Don’t let your kids be jerks

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People, please teach your kids not to be jerks. Please. Don’t let your kids be jerks.

This is my son Zack. He’s seven and getting ready to start second grade. He has a limb difference, which means not having part or all of a limb. As you can see, Zack’s right hand is not completely formed. We call it his little hand because…well…that’s what it is.

Please teach your kids not to be jerks if they encounter someone with a limb difference...or any kind of difference. It's up to us to help our kids be better and more sensitive humans|Ripped Jeans and Bifocals

Don’t let your kids be jerks

We adopted Zack when he was two and we honestly thought his limb difference was no big deal. We’ve spent most of the last five years telling him to “put that down” and “stop climbing that.” He plays soccer and flag football. He does martial arts. He colors. He helps me in the kitchen. He carries his own laundry basket from his bedroom down to the laundry room. He’s a typical kid with an anatomy that’s maybe a little less than typical. I don’t think about him being different because for the most part, he isn’t. Zack is one of the most confident and gergarious people I know. To say he’s outgoing is a massive understatement. He’s always shown a lot of self confidence in the way people react to his limb difference. Earlier this summer, we were standing in line for a slide at a water park and he struck up a conversation with the people in line in front of us.

Please teach your kids not to be jerks if they encounter someone with a limb difference...or any kind of difference. It's up to us to help our kids be better and more sensitive humans|Ripped Jeans and Bifocals

“I bet you’ve never seen a little hand like mine,” said Zack, waving his right hand in the air.
I remember that moment with such clarity. I remember how much I admired his confidence and self-assurance.
Fast forward a few weeks. We were getting ready to go to “meet your teacher” night at our kids’ school. Zack had mentioned a few times how he’d been dreading going back to school, which struck me as odd because he loves school. He’s such a social child and he’s always been eager to get up and out the door in the mornings. When school ended in May (which seems like about 37 seconds ago) he expressed sadness over missing his friends.

Please teach your kids not to be jerks if they encounter someone with a limb difference...or any kind of difference. It's up to us to help our kids be better and more sensitive humans|Ripped Jeans and Bifocals

I didn’t really take the time to address Zack’s aprehension about the new school year starting. I’m ashamed to say that I brushed him off when he tried to bring it up and it wasn’t until about thirty minutes before it was time to leave for meet your teacher night that I actually focused on his concerns. I’m busy. I’m being pulled in a gazillion different directions. I try to multitask way too much and I suck at it.

“People who are new to my school might stare at me and ask me questions about my little hand.”

“They might,” I answered. “That’s pretty normal, don’t you think? Your little hand is pretty different than what most people are used to seeing. It’s okay if they ask questions, right?”

Please teach your kids not to be jerks if they encounter someone with a limb difference...or any kind of difference. It's up to us to help our kids be better and more sensitive humans|Ripped Jeans and Bifocals
Zack wears a prosthetic hand – sometimes. This one was provided to Zack via an organization called E-Nable that provides plans for prosthetic hands that can be printed on a 3D printer.

He paused. “Yes. It’s okay if they ask questions but I get tired of saying “this is the way I was born.” Is it okay if I’m tired of answering questions?”

“It’s okay that you feel like that,” I answered. “But people who don’t know you are still going to be curious. Once they get to know you, they won’t be curious and your little hand will be no big deal.”

“Please don’t let them be mean to me, Mommy.”

“When have people been mean to you?” I demanded.

This is the part of the story where my heart sinks to the pit of my stomach.

After some prodding, my son revealed to me that some kids taunted him at daycamp this summer. He’s a sensitive kid, so it’s hard for me to determine whether or not it was taunting or just curiosity, based on second hand information. We live in our little suburban bubble and most of the people we interact with are people we see all the time. Curiosity over Zack’s limb difference is something that has come and gone. My kids went to day camp outside of our little corner or suburbia and he experienced some teasing, questions, and a barrage of curiousity that comes with meeting new people.

I’m honestly not sure what was said that made such an impact on my son. My gut tells me it wasn’t much more than the reactions of kids who hadn’t seen someone built like Zack before. But he did ask me ‘Mom, what’s a freak?’ which kind of led me to wonder.

Here’s my take-a-way: Ask questions and be curious about people who look different that you look. But before you stop to ask questions, consider that there is a living, feeling person on the other end. Teach your children to be curious but also teach them to be sensitive. Teach them what appropriate responses to differences are as they get older. Blurting out a curious questions might be acceptable for a four-year-old but most eight or nine-year-olds should be able to practice some empathy and consider how their questions or comments will be received.

And, if you have a child who is different, in any respect, keep paying attention to what they’re experiencing, thinking, and feeling. Their perception of being taunted or ostracized MATTERS. Don’t blow them off. Listen. Be their ear and be their advocate. They need you.

And please…don’t let your kids be jerks. Talk to them about differences and inclusion. I know kids are curious. I know kids can be mean. But it’s up to us to teach them to be better, right?

If this resonates with you, please share this blog post or the Facebook post below that inspired me to publish this story:

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What it’s like to parent a limb difference child


THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS. I MAY EARN FROM QUALIFYING PURCHASES.

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2 Comments

  1. Hey Zach and Mom,

    My name is Michelle, and I live in Texas. (Way at the top, so Harvey didn’t affect us.)

    I also have a “little hand.” I was born this way, too. And I sometimes get tired of saying that. 😉 My left hand only has two fingers and a thumb. I have learned to do anything I want, and not let my little hand stop me. I type, play piano, sew, and I also write left-handed. I’m proud of you, Zach, for doing whatever you want to do.

    But sometimes it’s hard. When I was little (I’m 48 now), I really had a hard time with bullies. They called me names, teased me, and sometimes wouldn’t play with me. Sometimes I cried. Sometimes I got mad. But one day, I decided those bullies weren’t going to be important to me. Then things were a bit easier. It took a while for me to really learn to ignore the bullies, but I also learned that if you don’t react to their meanness, they get bored and quit.

    But you know what was one of the best things- After I got married, and had a little girl, she took ballet at our local dance studio. After awhile, the teacher asked me to help with the youngest class. One of those little girls decided that my little hand was just her size, and she always wanted to hold that hand. Then more little girls wanted to hold my little hand. We had to take turns. They made me feel VERY special. Even though I was grown up, it made me happy.

    Zach, there will be times when those bullies make you feel bad. But always remember, YOU ARE SPECIAL!! WE ARE SPECIAL. And you will remember how it feels to be bullied, and you will be extra nice to other people. Always be friendly, always be loving, and NEVER be a jerk.

    Mom, I want to give you a hug, too. You are listening to Zach, and you are teaching him that he is just as important as everyone else. I didn’t always have that. And that made the taunting worse. But now I have a great husband who really doesn’t care, I have a daughter (23) who thinks her mom is pretty cool, and I have young people who, I hope, look up to me as a friend. None of these people give a flip about my hand.

    Thanks, Mom for being a hero to your little guy.

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