It all started when the little nugget was about 3 and a half years old and he had just begun using words spontaneously. It was during this time that he decided that all women with white hair were named, "Grandma". Going to the grocery store with him was always a challenge, but now I had to worry about offending innocent bystanders. My son never hesitated to holler "Hi Grandma!" at every female senior citizen he saw. Fortunately, no one seemed hurt and some even thought it was cute. But that didn't stop me from avoiding stores when they were running their senior discount specials. Eventually, and much to my relief, he outgrew his habit of shouting at the elderly.
Recently, his fascination turned to prosthetic legs. He had a classmate that had one and he talked about her leg incessantly for months. He always referred to her as "the girl with the artificial leg". He was positively certain that prosthetic legs were better than the ones we are born with. In fact, we should all have them! His new philosophy made public outings even more treacherous as he developed a bad habit of approaching people in wheelchairs and suggesting that they "just go get an artificial leg" so they could walk. I was worried that his attempts at being helpful would wind up hurting someone's feelings. Of course, I talked to him about this on a daily basis to no avail.
I frequently reminded him to call his classmate by her name and not refer to her as "the girl with the artificial leg" and explained that his calling attention to prosthetics was inappropriate and hurtful. All of my efforts were unsuccessful. He was stuck on this and I couldn't figure out how to divert his attention. My daughter picked up on his fascination and she began talking about it in the same way her brother did. I tried one more time to get through to my kids:
"There are differences among all of us. I am taller than you. Does that make me better or worse than you? No. Do you call me 'the lady who is taller than us'? No. It is absolutely wrong to focus on one aspect of a person all the time. Your friend with the artificial leg has many other wonderful features. She is also nice, smart, and fun to be with. She is 'the girl with the pretty smile' or 'the girl with a lot of friends.' I don't want to hear you say 'the girl with the artificial leg' again. Just call her by her name."
It seemed that I had finally gotten through to the kids. I hoped that they now had a new understanding of kindness and an appreciation for diversity.
Later, I overheard my kids talking. My son referred to his classmate by name (yay!). But my daughter evidently required clarification. She asked, "You mean 'the girl with the one good leg'?"
Clearly, I need to reinforce this concept a bit more.