72

I was accompanying my 4-year-old son into the bathroom where there happened to be a very large individual. At the sight of him, my son proceeded to say (very loudly), "Daddy, that man is really fat!" as the man was closing the door of the stall. Needless to say, I was more than embarrassed and felt absolutely terrible for the situation. I proceeded to tell my son that it's not acceptable to say certain things out loud and it could hurt peoples feelings, etc... but I am unsure if the man heard us talking.

As we were returning to our table in the restaurant we saw the man return to his table with his family or friends. I was ready to take my son over to have him personally apologize to the man, but I started to worry that this might make him (the man) feel worse. In the end, we did nothing, but I somewhat regret it at this point.

In this situation, is it appropriate to have my child apologize, or would that be more likely to (further?) embarrass that individual, possibly in front of other people at his table?

I wanted to add that I considered asking this question on the parenting exchange, but believe this is the proper place for it because I am more concerned about if, and how to approach it with the individual, rather than how to address it with my child.

11 Answers 11

144

Ooohhh, so recognizable! I've been overweight for at least 10 years, the last 6 I'm hitting a BMI of obese. I've worked in a shop, as a cashier. I've twice had little children call me fat, in such a way that is was audible for both me and their parent. They were always in the age range of 4/5 years.

I never felt an apology was really necessary. What I liked most, is that both times the children's parents immediately told them that 'it is not nice to call people fat!" and explained why. They did so where I could hear.

Both kids looked really confused.

It was the parents that were really embarrassed. The children were very proud. They had just learned the difference between lean and fat persons, and they were able to point out such an obviously fat person to their mom/dad, to show how smart they were!

I think that if you are unsure if the man heard you, audibly telling your kid to not call people fat is enough. Explaining why it is bad to do so is also good. I loved to hear the parents explain that

"not all people chose to be fat, sometimes being fat makes them really sad because they would prefer to be healthy and lean, so it is not nice to say out loud that people are fat".

If your kid understands this, and you're sure that the person heard your kid call them fat, having them offer an apology is good. It teaches them good behaviors that certainly come in handy later.

  • 1
    Hmm... wouldn't that explanation imply that if you happened to know someone "chose" to be fat, then it'd be okay to call them that? Is that the intended lesson? – Mehrdad Sep 19 '17 at 22:56
  • 1
    @Mehrdad Sure. But we're talking four year olds here. Sometimes it's better to start simple. Also goes for the comment of Felix: In my opinion the lesson was complicated enough for a four year old. Of course, that's a great thing to teach them later on. – Tinkeringbell Sep 20 '17 at 5:09
40

There's a reason why the following proverb is popular

Out of the mouths of babes (oft times come gems)

It means that young children will blurt out the truth. It is not the child's fault, he saw a very large man and innocently pointed him out. And I'm sure the large man is perfectly aware of being "fat".

But as a parent, you have the responsibility to explain that words hurt. And words soon become taunts. And taunts can become bullying. And bullying can lead to inflicting physical and psychological pain and suffering.

Next time, at home, explain this to your child calmly. Give your son examples of when his feelings were hurt, and tell him that large man probably had his feelings hurt hundreds of times.

It would have been good manners if you and your son had approached the gentleman when you met him the second time and said

Tom would like to say he's sorry for what he said. Please accept our apologies.

But you shouldn't beat yourself up over this missed occasion. The moment presented itself but you sensed that the gentleman would either be embarrassed or offended. And you might have been right.

And maybe, just maybe, he's quite happy with who he is and with his weight.

  • 1
    @pacholik you're apologising for being rude. I said as much that the child is innocent and told a truth. But it is very rude to tell a complete stranger that he is "fat", don't you think the gentleman already knew this truth? Don't you know that feelings can be hurt? Words are powerful tools, they can either inflict pain or offer comfort and solace. – user3114 Sep 21 '17 at 7:35
  • Hmm, it seems that quote is essentially a modification of the probably-more-famous "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength", modernized as "From the lips of babes and infants you have established strength". – TOOGAM Sep 24 '17 at 0:35
  • There are lots of forms of it but I think original comes from the biblical quote @TOOGAM mentioned en.wiktionary.org/wiki/out_of_the_mouths_of_babes – LangeHaare Sep 25 '17 at 10:24
28

I will be that guy right now, and risk all the downvotes.

If the truth offends me, then that is my problem. If the truth offends you, then that is your problem.

In this case, the child is only speaking the truth. "That man is fat". Depending on tone of voice there is no implicit accusation, judgment or condemnation in this statement. These could easily be imparted by the person being talked about. An overweight individual can take offense at a lingering gaze, even if you are looking because they remind you of a relative or friend.

In this case, the person who may have been offended would be self-conscious and highly critical of their own body. I recognize that body weight may be out of their control if it is the result of their genetics or a medical condition. On the other hand, it could also be a result of their lifestyle. Either way, it is still their problem if they take offense where none is offered. Also, as others have pointed out the individual is well aware of their own weight.

