this post. I really believe that some parents fail to teach their children to be kind to others and what compassion is all about. Perhaps they just forget or they don't value it as an important trait. It was a big part of my upbringing so something that I think is just as important as Maths or English.

    I am wondering though if the little boy on the train may have had a disability himself, such as autism? Of course I'm not trying to diagnose someone based on a description of one instance of their behaviour - I guess what I'm suggesting is we just don't always know what the whole story is when we see a child misbehaving and witness the parent's reaction? I've heard from parents who have children with autism, who have experienced judgement of others when they've been in a difficult situation with their child and since then I have tried to keep an open mind. It was just a thought that came to mind when I read about your experience.

    On the other hand I completely agree that parents are responsible for teaching their children manners. And those children at the school who treated your friend that way - that makes me quite furious, I probably would have reported them to the Principal. It sounds like your friend is much stronger and wiser than I am :-)

  4. It's very challenging having a disfiguring genetic disease or acquired condition.
    To a lesser extent I was bullied and stared at by children and adults for various reasons - even being bald.

    Children do stare and for parents it can be hard to distract them- just the same as children who don't know boundaries of curiosity and ask loudly "why is that lady so fat"
    Manners aren't hard to teach, respect for others is .
    I think you are doing an enormous job or educating the public with grace and without making yourself a victim.
    I think you did the best thing you could at the time.

    1. Thankyou so much Trish. I am sorry you were stared at.
      I hope never to come across as a victim. I am so thankful you said I never come across as one :)

  5. Oh and I hope I didn't sound as though j was being critical of the way that you handled that situation! I've been worried how my comment may have come across. I wasn't there so I didn't want to comment on your experience or how you handled it! Was just kind of an automatic thought of "what if" which I thought to share.

    You do so much to educate others on disability, I think that's incredibly admirable! Hope I didn't come across the wrong way.

    1. Hey GoodThingsSmall! I didn't think that at all! I wanted to add a little paragraph after some chatter on Facbeook about autism, and your comment. Thanks for alerting me to this possibility.

      And thank you so much for the positive feedback :)

  6. Thank you for the extra bit you added. Some kids do have behavioural issues because of Autism (amongst many other reasons.) And, sometimes pointing out that they have behavioural issues in front of them can make them even worse.

    I try to educate my nephew on diversity. I talk openly about having anxiety and being plus size, which I understand isn't the same. I honestly can't say what I would have done if we were in a similar position. Helping raise a kid that triggers easily... it's all about picking the battles. They aren't capable of rational thought mid tantrum, which is possibly why the dad got off the train.

    Just trying to let you know a bit about our life, the same way you share yours :)

  7. I am sorry for your experience. Kids say crazy things sometimes, even if you've worked hard with them with respect to manners, appropriate behaviour, being polite etc. My kid's 3 and in the last say 18 months, he's said some in public that I wish he hadn't…Take care x

  8. As a parent, it's really hard - you have no control over what your child will say and how they will say it, however I've come to realise that what's really important is how we react. My daughter once said really loudly on a train, "Why is that man's skin so black?!" I looked at the man, he looked at me and he started laughing, and I was so grateful that he took away the tension from the situation, so I just had a quiet conversation with my daughter about difference - because, while we might have those conversations at home the message really, really sticks when it's in context like that. Now she's older she knows to ask me quietly; there's nothing wrong with wanting to know why someone looks or behaves differently to her, but we don't make people feel bad. But, like I say, she could at any moment burst out with anything at any volume, and all I can do is watch the message I give her. I can't comment on the situation you faced other than to say that I hope that father learnt something there.

  9. I hate it when do-gooders who cant handle the fact that maybe JUST MAYBE a child was a jerk and a parent was shitty, so they revert back to the MAYBE THE CHILD HAS AUTISM.
    Guess what? There is a very, very, very small chance that the child has autism. Given that the parents didn't explain that, then no, lets be real, the child did NOT have autism. It was just a case of shit parenting. In fact, if he DID, then I'm sure that there would have been a show of solidarity for your differences in this instance rather than ignorance.
    It seems to be the go-to defence when anyone talks about an instance with crappy parenting.
    And you know what? I know this sucks to hear and it might sound rude, but even if the child did have autism, its still not okay that you were subjected to this regardless of what ailment that child suffered whether it be autism, aspergers or just plain bad behaviour. It is not your child and so it is not your responsibility and you were minding your own business.
    I can't stand bad behaviour but what I can't stand more is a that giant lack of discipline on the behalf of the parents

    1. In my case, it's not autism. My nephew has PTSD as a result of the abuse my sister did. He was belted while toilet training. My mum is raising him now, but I'm very involved.

      His behaviour is very similar to autism. In our case, discipline has nothing to do with it. He is incapable of responding to reason or logic if he is triggered. All people did was point out was that this behaviour sounds similar to what their autistic, or aspergers, child has done sometimes. And, in those cases, it's not always black and white.

      Carly has been awesome educating us. We are just trying to return the favour. Chances are the child was being rude and ignorant. There is also the chance that the parent was struggling. You try raising a child that will physically hurt you when chucking a tantrum. People look down at us but he has made so much progress. It sucks.

    2. No offence, but as I said, exception to the rule. Your case sounds like far less of a common situation. And I dont really care. Id be understanding IF i knew the situation, but obviously I dont so therefore if a child acted as Carly had described, I would have said far worse to the parent because regardless of your child's situation, I, personally do not deserve to be treated like that and humiliated in public.

  10. Brilliant Carly - keep up the great work and writing! The world can be a kind place one minute and a cruel place the next. When people are giving Evan the stare down and inappropriately inquiring, I go into full mama bear block mode. I have leaned into more than one child and said loud enough for their parents to hear that it is impolite to stare. I also briefly state that Evan has a skin disorder and that is why he looks different. I praise children who are discreet for their kindness, good manners and compassion. Evan is quite good about speaking up for himself but as you stated it certainly can get old very quickly, especially when the inquiries are bold and inappropriate "Oh my goodness, his skin, was he in a fire?" to which my husband responded "Oh my goodness, you are so rude, you must have been too far back in the line on the day they handed out good manners."

  11. So well written Carly. I think it is so important that parents ( and i am one) teach their children about diversity, disability and actually just manners. And this can be age appropriate. Re the little boy where people are commenting of possibly having Austism, I have a son with Autism and absolutely this may have been the case here but it could have just as likely been a child cracking a massive tantrum. Keep up the great writing Carly.oxo


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