It was meant to be an innocent question, but when my son E asked it to a friend of mine who is already sensitive about the topic, I could feel the blood drain out of my face. (I will not say what he said to protect this friend’s privacy, but it was not something he should say to ANYONE!) After they left, we had a talk with him about things he should and should not ask other people. I also wrote my friend an e-mail to apologize and they accepted my apology, saying they knew he didn’t mean it to be harmful.
This is not the first time E has made a remark that he considers to be precocious because he’s 6 years old, cute and innocent. He asked a family member about a sensitive subject even after we had this discussion with him. I know all kids have made a rude comment to someone, thinking they were just making an observation. Even I did it as a kid, when I told a colleague of my dad’s that he was fat. At the time, I didn’t see anything wrong with making this observation because I was just remarking on what I saw — I wasn’t intending to be mean. My parents didn’t see it that way, though. And after hearing the remarks E has made to people, I understand where they were coming from.
Our strategy with E was to have him only ask people questions about general things, such as, “What’s your favorite movie?” or “What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?” We advised him not to ask questions about their lifestyle, which is none of his business. We told him he could only ask more personal questions if someone gave him information personally (such as someone telling him they were getting married after being single for a long time). We also told him that if he’s really curious about something, he should talk to us about it in private, not in front of the person sparking his curiosity. We’ll tell him what’s appropriate for him to know without giving too many details and still respecting the person’s privacy.
There will always be times when a child doesn’t know when a question is appropriate or not. We hope that we have guided E in the right direction of what questions he should and should not be asking other people. We hope that he’ll become used to our guidelines and play a good role model for his younger siblings. Keep in mind that while kids can bring up topics on a harmless level, adults aren’t always so adept at this! This has taught me that we should all strive to mind our own business when it comes to sensitive topics.