Chewing the Fat with My Son About Calorically Challenged Strangers

Mr. CreosoteI couldn’t stop myself from giggling when my four year old said to our neighbor, “why does your tummy keep getting bigger and bigger?”

The man does have an impressive stomach, and he’s that neighbor who noses in on everyone’s business and never gets the social cue when it’s time to end a conversation.

I shushed Eli all the same, but the incident begged the question, “how you do teach your kids not to be unintentionally mean to a stranger?”

We’ve already faced moments when Eli wondered (too) loudly why a person was in a wheelchair, had one leg or was otherwise different than himself. It’s hard not to be caught flat footed – or tongue tied to use a better body metaphor – when those situations arise.

The weight issue, however, seems more pressing given the sobering statistics about obesity.

Children will likely get a pass on their accidentally offensive behavior, with even the slighted stranger offering up a weak smile in response. It’s still a chance to teach them a small but valuable lesson, and it shouldn’t go to waste.

Parenting experts seem to agree that it’s best not to fuss over the faux pas, much like the preferred response when your toddler innocently utters a profanity.

We’ve had some success in turning the tables on Eli during these awkward moments with strangers. “Honey, would you like it if someone pointed out something about you that was different and made you a little sad?” A youngster’s oversized ego is perfect for such a question. We also tell our boys that we’ll discuss it in greater detail later, and it’s important to do just that rather than push it aside for a later date.

Perhaps the best way to prevent such situations is to avoid gossiping in front of your children in the first place. You may never point at a stranger and say, “why does he have three chins,” but there’s a good chance you’ll offer up a snarky retort to a woman’s hat or some other fashion emergency.

What methods have you found effective when your child says something embarrassing to a stranger?

(Note: The accompanying photograph is from “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.” The sequence features Terry Jones as Mr. Creosote, an obese man who eats one too many items and pays the price. It’s the kind of repulsive gag that might not pass muster in today’s more sensitive age.)


  1. Maureen Toto says

    like everything in life, they must be taught that people are different. Not all are as lucky to be able to walk. Not all look the same. It makes people feel badly if they see you staring at them. Never make a comment about them. If you have a question, you could ask mom and dad when you get home. Certain people don’t dress the same. Not everyone is fortunate to be able to buy new clothes. Each time you discuss it, they will understand. And stress how lucky they are to have a mom and dad to love them, dress them and take care of all their needs.

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