We’ve all been there. This story was relayed to me from a fellow mom who, like all of us, was just trying to get through another day. I’m sharing it here because I think we all have a valuable lesson to learn about teachable moments at any age – even if they happen in Target.
It had been a very long day, I was with my kids in Target. They were wired and overtired, especially the 3 year old. He wasn’t listening, running a bit in front of me, and trying to nab as many boxes of Annie’s organic bunny cookies as he could before I noticed five in the cart. As I was looking at produce, I caught a woman saying something out of the corner of my eye. It took me a minute to realize she was saying, “Your son just pointed and laughed at my son”.
I asked her to clarify because I had no idea what was happening. I noticed that down the aisle, her early 20-something son with a disability was walking away, and he was talking a bit loudly as he went. I realized she was telling me that my 3 year old had pointed and laughed at him. I responded, “He’s 3”.
She said she knew he was little but thought I should use this as a teaching moment. I told her that I didn’t think he even noticed any difference, and he was likely reacting to her son speaking loudly. I told her I wasn’t inclined to have a conversation like that with a 3 year old in the middle of Target, as I hadn’t seen or heard what actually happened.
Was I wrong?
I later asked a group of my local mom friends whether I was ‘in the wrong’ – what I should have done differently, or COULD have, given the circumstances of overtired kids, a public space, and me not having seen the actual incident?
Here’s what they mostly all agreed upon, and what one specifically shared that I won’t soon forget:
“You were wrong. I think another approach would have been better. Saying he’s 3 when your son has hurt someone else’s feelings feels like you are excusing and downplaying that behavior. As the parent of an 8 year old who often attracts attention because of spectrum related behavioral issues, I’ve been on both sides of this. He says things he shouldn’t and kids (and adults) stare even though I’ve politely indicated that they are making him uncomfortable and aren’t helping.
“In the future, I think the best thing to do would be to thank her for telling you and apologize on his behalf, and assure her that you will use this as a teaching opportunity for a child. And, DO. Use it as a teaching opportunity. Because 3 turns into 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. Making fun of odd and/or obvious behavioral differences can turn into race or gender or socio-economic differences. Teaching kindness and valuing others whenever those situations arise is a great opportunity to teach your child what it means to be a human in a world of difference, no matter what their age.”
Here’s the thing– we all do our best, and if you were having a day when you couldn’t deal with this, that’s ok too. I hope the other parent would understand, because what parent consistently takes every single opportunity to teach? Hang in there, mom. It’s great that you are taking the time to think about future response options.
The mom that weighed in made it all clear- and my teachable Target moment was not only for my three year old that day, but for me as well.