“The kids called me fat again,” said my beautiful little boy as he stood before me. His mouth was turned down and his eyes were watering.
“Do you want me to go talk to them?” I asked. The lioness in me already had her claws out but this was his decision. He nodded. “Do you want to go with me?” I said. He nodded again.
This was a tough parenting moment. Kids can be kids, right? But this was a trigger for me. He’s a big kid. He sometimes eats too much. He often plays too many video games. I know it and he knows it. I also know where low self-esteem starts and where it can end up.
Frankly, I’m scared for him. Just the other day we were talking about the dangers of the internet. I gave him a few examples of negative online interactions. He said, “Mommy, that almost sounds like bullying.” “It is!” I told him. He made the conversation easy for me. We talked about cyberbullying and how kids say things to each other. Really mean things.
I’m making sure he’s understanding things at the 7 year old level. Meanwhile, I’m running through the rampant stories in my head of adolescent suicide. I refuse to loosen the grip on my son, especially when he’s still at such an impressionable age.
In January, I had the opportunity to listen to Julia V. Taylor (in the short video clip above) talk about child and adolescent development. Some of her talk was a refresher in Adolescent Psychology, a course I took in graduate school when studying to be a teacher. I was reminded how important peer relationships are and how, as young as age 8, kids really start to find their place in the social puzzle.
Believe it or not, that’s where being mean comes in. For many kids, being mean can boost their “social visibility.” I see it happening. Kids find an easy target, make a few remarks, everyone laughs, and they’re hooked. Unless their parents are on top of it.
I’ve heard Evan laugh at someone else’s expense and I do everything I can to put him in that person’s shoes. I’ve made him begrudgingly walk up to the neighbor’s house with a face full of embarrassment and tears to apologize for something he said or did. And believe it or not, he still loves me. He’s learned and is learning.
I’m learning too. I constantly remind him that I’ve never done this parenting thing before. We talk about that and everything else under the sun. No topic is too taboo and I try to always respond with truthful, age-appropriate responses. I’m also learning that he doesn’t always want me to intervene. Sometimes he just wants me to listen. This was something I hadn’t given much thought to until Julia said something in her talk.
My goal is to always have an open door and an open ear. And to help pave the way, I let him know when I’ve messed up too. I’ve yelled at him to brush his teeth while he was brushing his teeth because I wasn’t paying attention. I’ve made him wear dirty clothes to school because I forgot to do laundry. And I’ve kept him out too late at a neighbor’s house while we were celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.
It was on Monday morning that I woke up realizing that I had “celebrated” a little too much and was feeling regret. I said to Evan, “I’m sorry we got home so late. I probably kept you out too long.” He agreed (truth in parenting: we got home sometime after 10pm – not 2am or something). I also told him that Mommy didn’t feel too awesome because I had a little too much alcohol.
He knows about alcohol. He knows it’s an adult drink. He knows it affects your brain. And now he knows you can drink too much of it.
I’m not proud but I’m honest. I want to be a good role model. I want him to see me being kind to others, eating healthy meals and exercising, and using moderation, all things I expect from him. My job is to model the behavior I want to see. Parenting is hard, isn’t it?
So what did I do about the kids calling him fat? I marched outside and told the kids I needed to speak with them. I must have looked fierce because before I opened my mouth they were pointing fingers. “I didn’t say anything. HE said it, not me!”
I told them that it wasn’t really important. That this was a message they all needed to hear. Words MATTER. Words can help, words can heal, and words can hurt. Choose them wisely.
As a member of the #TalkEarly parent blogger team, this post is part of a campaign sponsored by The Century Council. All opinions are my own.