A few weeks ago I had my twenty-year school reunion! That shows you how old I am. It’s always fun to get together and reminisce about the old days. But what I really noticed this time is that people don’t just remember the good things – a lot of people recall the hurtful things that happened at school. One girl told me that in the Year 12 common room, the cool kids sat closest to the coffee machine and the daggy kids sat closest to the toilet. She said that she was such a dag, that she had to sit right outside the toilet. I had no recollection of that, but for her that was a memory that still lingered. Another friend reminded me of some of the cruel names she was called in relation to her body shape. Again, I had forgotten that, but for her it was still a very strong and powerful memory.
I never had that experience of being name-called in high-school. In primary school I got all the usual names for my red hair, but that only ever came from the boys. Nobody teased me about my red hair in high school, probably because I went to an all-girl school. I do remember people commenting on how skinny my legs were and telling me I had chicken legs. During the first week at boarding school, while we were walking to dinner, the housemistress commented on my skinny legs. Then in front of all the girls she asked me if I had to have callipers on my legs when I was a kid because it looked like my legs were so weak! Thanks for that! Really sensitive! And 25 years later I still remember it!
Everybody is going to be singled out or teased for something at some stage.
Last week Birdy came home very upset because two of the boys in her Scripture class had called her a very rude word. She was actually so upset that she didn’t want to say it. Eventually I got her to write the word in air, but there wasn’t really any positive interpretation I could put on it for her. So we just had a cuddle and we talked about how it feels when people say mean things. I hope that will help her to develop a bit of empathy and not say things like that to other people.
When I was a kid and I would get upset about being teased or excluded, my mum would always say to me, “You just be your sweet self and they’ll love you.” Mum’s philosophy was that if somebody was unfriendly or consistently snobbed you, you should try to win them over with kindness. It was good advice and one that I still try to follow, but after 37 years, I’ve realised that it doesn’t always work. So I also tell Birdy that it’s okay if somebody doesn’t like you. Sometimes despite our best efforts, people are still unfriendly. So I also tell her, you can’t be everyone’s friend, but you can still be friendly to everyone.
As parents, we can’t fix it when people say things that hurt our kid’s feelings or when their friends tell them they don’t want to play with them. But we can make sure that home is a refuge for them – that when our children come home they know they are safe and loved and that they can tell us anything. And it reminded me of the importance of having that time together at the end of the day. Birdy only told me about what happened because we were winding down at the end of the day and the things that were on her mind came tumbling out. It’s so important to have a meal together or to make time for a cuddle and a chat to help kids deal with whatever is going on at school.
If a child is getting teased or excluded at school, it’s not just upsetting for the child, it’s also upsetting for the parents.
I sometimes worry about Birdy because she’s such a sensitive child – she really takes things to heart – but I know there’s also a positive side to that, which could help her be sensitive towards others. Going to my school reunion really helped me have a long-term perspective on these things. Both those girls who talked about being teased or excluded at school have gone on to have successful careers, they’ve got families of their own and they’re happy and settled in life.
As a parent, of course you want to see your child happy and settled at school, but even if they do have a hard time fitting in, it will pass. They will find their friends and their place in life and they will learn to get over the names they were called. It doesn’t have to hold them back and it doesn’t mean they won’t go on to be happy and successful in life.
Were you teased about something at school? Has your child found it easy to make friends? How do you help you children deal with it when they are teased or excluded?