You’ve seen them, the perfectly chiseled abs with great muscle tone, the larger-than-life Greek marble statues, most famously, Michelangelo’s David statue.
Among the many iconic features, there’s one thing all these Renaissance statues have in common — no, not the starkly naked part, but the perfectly curly hair.
For better or for worse, my two-and-half-year-old son, Roman, was blessed with that exact hair. I mean, exactly.
I did expect that my kid would have either wavy or curly hair. The one thing I wasn’t prepared for was the way it has pegged my child as being “different.”
When I first saw Roman’s curls coming in, I grew more in love with who he was because he had a little bit of me showing in his physical characteristics.
Then we began to experience an at-first weird happening turned fully inappropriate, regular occurrence…
Words, Patterns, and Action
The words seemed innocent at first but let me run the gamut of what we’ve heard said to us and/or directly towards Roman.
- “OMG, his hair is soo ~cuuuute!”
- “Wow, his hair is so perfect.”
- “His hair is just like yours [dad’s].”
Then we started to hear different words.
- “Look at you. You need a haircut, don’t you?”
- “Is that your real hair?”
- “I’ve never seen hair quite like yours before.”
A promoted action of microaggression.
- “It just springs right back, doesn’t it?”
- “I’ve never touched hair like this before.”
- “You should really spray his hair down [while touching his hair].”
You don’t have to be an expert in human speech and behavior to see where I’m going with this, but here’s the rundown.
First, the words were innocent and directed at his parents (us). Kind of endearing, at times a little weird.
The second series of words were aimed directly at Roman — never mind us.
Present day, we’re consistently faced with unannounced, perfect strangers speaking to and touching our kid.
Whether well-intentioned or not, the major factor is that it’s done without taking into consideration the person you’re affecting with your actions. Zero empathy. Imagine that it was something else about him that was “different.” A folded ear, skin pigmentation, having a disability, you name it. The last thing you would want is for your child to feel alienated, be seen as grossly different, and to feel utterly powerless in those situations.
So, what can you do?
The Light in Empowerment
Here’s what we asked and encouraged him in, and maybe it’ll help you to understand your kid’s feelings when faced with an experience like ours.
Building His Self-Awareness
- Did they ask you to touch your hair?
- How did you feel when they touched your hair? (angry, sad, scared, frustrated or confused)
- Why do you think you felt that way?
Share Your Own Feelings
- “I don’t like it when strangers touch your hair like that.”
- “It makes daddy upset when strangers make you feel [insert emotion]”
Be Assertive; Speak Up
It’s okay to say, “No, I don’t like that” or “Please, don’t touch me.”
Our goal was to build his confidence up and empower him to feel well capable of speaking up and standing up for himself. To be proud of who he is as a person.
A Fiery Two Year Old
It took plenty of patience and a series of conversations (he’s two), but it’s paid off in more ways than one. The most notable of all changes is the way he now handles himself in these situations.
You can imagine the reactions we receive when it’s not us telling a perfect stranger but Roman — without hesitation, self-aware, and fully confident in himself — “No. Don’t touch my hair.”
He’s two, so he’s frank about a lot of things. His candid nature is also a trait we admire.
We’re learning as we go, but we hope to instill in our kid the mental fortitude and self-assurance to express what he’s feeling. Good or bad.
Word of Warning
Be wary, they will begin to understand the power of words and action. We’re still working on the whole eat your vegetables and go-to-bed-at-a-decent-hour thing.
All one day at a time.