themighty logo

When My Daughter Commented That Another Girl’s Abilities Were ‘Weird’

While on vacation, my daughter said something that made me wonder if I am part of the solution, or part of the problem.

In Florida, to escape the cold Canadian winter, our family spent a few days touring theme parks and a few days just relaxing at the hotel. On a cold, windy morning, we decided to skip the pool and let the girls play on the computers in the kids’ activities center. My older daughter was on Facebook when another girl came up behind her and started asking a lot of questions. I heard about this at lunchtime and was surprised to hear some prejudices.

“So this girl was asking all these questions, and then she asked me how to spell ‘Google.’ She told us she was 11 years old, but she didn’t even know how to spell the word ‘Google.’ Can you believe that? So weird!”

Make no mistake: My older girl is the sweetest, kindest, most nurturing kid you’ll ever meet. Her elementary school had many children with various disabilities. She also knows all about my work at TOTI Virtual Teaching, where we help teens and adults with learning difficulties improve their English. But perhaps most relevant: She is a teenager.

Teenagers seem to flee from anything that is not “normal,” because they are obsessed with fitting in. My daughter’s reaction may have been pretty typical for a teenager, but all I could think of was how this other girl must have felt with my daughter’s disapproving glances.

“Not being able to read at 11 years old is not weird,” I told her. “That girl might have a learning disability like dyslexia. Maybe English is not her first language. She may have developmental delays that make it hard for her to be a good reader.” And then, grasping at straws: “Or maybe she spells perfectly, but her family does not use the Internet.”

My daughter agreed there were many reasons the other girl may be struggling with spelling such a popular word. She didn’t intend to be mean with her comment. And if I’m honest, I know she has frequently heard me say “weird!” about both things and people. We live in a large city and we’ve seen and interacted with many different people from all walks of life. We talked about various people we know and how at first we thought one thing about them, and how that first impression changed as we got to know them. “The point is,” I began.

“… don’t judge a bat by its wings!” my younger daughter crowed. At first I didn’t get the “Monster High” reference.

“Right,” I replied. “Whether this girl can read or not, you can still play with her, right?” And so they did when we bumped into that family again at the hot tub.

I remember how the judging started in day care. The endless stream of comparisons and classifications. “Jane never wears dresses like me and my friends.” “April doesn’t play like we do.” “Colin doesn’t even know how to play soccer like all the other boys.” It can be natural for kids to compare themselves to others to make sense of their world and where they fit. But this can leave kids with disabilities or differences out in the cold. How do we move past the knee-jerk reaction of judging and reinforce the tolerance and understanding that all people deserve?

By talking about it, again and again. By accepting that some people can have difficulty keeping up. By reminding ourselves being “different” is not “weird.” I believe this is how we become part of the solution.

Thankfully many schools have started the conversation about bullying, but parents need to reinforce the “bullying is wrong” message at home, too. You don’t have to like everyone you meet, but don’t single them out or make them feel bad simply because they may be “different.” Maybe we are all bats, trying to find our way home in the darkness.

People have different abilities. In our house, we stress the importance of doing your best and striving for good results. But sometimes our best will be different than someone else’s. Results may vary. And that is not weird.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment someone changed the way you think about disability, disease or mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.