“It’s just a natural part of growing up.”
“Sticks and stones, you know?”
“He needs to get thicker skin.”
“Maybe he should join a new sport.”
These are actual comments I received when I tried to talk to adults about the situation my child was facing in school. My son went from being a bubbly, outgoing, goofy fifth grader to a severely depressed sixth grader. We talked to his teachers. We talked to school officials. We were told things were being handled. And they seemed to be. We stopped hearing about the kid at school who called our son names and pushed him in the hallway. We stopped hearing about the group that shunned him at lunch.
We found out two years later that they hadn’t stopped. Our son had just learned that telling us didn’t change anything, so he quit telling us.
As parents we try our best to do the right thing. We didn’t want to make things worse for our son at school, so we trusted the school when they said they were handling the situation. But here’s the thing…bullying is not just about wedgies and swirlies and other outward acts of aggression—it is sneaky and invisible. It is about lack. Lack of invitations. Lack of compliments. Lack of feeling valued and cared for. And it is institutionalized—supported by a school culture that differentially values athletics over the arts, or the arts over athletics, or popularity over everything else.
So what can parents do? Talk to our kids. Believe what they tell us. Help them build social skills for problem solving and teach them kindness and inclusion. Oh! And read these books!
(Epilogue: My son finally found a place where he was valued for his goofiness. He’s a happy high school senior who landed the lead in Rumplestiltskin!)
What stories have you found to help children learn social skills and avoid unkindness?