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Handling intrusive remarks from strangers about child's talking, size

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I'm having some problems with how strangers sometimes talk to my son and would appreciate your advice.

My very tall two-year-old son is often mistaken by strangers for being four or five. My son also has a speech delay, so when people such as other parents at his classes or cashiers try to talk to him, he doesn't answer. This sometimes leads to people openly speculating that my son must be very anxious when he's not, and once someone assumed my son had a disability that he doesn't have. My son understands what is said to him, and I don't want him to believe what these people say about him. I usually say something like, "He's two," but that doesn't always stop unwelcome remarks. What I can say in these situations that is both polite and effective in curbing these remarks?


What a frustrating situation for you and for your son.

In general, I would not rush in to rescue, or to speak "for" my child. However, your son is only two. AND he's getting some inappropriate remarks that he cannot possibly know how to handle unless you model it for him. In situations where children are at a loss, and we just stand there while they flounder, I don't think we do them any favors. I think they feel lost and unprotected and inadequate and without guidance, and they feel our just standing there as either helpless or judgmental.

So I would recommend instead that with any age child who flounders socially that we model how to answer, and then afterwards ask our child what they thought about the interaction so they can express any feelings about it. If they want to at that point, it's great to practice the interaction with them, so they start to feel confident about answering for themselves in the future.

So...both polite and effective, in protecting your son from stranger's remarks.

To the stranger who says something to him and he doesn't answer, I would simply answer the question for him. At the same time, if there's a way to think fast enough, you can communicate that he's only two, so they back off a bit.

Stranger: (to your son) "Do you like snow?"
You: (warmly, to both of them) "We sure do! Doesn't every two year old like snow?"

Many people at this point will say "You're only two? What a big boy you are!"
Too bad it would be inappropriate to comment on their bodies, right? But I guess you could reframe it to:

"Strong and healthy, that's my boy....Let's go, Sweetie."

If a stranger made a more personal comment, assuming that your son isn't answering because of anxiety or a disability, I would also want to reframe it for your son.

Stranger: (to your son) "What's the matter, cat got your tongue? Feeling a bit nervous today?"

You: (warmly, to both of them) "I guess two year olds have as much right as the rest of us to decide when they want to talk....He talks when he's ready."

You might add, directly to your son with eye contact and playful warmth, "Nervous? I don't think so....I think you can't wait for class to start so you can....."

I hope that's helpful!

Dr. Laura

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