Maybe, like the Emperor being told he has no clothes, someone who is told they are fat will decide to make a few changes to better himself. There are a multitude of serious health concerns caused by and / or exacerbated by being overweight. It is not easy to lose weight, it takes work. It might take medicine or surgery. It is worth it though.

I would feel no embarrassment or inclination to apologize on behalf of a child's innocent remark. That said, it is still a good idea to teach children to be tactful when talking about others, and to know when to keep a thought or observation to yourself. Regardless of whether they can hear you or not. They will probably live longer that way.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Catija Sep 21 '17 at 3:27
21

No, you shouldn't force the child to apologize, for two reasons. First, the child doesn't know that they have done anything wrong, and they have no reason to know. You may not have taught them that it can be rude to say such observations yet, and they have no idea which observations are rude. To the child, calling someone fat isn't much different from calling someone tall or pretty. They don't realize that "fat" is an insult until they get older.

Second, obesity is an objectively measurable thing, and it's not a desirable quality - no matter what justifications some people may try to make. Health is a desirable quality. It's a bit like smell; If someone smelled horrible, you'd probably move your kid away from them without a second thought. And it's easy (especially for a kid) to avoid becoming fat; the hard part is losing weight after being fat. You do want your kid to understand that a healthy, active lifestyle with a good diet is desirable (it really is better in every way), and you shouldn't contradict that by pretending that obesity is equal to that. I'm certain that some people are offended by this paragraph, but the point is that you shouldn't teach your child a dishonest contradiction.

The lesson that you want to teach your kid is that people don't like to be reminded of their flaws. That's a more complicated concept, but it's the correct one and your kid will be wiser by understanding it. It will help them learn empathy and Theory Of Mind which allows them to consider how the other person would feel. That's what makes humans intelligent; not a complex set of contradictory rules over what we should say and think.

20

I'm not sure forcing a child to apologize is useful, the person probably knows it isn't sincere and it just draws more attention to them.

I would (and have) corrected my child and apologized myself to the person potentially offended, which was sincere, because the fault is mine: "I apologize, she is still learning she isn't the only person with feelings."

It ends the scene without taking up their time or embarrassing them further, accepts the blame, and lets us walk away.

7

I have a couple of slightly unusual features little children have commented on at different times.

They have not done it to hurt my feelings -- what they said was true and they are just saying what they see. I usually just smile; sometimes I agree with them (like "Yes I do have a big head. Look how big my hat is! It's like a big bucket. It took me a very long time to find a hat this big.")

Personally I'd feel much worse if the child was made to apologize than if they were not. I am very grateful that hasn't happened to me. Sometimes the parent has briefly apologized; I don't really see the need for it myself, but it's meant well so I just smile and say don't worry, it's fine.

An older child should probably know better - say a 5 or 6 year old will have learned the ropes - but one considerably younger will not.

I'd say if the child is going to understand, explain that people might feel bad if you point out things that make them unusual. If the person seems bothered, then maybe apologize yourself but I wouldn't make a huge deal -- that could be more embarrassing.

  • At this point the situation is done and over, but I would imagine similar situations are going to arise here and there (if not me, than someone else), which is why I asked the question here in the first place. Regarding what I had previously chosen to do, you answered this perfectly and gave me reassurance that I hopefully did the right thing! – T James Sep 21 '17 at 15:04
  • Indeed, yes, my intent was to mostly think about the situation more generally (what might we do when this sort of thing happens) – Glen_b Sep 21 '17 at 20:26
6

I would (and have) just addressed it in the moment. I do not think it is necessary to apologize separately (although we have had those moments too).

This is a great age to sit down now and talk about observations. We can look at things online, on TV, books, talk about those observations. Then we can talk about how it is not something we need to blurt out every time we have one when out and about. Believe me, you want to do this. I was trying on bathing suits when a small child with me felt the need to inform me my butt was "lumpy" very loudly, so that everyone heard. If they do it to strangers, it's just a matter of time before they find something about you to blurt out at a bad time. And they can make it sound much worse than it is. At the time this was said, I was very thin, working out 5 days a week, and no one other than a small kid would have referred to my rump as "lumpy". I was still new enough to parenting to be mortified. Today I'd likely laugh - and then talk about it later.

So the thing I focus on at 4 is reminding them we don't talk to other people about their bodies. It's a flat no. The reason is, it's a good policy for life. There is no reason to comment on other people's clothing, hair, shape, etc. It's just not something that will enrich anyone's life and it's a lesson that is good to learn sooner than later. They are free to compliment people, but that is the only thing they are supposed to say out loud. If they must say something, they are told to tell me it's a secret and whisper it to me, then I can tell them whether that is okay to say aloud or not.

