“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.
as a mama to a new 8 year old I get this.
I know it’s only going to get harder so I’m doing my best to lay the groundwork now. Fingers crossed. And thank you.
I’ve been in his shoes before, when in 6th grade a boy who say at my table relentlessly called me “double chin” until another girl stuck up for me and told the teacher. My heart goes out to him and to you. You handled it beautifully.
I can’t stand to see my baby in pain – any kind of pain. It’s a fine line between setting the kids straight and not setting him up as the kid whose mommy always comes to his aid. But for now, I’ll be that mommy.
Reading this just breaks my heart. You handled it so well and he is lucky to have you in his corner whether you are taking action or just listening. Growing up is so hard. No matter how old you are.
When I was writing this, I started down a whole path about how I thought I was a fat little girl and always held my arms over my stomach when I was in a bathing suit. Then I deleted the whole thing but writing it was therapy. I’m glad I went through some of these feelings as a kid. It makes it easier to relate (and make sure he doesn’t go through some of what I went through).
This is awesome, you are awesome. I think we shrink away from telling our kids about our foibles. I just explained to my daughter the other day that as grown ups we don’t have as much help pacing ourselves—slow down, take a break, eat something, whatever. I love that you were open with him. I am so sorry for the hurt. Kids can be so cruel (though so can adults) I find myself wobbling between saying that they’ll only get meaner and it doesn’t matter—just trying to wrap pragmatism in a bit of love. Hugs to you and your sweet boy.
Wouldn’t it be easier to just let them live in our basement? I’ve offered that. I know when he’s 18, I’ll change my mind but I really would love to protect him from the world. I think the key is honesty with age-appropriateness. He understands what I think he needs to understand and if he asks questions, I’m honest with him. I’m really trying to lay the groundwork for saying “you can talk to me about anything” and really meaning it.
This is so true in my case – “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.” Respecting our kids and admitting when we make mistakes – or even if they aren’t mistakes, when we aren’t 100% there or ready or present – this is an important example.
He’s seen PLENTY of my mistakes and one thing I’m good at is humility. He knows it’s okay to make mistakes. I also teach him perseverance so he’ll keep working on it!
Great reflection Fadra— such hard moments!
Thanks, Elena. I hate it when my own posts make me cry!
Oh, this just pulled at my heart. Hugs and love mama!
Fadra, this was great. And I don’t think these are lessons just for parents/kids, either. I have some of these same conversations with coworkers, peers, managers, and friends…and we’re all grown ass adults!
Great advice with messages we need to hear again and again and again.
It’s so tough seeing our kids face those challenges-those mean words that can often hurt more than physical bullying. What a wise thing it is to show him how to handle that situation and to be honest about how you struggle with those same issues yourself at times.
You’re an awesome mom and he’s an awesome kid! I’m sorry people are saying mean things to him. I was thinking about this the other day and thought if there’s one thing we can teach our kids other than love, it’s empathy. It will extend into every other part of their existence: how they treat others at school to how they behave as a boss. I think you’re equipping him with the right mindset and maybe, hopefully, he’ll rub off on the other kids.