Saturday, May 23, 2009

People Watching

We ran to the mall earlier this week purely to get out of the house for a few blessed minutes. The backyard wasn't far enough away, and I needed some Chick-Fil-A so I packed the girls up and off we went.

On the way, Mia and I discussed how she should behave while at the mall. I get a little nervous taking both kids to busy places by myself, so I wanted to be sure we'd have no issues. As sure as I could be,'s hard to hold a three year old to her promises. I told her she had to hold my hand whenever I said so, stay right by my side, and not run away. Also, she had to listen and behave. Vague, but easily adhered to. She was emphatic when telling me how well she'd behave and hold my hand; she's in puffy heart love with the mall, so she was willing to do whatever it took to spend time there. (This doesn't bode well for her pre-teen years. I'll have to find some negative mall associations to begin planting in her malleable mind.)

Remarkably, she kept her word. We had fun walking around in a few stores and running down the ramps. We people watched and mannequin talked. Lauren watched the world go by in her stroller, happy to be in a new place.

When I started walking towards the food court, Mia used her sweetest tone of voice to ask if we could please please eat over here? With Chick-Fil-A in my sights I happily told her yes...she'd behaved so well, we'd get to eat at the mall. Again, I went over my expectations of mealtime behavior, and we got down to business. Mia was an ANGEL at the table. Eating happily, chattering politely, smiling at strangers. Lauren ate whatever I put in front of her, so I barely heard a peep from her corner. I began to wonder when this bubble of perfection would pop. How long could I expect such good behavior to last? Not that either of my girls are terrible, but toddlers are unpredictable. There's usually a time limit on perfection of this sort.

But not today. It went on and on. Like a ray of sunshine.

There was one moment of difficulty, but it wasn't a behavior issue. It was a people-watching issue. We happened to sit one table away from a young man with a disability that caused him to shake, nod, wiggle, and move in wild ways. Of course, Mia noticed. She asked me what he was doing, and I tried to make it seem as uninteresting as possible. "He's eating," I told her. She said, "He's being silly! You don't supposed to dance and play at the table! That's silly mama! Why's he sticking his tongue out?!" Thankfully, the food court is amazingly loud so I don't think anyone heard her but me. I told her he could do whatever he wants to, but that she needed to sit still and eat. She still paid attention to him off and on for the rest of lunch, but I didn't want to make him even more fascinating by telling her not to look at him.

I'm wondering if I should say anything now about what we saw today. Something along the lines of "everyone is different and it's not polite to point out those differences or laugh at them." I think the message might be lost on her, though.

What would you have done? Would you have addressed the issue immediately, taking a moment during lunch to correct her? Would you just talk about it later, after the fact? Or would you just continue glossing it over when she notices people who are different? How would you/have you handled this situation?

Inquiring minds need to know.


  1. First of all, 'puffy heart love'? That is the best description ever. And my (almost) 3 year old is in puffy heart love with the mall too (which, ironically, we were at this morning AND we ate Chick-Fil-A! Crazy.) Anyhoo, in my opinion, the disabilities/people-are-different conversation is very dependent on how much of the concept your daughter would understand at this point. I think how you handled it was great, and maybe trying to discuss it at home is a better idea, where you can try a variety of different ways to explain it.

  2. i think you handled it wonderfully. at three, probably anything heavy you tell her would mostly be lost on her. the way that you treat people who are different will speak far more to her as she grows up than anything you say to her (especially when she is so young).

  3. Hi Sarah! I think you did wonderfully. I have to admit reading these scenarios our children put us in is really amusing, because I can totally relate. Like you, I have a tendency to gloss over the finer details of sensitive topics (death, differences..) that arise and give the simplest acceptable answer. I always know when I've met that standard when the questions stop and the child seems satisfied. :) And, upon reflecting on it, it seems like this is a good measure for age-appropriateness. I've had something like this occur and I seem to remember talking about how God made everyone and that's why we need to love and respect each person even if it seems like they're different or silly, etc. This, of course, was after my first, insufficient answer of something like, "eating." :) Hilarious! :)

  4. This is such a tough topic. My 3 year old is too observant for her own good, which sometimes means many questions and I am usually lost as to what to say. Especially when she asks those questions in ear shot of the people she is asking about.

    I personally think it depends on the child and how they are going to react to the situation. Are they going to comprehend what you're telling them? Are they satisfied with vague answers?

    After having a similar situation with my daughter at a restaurant 6 months ago, I have found that with her, the more I try to gloss it over, the more questions she has and the more persistent she becomes. However, if I just tell her right away and act like it's not a big deal...then she usually moves on and it's done and over with. She will sometimes ask follow up questions over the next couple of days as she processes it, but she's a nosey little one and I can't get by with vague answers.

    I can already tell that her little brother is going to be much different...much less observant (thankfully!!).

    Have you ever heard the Veggie Tales song: I Can Be Your Friend?
    Great song for this topic!

  5. Personally I think it best to offer a very simple, brief explanation in the moment if it will not embarrass the other person. Something along the lines of, "some people get a kind of sickness that makes them do that. But it's not polite to stare, so let's finish our lunch and we can talk more about it at home if you want." But yeah, I wouldn't make a big deal out of the people watching if she kept doing it. Most people expect that from kids.


Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?