To give you an idea why this is good (over a number of children these are real things I had happen when out)... "Hey lady you got a baby in your belly? It's going to come out your vagina, but don't worry, it's okay, that is why it's there. It's a baby hole" (said right after the birth of a new sibling). "Oh you have boobs! I love boobies. I bet you have a vagina too!", "If you are so old why don't you just go lay down. You look too old to be walking around." Sometimes they also but into polite conversations. While someone was asking me how I am adjusting to 2 kids, my 3 year old piped up and said "She is doing AWESOME but her hemorrhoids are still a BIG PROBLEM". (I think this is about the time I actually relocated in witness protection LOL). There is more and more and more. BUT, it will ease, and teaching helps.

It really is just like please and thank you. It takes children time to learn rules of etiquette, what you should say and what is expected in public, etc. One of the sentences I have uttered more than any other is "mind your own business" as children seem to naturally tend to minding everyone else's business as far as I have observed. I also think many parents seem to miss really teaching this as I still see far too many adults that never learned how to mind their own either.

4

Young children speak their minds, and it is well known that children's honesty crosses social boundaries they are not aware of yet.

The issue is whether or not you want young children to learn to be able to express what they feel. Beyond that, the issue is what aspect of their expression you want to curtail or train.

I think obesity is generally an issue of personal responsibility and allowing very young children to point out obesity is of general benefit. It is precisely the same as young children pointing out that a smoker smells bad. For me personally, the issue would not be the young child pointing out the person is fat or a smoker, but referring to the subject indirectly. Saying "that man" is rude. It is just as rude as saying "Look, that man has a red shirt," when the person can hear you. What the child needs to learn, is that the person is aware of what they are saying, and that referring to that person in that way is a casual objectification.

At a very young age however, this cannot be taught. It is to do with developing brain connections and the ability to empathise, and all adults, fat, smokers or otherwise, should know and tolerate this.

4

Your child did something that was wrong (very rude), but didn't know any better. Being forced to apologise has the negative effect that your child will see it as an unfair punishment, and on top of that you amplify the rudeness by drawing even more attention to it, plus you force a strange to be witness and cause of that unfair punishment.

If it was me who was called fat, and I had to watch your child being forced to apologise, I'd want to tell you off for creating that situation, but would have to stop myself because I wouldn't do this with a child witnessing it.

The correct way is to tell your child as soon after as possible, in a safe place, that what they did was wrong, that it was rude, and that being rude is hurtful, but also can get you into trouble.

  • Would you feel the same if it was ME that offered an apology, rather than my child? – T James Sep 21 '17 at 14:58
  • 1
    @TJames : No. Not unless you did something wrong, like become aware of the situation and ignore it (allowing it to continue) when you knew better. Better to help me forget it about, rather than disrupt me further with an apology from someone who intended no harm. -- signed, a very visibly overweight man – TOOGAM Sep 24 '17 at 0:56
1

No, you should not.

The child spoke the truth, and teaching it to hide the truth while at the same time trying to teach it that it should not lie and be honest and such will result in an internal conflict that a small child cannot yet resolve.

The subtlety of communicating truthfully but in a manner that isn't rude or disrespectful is not adequate for a 4 year old. This will have to wait for some more years.

Also keep in mind that the target of the remark is potentially used to much worse comments, and from adults. People in general don't run out crying because a child said something. They understand that children are children and that's it.

Personal remark: I wouldn't teach my child that this was wrong at any age. If a person is fat, he is fat, that's a fact. If he can't stand being called fat, he should eat less. If he's fat due to a medical condition (the 1% that everyone thinks they belong to) then it is still true that he's fat, it just isn't his fault and he has no reason to feel bad about it. We have become to oversensitive to rudeness, and ironically this has made it much easier for bullies to exist, because people don't confront them anymore.

  • Thank you for the response. I love your point about people being oversensitive to this kind of stuff. Very true. Your answer has the tone that a child cannot really comprehend such a situation. This may be true, but I should have amended my questions with - is ANY apology necessary, even if it is given by me? Does this change the situation at all? – T James Sep 21 '17 at 14:57
  • Again, your child did nothing wrong, so what is there to apologise for? If you want to apologise for a kid behaving like a kid, you will be very, very busy for the next years. – Tom Sep 21 '17 at 21:30
  • 3
    Tom, among the worst people are those who claim to be "honest" when what they actually want is to be rude and hurtful, preferably without a comeback. If someone other than my doctor or my wife says "you should lose weight", then the answer is "and you should learn to keep your opinions to yourself". – gnasher729 Sep 21 '17 at 23:00
  • @gnasher729 note that the child did not address the man directly. It stated an observation to its parent. – Tom Apr 3 '18 at 11:12
1

You should have made your son to apologize him had the guy been alone on the table at the restaurant. Because apology in public for the mistake in private would have made aware other people about the incident of calling him fat which could make him embarrassed more. Even if you wanted to make your son apologize, it should have been done in private. Also, your son could have apologized in public had he called him fat publicly.

  • Make apology in private for the mistakes committed in private.
  • Make apology in public for the mistakes committed in public.

protected by NVZ Sep 21 '17 at 7:00

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.