Few things rile me up more than when I see or hear about kids getting bullied or picked on. You can imagine how that multiplies when it involves my own children – no matter what side of the equation they are on.
Gavin got off the bus today and ran over to me.
I could see his normally bright eyes were tinged red as he approached.
He walked right up to me, and I could now see that his red-tinged eyes were brimming with big fat tears.
I didn’t say a word, I just looked at him with sympathetic eyes.
He squeaked out, “Mom, some girls on the bus told my friends not to trust me because I have red hair.”
Oh no. No. No. No.
I bent down and told him that it’s not ok for people to say that.
He replied, “Yea. People shouldn’t say things about how other people look. It’s just how they are made.”
My initial sadness for him was buttressed by a little bit of pride – it’s always nice to hear parenting lessons you deem important repeated back to you in young voices. Lately, he’s been telling us about how some boys he is friends with are getting teased for how they dress and we’ve been encouraging him to stick up for those kids because it’s what’s inside that matters, not how you look or dress. Sounds like some of what we’ve been saying is sticking? Anyway, I’ll beam some more later – let’s get back to the hurt little copper-top standing in front of me.
I told him that it’s ok to stick up for himself and that he should defend himself – red hair and all. He said, “Yea, I know. But I don’t even know why they were saying that, so I didn’t know what to say.” I told him that a simple, “Stop it – you’re being mean.” would cover it. (Being brave and calling people out for being crappy never hurts, right?) He smirked and went about his after school unpacking routine as I stood there and thought to myself, “I don’t know why they are saying that either, buddy. It’s so stupid. In every sense of the word.”
Luckily, he recovered quickly and is now outside playing.
Thank goodness for their young, resilient spirits. And good friends who like you no matter what you look like.
I, however, am not ok.
I am so tired of people using words to tear other people down – young, old, big, small, whomever. It’s not ok. Ever. Whatever happened to, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all.”?! That should come back. In a big way. I’ll start.
As parents, I truly believe we can start to fix this together. It is SO EASY to gently remind kids – consistently – about the power that words hold. Written words. Spoken words. Words that are shouted. Words that are whispered. Words that are muttered. They all matter. They all have an impact. Even when you can’t see what that impact is. If someone sees those words or hears those words, they will absorb them, and reflect on them. Even if it’s just briefly. Those words will have an impact to everyone who comes across them – whether you realize it or not. Encourage them to choose wisely. Always.
It is SO EASY to consistently remind our kids to not make comments about how others look, or dress, or act. It is SO EASY to remind our kids that everyone is an individual who looks different, dresses different, acts different. It is SO EASY to remind them that these differences are what make this world awesome and if we all weren’t different, we’d live in a pretty boring place. And you can bring it home by gently encouraging them to think about how they would feel if someone said [insert tease] to them and ask them how that might make them feel. Sometimes just turning them on to the impact of their words can make all the difference – awareness is a gateway to understanding and understanding can breed compassion.
Even though they are in his grade, Gavin doesn’t know the girls who were teasing him and encouraging his friends not to be friends with him because of the color of his hair. It’s probably for the best. No real good can come from either of us knowing who is saying such hurtful things, right? Right. Without knowing, we can focus all of our energy on preparing Gavin to stick up for himself and not letting others erode his confidence.
As the mom of a red-head, I will admit that I’ve been waiting for this day. We’ve all heard the stupid ‘gingers having no soul’ tales and seen those memes all over the internet. It was only a matter of time that such stuff was applied to Gavin. I will say, however, that I am – perhaps naively – surprised at how soon I am having to deal with this. I question how second-grade girls know the repugnant social stigmas having red hair holds. And know them well enough to repeat them. It makes me sad. Honestly.
So, parent-to-parent, let’s make a pact to help our kids get over being harsh. Let’s teach them the value of words when they are used properly, and help them understand the sting they unleash when they’re not. Let’s help them build each other up, instead of tearing each other down for cheap laughs or other fleeting emotional plays. And if you see my kids being cruel or unkind to another child, call them on it. I promise I’ll do the same for you. Bullying is learned behavior – let’s work together to make sure every kids feels welcome in our world, in our communities, in our schools, in our neighborhoods. Even the gingers. Or in this case, perhaps, especially the gingers. And one in particular. 😉