We are enjoying school holidays here and today we met up with a new friend at an indoor play center. I was sitting with the moms and babies while Small Sun and the Sprout were off playing in the gym area. I began to tune in to the sound of a child screaming with hysterical fear, quickly realizing that it was my child screaming. It was Sprout, who is just shy of three years old.
Immediately, I got up to go to her, and as I walked across the room I saw her burst out of the playhouse, running as fast as she could, wailing with terror. I have never seen her so afraid in her life. It took some time before she could even speak, she was crying so hard.
When I discovered what she was running from my heart fell.
Earlier, when we had arrived, I had noticed a little boy with facial deformities. While his body appeared to be normal, one side of his face was about 1/3 larger than the other and had no expression. It was puffy and saggy. I don't know what his condition was, and he was just playing away. It was that boy that my daughter was afraid of. I wonder if she didn't notice him until she was in very close proximity to him, playing in a little cubbyhouse together?
She was sure that he was "mean" or "naughty" or that he was going to hurt her. I tried to calm her with my calmness, I held her and reassured her. I told her over and over that he was not a mean boy but that he had a sickness that made his face look different but that a different face didn't mean he was a scary person. None of it seemed to help. She sat on my lap, holding me, refusing to go play until he had left to go home.
My heart ached for her to feel so frightened. I've never seen her scared like that before. But my heart was also aching for that child and his parents. How do they navigate life for their child when other children react to him as mine did? How do they deal with children as young as Sprout who have no filter for the way they respond to people around them, and who cannot accept a logical explanation to diffuse their fear?
It was really difficult and horrible and I just didn't know what to do. I tried to keep Sprout with me, trying to get her to play in an area away from him until I could convince her that he was okay to be around, but she just wouldn't play until he left.
When we were driving home she asked me about him again and again. She seems to be gradually processing the experience and now she is saying "that boy is not naughty. He has a sick face so his cheeks are puffy. He went home now." She wanted to pray for him when she went down for her nap. So I think she's starting to get it but at the play center she was just terrified.
Small Sun, on the other hand, noticed him and just kept playing. When he heard me and the Sprout talking he asked me about it and accepted the explanation completely.
This was a tough one. What would you have done?