As we were getting ready to go to school yesterday, my son informed me that he didn't want to wear his nice (rather pricey) Columbia winter coat because a boy at school told him that he hated his coat and it was stupid and ugly. What? How can a 5 year old have such a hateful opinion about a winter coat? In my experience, when a child this young is being this hateful to another, it is a learned behavior. Someone, somewhere in his life is treating him or others this way. Children are not innately mean, it is modeled for them somewhere!
Seeing your own child hurt, the mamma bear claws come out and you immediately want to protect them. My instinct as a mother was to tell him to tell the other kid to shove it and that he needs a haircut because he looks like a girl! But, the responsible adult and school counselor in me knew better, and I knew I needed to construct a response that was going to 1. Be something that a 5 year old could understand and 2. Be a teachable moment for him.
This is a perfect moment to begin teaching empathy. We talked about how those words made him feel (sad, angry, hurt, etc.), and he agreed that he would not want someone else to feel that way. The old saying "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me" unfortunately is just not true anymore. Kids can be verbally vicious to each other and it can be very emotionally hurtful and potentially devastating in severe situations. This situation was clearly not extreme, but it was hurtful. We also talked about how to deal when this happens again (we all know it will, either with this kid or another).
Teaching a kid not to react to hurtful words is not an easy task, but an important lesson. As adults, we know that these verbally aggressive kids are looking for a reaction, and kids who give them that reaction become a target. I wanted my son to know that reacting to him will only make things worse. My kids will learn to be the better person by modeling appropriate behavior and walking away from situations where someone is targeting them. I simply told him that next time he should say, "that is not a nice thing to say" and to just walk away.
Too many parents (a surprisingly alarming number) want to place blame on others for their child's actions (academic, social and otherwise). They are teaching their children that they do not have to be responsible for their own actions. They teach their kids to be aggressive and to fight back, rather than to rise above. This is a serious problem, I see it everyday working in the public school system.
Being a parent is an incredibly humbling experience. I believe that it is the biggest and most important job that one will have their lifetime. It is a huge responsibility to raise strong, confident, respectful and humble kids that will contribute to society rather than hinder it. I refuse to submit to the "new" parenting ideas of coddling, spoon feeding and befriending our children. My children will not feel entitled or superior. Instead they will be empathetic, respectable, confident and hard working individuals. They will be role models to others and be an important asset to our society. It is my job to teach them this.
OK, I went on a little soap box there! Anyway, the morale of the story is, even though it may be your instinct to protect your child be teaching them to fight back. Resist the urge, and instead make situations like this a learning experience for them. There is enough hate in this world, let's not contribute to it in how we raise our children.