Go ahead and grab a tissue. If not for you, then grab an extra one for me.
My sensitive little nine-year-old guy spoke these very words to me today.
I looked at him and firmly said, “Absolutely not!” as if it were the stupidest thing I had EVER heard.
He looked at the ground while picking the skin on the side of his thumb with his index finger and furrowed his little red eyebrows together.
I said, “Why? Did someone tell you that?”
He nodded slowly, and without looking up, meekly said, “Yea.”
I said, “Who?” (Classic mama bear instinctive reaction. Even though the “who” is really not relevant to his hurt feelings, I couldn’t stop myself from blurting that out.)
He said, “Just some kids at school. They said my freckles are weird.”
I asked, “Are they your friends?”
“Do you care what they think?”
“Are their opinions important to you?”
“Well, then let’s not worry about what they say.”
“It’s just confusing because some of my other friends have freckles but they only say my face is weird.”
I told him to say something along the lines of his freckles don’t bother him, so they shouldn’t bother them and then walk away. He smirked and said, “I know, right?”
I reminded him that he has a family who loves him and friends who like hanging out with him, and that’s all that really matters.
I am not naive enough to think my kids never tease other kids. It’s part of growing up. I took the open door Gav presented to (again) talk a bit about how words can hurt and that everyone has different things about themselves … so it’s not cool to call out people’s differences no matter what they are – and that, in fact, those are the very things we should find INTERESTING about other people. I told him I am sorry that people were making fun of his freckles. We also talked a little bit about being brave even when it’s hard – and doing things like sticking up for himself even when he feels upset. That’s a hard thing for our sensitive guy – he takes it all to heart and just takes it on the chin. Still.
It’s funny, really. This time last year, we were facing the same thing … words being used to point out Gavin’s “differences” (i.e. red hair and freckles!), and I penned this. I’ve copied it here. As parents, let’s remember the incredibly important role we play in teaching our kids right from wrong – on both big and little scales…including how words are used.
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. (Full post can be found here.)
As for Gav, he’s right back to normal. But I know he’ll keep thinking his freckles are weird. Me? I’ll continue to blow wind in his sails so he carries on with strength and builds confidence – gorgeous red hair, freckles and all.