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To Anyone Considering Giving a 'Secret Signal' to Strangers During a Child's Meltdown

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As an older sister to a brother with special needs, I feel especially hurt by a viral Facebook post about sending strangers “secret signals” so they know to come tell your kid to just “shut up” when they are screaming in public. A mother nor a father (and especially not a stranger) should not tell their child, who is obviously distressed, to just “shut up.” That’s not how it works.

When a child’s body is that amped up, he or she might not have the ability to regain control of emotions. Most children have not yet fully developed a prefrontal cortex, which means they may have poor impulse control and can’t use critical thinking.  They, chemically and physically, cannot “just calm down” when they are distressed and especially not by a stranger reinforcing “stranger danger” and “mean mugging” them.

Besides the biological basis behind someone’s inability to regulate his/her emotions, that screaming child may also have special needs. What if that child has an invisible disability? And do you not think that parent has already been overwhelmed enough?  Why is it your job to tell kids, “The world doesn’t care about you (or your feelings).”?

In fact, that is the exact message we should not be sending our children.

We do care about your thoughts and feelings.

Lack of compassion and empathy is why we, the disabled community, and other minorities face such stigmatization and discrimination.

You never know a stranger’s full story. You do not get to judge.

I once sat in IKEA in the middle of a living room display feeding my infant brother through his G-tube while he screamed. Everyone walking past stared at us, or even worse, made eye contact and then rolled their eyes or averted their eyes. He screamed and he screamed, as I sat there, 13 years old, with all of these judging eyes on us.

We all need to be acknowledged. We all need to at least be recognized as human, especially when we are having a hard time. We are all human. We all matter and need to be acknowledged. We need people to care about us and our feelings.

Everyone does.

This parent and child whom that Facebook post is directed at, my brother and me in IKEA — we were having a hard time. What if next time you just gave us a smile and an understanding nod, knowing we are doing the best we can?

You don’t know their story. You don’t know my story. And you know what, I don’t know your story, so I am in no place to judge you.

But I can encourage you and others who want to send those “secret signals” to realize there may be more to what you see on the surface, just like an iceberg. You only see the tip above water, but underneath there is so much more.

Follow this journey on Living Without Limits.

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Image via Thinkstock, by olesiabilkei

Originally published: October 17, 2016
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