Most parents can remember a time when their children realized that there's varitey among people. Sometimes those moments were funny. Sometimes they were embarrasing. But in the eyes of Sharifa Stevens (ThM 2004), they're almost always teachable opportunities for "Raising Your Children in a Multicultural World."
Teachable moments are a good thing. Like when your son loudly asks why that man is “rolling around” in a wheelchair, or your niece licks a person’s skin to see if it tastes like chocolate, or your stepson turns up his nose at the kimchi because it’s not mac-and-cheese and chicken nuggets.
I reminded myself of this – the virtue of teachable moments – as the 4-year-old girl whose mother stood in line ahead of me at the supermarket checkout stared and pointed at me.
Just 30 seconds earlier, the harried mother of this little girl was challenged to ring up and pay for her items while keeping her precious princess tethered to one place. She was losing the challenge. In an attempt to regain ground, she pointed out the placidness of my toddler – which, by the way, is a miracle – as we waited in line. “Look, Sweetheart. See the little boy and how quietly he waits? Say hello to the little boy.”
But instead of seeing the little boy and mimicking his composure, Precious Princess zeroed in on me, or, better yet, a distinguishing characteristic: my huge afro. This discovery did succeed in keeping her still. Well, except her mouth. “Mommy, look at her hair!”
Her mom, sensing where this was going, tried to head it off by saying, “Yes, isn’t it beautiful on her?” (Um, why the “on her” qualifier?)
“No. No. No. No. No. It’s ugly, Mommy.”
The little girl’s mother flushed as red as the beets in her shopping cart and attempted to reason with the child that she was wrong, simply wrong. I smiled, offering that she was entitled to her opinion, even if it is wrong (my hair is awesome).
A teachable moment, wasted.
Studies show that between 6 and 18 months old, a child will begin to differentiate features that are familiar from those that are foreign – in other words, physical traits that don’t look like Mommy and Daddy. Have you ever observed your child staring at someone? They might be working out the physical differences between that person and you. It’s natural. It’s neutral. And how we respond to their questions and observations could make all the difference in how they adapt, embrace and learn about the world of people around them. We can raise an ambassador or a bully.