You don’t know me. We’ve never been introduced. Your daughter and my son share a third grade classroom and recently, my son came home and during our post-school chat, he told me your daughter had called him a nerd at recess time. I was a) not at all surprised; b) totally prepared to handle the discussion with him; and c) sad for your kid.
What you probably don’t know is that I stand outside the school every day waiting for my son to emerge from the place he spends the better part of each weekday. He’s totally capable of walking himself home, but he’s my last child and quite frankly I miss the heck out of him when he’s at school. So while I’m waiting for the bell to ring, I people watch and pay close attention to what the other kids are saying and doing, mostly because I used to be a teacher and I really miss being around these kids’ energy.
A few times last week, I saw one of your older sons waiting for your daughter to come out of school. He had that swagger that fifth grade boys love to display as they are ending their time at elementary school. Then he got right in your daughter’s face and yelled at her about something I couldn’t get close enough to hear. I didn’t need to be an expert at body language to know that whatever it was he said, made her really sad. Then, I watched your sons walk toward your house with your daughter trailing behind, looking dejected.
That brief interaction told me pretty much everything I needed to know about why your sweet-faced little girl feels compelled to call my boy a mean name.
I’ll tell you a little bit about my boy: he’s sweet, goofy and wears glasses. He is obsessed with space and nature, and still hasn’t learned how to ride his bike. He gets mad when people cheat. He crushes on a new girl just about every month. It has never occurred to him to be mean to another human being. He just doesn’t have it in him. He has older siblings, just like your daughter, who likely have called him worse names than “nerd.” But here’s my strategy: I take the time to listen, and observe what my kids are saying not only to each other, but to their classmates and friends as well. Not a day goes by in this house where I don’t have to correct somebody’s behavior. Teaching them all to be respectful and accountable for the words they say is not easy, it’s not fun, and it can get downright tedious, especially when you add teenagers to the mix. (Just wait lady--your turn is coming.)
I don’t pretend to have all the answers (any?) when it comes to parenting, but sometimes I wish I could be the fly on the wall at your house. I’ve seen your husband and I know you have three kids like me--two boys and a girl. I’m curious to know what your dinnertime conversations are, or if you’re like us and sit-down dinnertime is mostly a fantasy. Do you and your husband talk respectfully to your kids? Does your husband speak to you the way your son yells at your daughter?
So, no, I’m not at all surprised when my boy gets called a name at school. Most parents think it’s a rite of passage, and thank goodness I have the skills to turn these discussions with him into teachable moments. My boy will not be scarred by kids like yours; he has amazing coping skills and parents who listen and care and spend time talking with him. I’ve almost got him convinced that being a nerd can be a good thing--it just means you’re really smart.
The kid I’m worried about is yours. As far as I know, you have just one girl. Might I make a suggestion? Walk up to school one day and get her. Ask her how her day was, and listen to the answer before you pile all the kids and the dogs and the sports equipment into the car and hit the road for yet another lacrosse or baseball or soccer game. Maybe don’t let your older son get right in your daughter’s sweet face and make her feel bad about herself. Because one day, that guy could be her boyfriend, or her husband. Take a few minutes to tell her and show her that’s she’s awesome and totally worth your time. Help her to feel good about herself so that she doesn’t need to call other kids names. Then maybe one day, when she’s old enough to settle down, she’ll be lucky and find a boy like mine.
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