Let me start by saying that Ryan is the funniest, cutest, sweetest little boy that I know. He is goofy, athletic, friendly, social and polite (most of the time).
He is also extremely sensitive.
He gets it from both parents. And it is bothering one of his parents right now much more than the other.
Cory gets really upset when Ryan comes to him crying that someone was mean to him, said “I don’t like you”, “You’re not my best friend” or some other preschool insult. It breaks my heart, too, but I’ve had more experience with it – at playdates, on the playground. I also have the knowledge that Ryan has said these things to other boys as well, so I know it goes both ways, even though as time goes on, I see a wonderful maturity and empathy progressing in his dealings with peers.
It’s difficult not to take it personally, to wonder why another child thinks yours isn’t good enough or cool enough. But as you, the parent, get lost in your own painful thoughts and memories and do your best not to pick up the kid and shake him or her, that same child then grabs yours and shrieks, “Let’s go play hide and seek!” and all is forgotten in Little Kid World.
I always thought that raising a little girl would be the worst with the bullying, name-calling and worth-leveling based on unattainable standards of beauty. I figured if a boy is somewhat athletic and/or social and has interests of some sort, he’s in the clear. But it is difficult for both. I have girlfriends whose young boys are taunted because they’re too short, too smart, too weak, too into dinosaurs.
Even though it hurts the same to a child, this preschool stuff is so benign compared to what kids endure when they’re older, which makes me worry about how Cory (and I) will react to the bigger stuff. Our boy is sensitive. That will one day be a wonderful gift. In friendships, with girls, in dealing with younger kids and people less fortunate. With certain friends, he’s the tough guy and a leader – the one with all the ideas. With other friends, he’s the follower – hanging onto the other kid’s every word. Aren’t we all this way in different social situations?
I don’t think there’s any “toughening up” that can be done. It’s in his makeup to be upset and take it personally if someone says something negative towards him. I’m the same way. I think it’s just that young children don’t have the tools, the proper language, to defend themselves properly or handle an uncomfortable situation.
So they turn to parents. And what do we say?
I’ve heard parents say anything from “Hit him back” to “Walk away” to “Play with someone who’s nicer to you” to “Tell him he sucks at football, too”.
I’m a big proponent of telling Ryan that whoever hurt his feelings is probably having a bad day, that other people don’t have the right to define him, to work it out fairly with the other kid. But really, I have no answer. He’s going to get hurt. He’s going to want to follow the kid who hurt him. There was a kid last year who wasn’t very nice yet Ryan idolized him. He’s going to be confused as to why some kids are mean sometimes and nice other times.
I was in a clique of three BFF’s in the 3rd grade and one day the “Queen Bee” decided that she and the other girl would sit alone together at lunch and I would not be invited. I remember I could not concentrate that day or any day that week. I went home crying that my world was shattered, that I lost my best friend and I was a loser. To this 8 year old, it was the lowest I had ever felt.
I caught up with Queen Bee on Facebook last year and we were having a lovely time reconnecting. Turns out we had much in common and she was quite the beautiful soul. But instead of forgetting the past and acting like a mature adult moving forward, we got to talking about bullying and girls and I couldn’t forget that experience of being odd girl out. After considering a good way to say it, I somehow blurted, “Yeah, I remember when you were really mean to me in 3rd grade, too” or something equally as dumb and pointless. She was silent for so long that I knew immediately I said the wrong thing. Why did I feel the need to bring up something her 8 year old self did? Did a part of me want her to know that she hurt me? To feel bad? To apologize? What good would that do now?
She explained that she had a hard time connecting with other girls as a kid for different reasons, that she knows she wasn’t nice and she hid behind her insecurities but that it was just as hurtful for me to say this now, after all these years. And I agree. She also pointed out that I also did my fair share of hurting, yet I don’t remember that side of it at all. I haven’t forgotten what she said and never will, just like in the third grade. I wish I never said it and I’m sorry. Something in me just had to say something, but I know it was wrong and I can’t take it back.
I wish I could tell Ryan and Alexa that no matter what their fate is in elementary, junior and high school, that all will be forgotten when they are adults. And that they should move forward and forget, too. That although the memories of experiences both good and bad will be a part of them, they will one day be reconnected with all of these kids through Facebook or the grapevine, and they will be celebrated for their differences and none of this will matter. Being the most popular kid or star of the football team won’t guarantee you anything. It’s about believing in your own self-worth and not letting anyone else define you.
I don’t know the answer, but I do know that we can’t shield our kids from ever getting hurt. The closest I can get is what my parents said to me as I was growing up, which I never forgot. I think this is why I always had good self-esteem and I pray that I can pass this onto my children…
That to race would be futile because no matter who you are, there will always be someone more popular, more beautiful, wealthier, more athletic. But you don’t know their lives. They could be suffering. They may not be happy. But if they are, it doesn’t matter because I am an amazing person and I have wonderful and special qualities and talents that make me who I am. And I should never want to trade that with anyone. Because nobody else is quite like me.
I hope I can assist in making my children believe that about themselves. Because I still believe it about me. Which makes it easier to celebrate others’ successes because I know it’s not a race, as much as it seems that way sometimes. And one day, I hope both Ryan and Alexa find their unique match – someone who appreciates their uniqueness and their beauty (from the inside out). Because nothing feels better than being loved. And loving yourself.