Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bullying Hurts

I took Skyler to swimming lessons today, and he's finally reached the point where he doesn't want to leave the pool. Yay! When I took him out of the pool after his lesson he looked back and said "Water!" then he let go of my hand and attempted to go back in. This from the kid who refuses to step foot in it until he's sat on the edge of the pool and splashed with his feet for a good five minutes.

After the lesson we went to get changed in the locker room. There are lots of lockers and a bench and people change near each other type deal. Anyway I was getting him dressed and a mom with three little boys came into our little area to get her kids changed. The boys must have been around 3-5 years old. As I was getting Skyler dressed they noticed him. They looked to their mom who was busy and being kind of curt with them. "Mommy what's wrong with her eyes? Mommy look! Look at her eyes. What happened to her eyes mommy?"

The mom didn't even glance up at us, she just ignored her children, who kept asking. Her response to them was to eventually say "nothing." and then to continue trying to get them dressed. I think she didn't know what to say.. Like she didn't want to acknowledge that my child was different. I was about to interject, to say something, to tell the children that he was born that way and it's okay, but the mom started talking to them about getting dressed, wearing flip flops whatever. I just kind of stared for a second, trying to process as I got him dressed. Then Skyler wandered across to the other side of the changing area, the three boys followed him and climbed up onto the bench and stood there.

"I'm bigger than you!" they taunted my child. "Look at me I'm higher than you!" they said, pointing down at him. The mom kind of laughed and told them that they are bigger than my child and they probably shouldn't be teaching the little one to climb up there. Or something like that. She didn't use a gender pronoun, I guess she didn't know what to think of him. (Btw he was wearing blue jeans and a blue shirt with a picture of a cute little monster on it). I just kind of half smiled and said "he climbs up onto the bookshelf at home anyway."

I had Skyler come back over to where I was and the boys went on to the opposite side of the bench and pulled each other away from the side where Skyler was and snickered, and they all just kind of stared at him. I finished getting dressed as quickly as I could. Not quite sure what just happened or how to react. The thing is, they're young kids. I don't think they were trying to be particularly mean. They were just segregating themselves the way they know how, same, same, different. I badly wanted to say something, but I just froze. I didn't know what to say, or how to say it. Fortunately Skyler was oblivious to the whole thing. He was just interested in all the cool things to see in the locker room.

And maybe someday with various medications and surgeries my child will "look" like a "typical" child, but I will never let him think that it's wrong to be different or that it's okay to hurt someone else's feelings just because they don't look the same or act the same.

I can't change what happened today or how I reacted, but what I can do now is to implore you as parents and caregivers to please please talk to your kids about bullying. To tell them that it isn't nice to point and laugh at others. That some kids are different than them, and that that is perfectly okay. And if your child does point out another child's differences talk to them. Talk to your child about it, explain it in a positive way if you can. And if the other child's parent is there and they seem approachable, maybe ask them about it in a polite way. Talk to the child who is different! Maybe they have something to say about it. I hate that we talk about children with special needs more than we talk to them. Just please don't ignore your child's questions, children want to be heard and they want to understand, if you just take some time to explain it to them or find the answer together then maybe the world will become a better place, even just by a little bit.


Mrs. Spit said...

I'm awfully sorry. I suspect, as much as anything, they were uncomfortable, and their mum was uncomfortable, and they were picking up on it. I think it would have been ok for you to say something - even just "his name is Skylar. His eye's do look different. He was born with his eyes, just like you were born with yours. He likes to climb. Do you like to climb?"

ShellieD2355 said...

All I can say is if Skylar was oblivious to this, then perhaps everything worked out this time. Mrs. Spit did have some good suggestions though, for the next time (hopefully there won't be a next time). And don't EVER think that Skylar is less perfect.

Ashley's Mom said...

That happens to me all the time because one of Ashley's eyes is so very different than the other.

If it's young children commenting, I have learned to not wait for the parent to say anything. I immediately introduce Ashley and say something like, "Ashley is 16 years old." "How old are you?" I try to find some common ground - "Look, her shoes are the same color as yours" or something else they might have in common. The point is to redirect their thoughts to how similar they are to Ashley rather than the differences.

If they continue to ask questions about her eye, I am fine explaining, similar to what you said.

If it's older kids and they are obviously being jerks, I am a jerk right back. By the time a child is a preteen or older, there is no excuse for bullying or degrading behavior.

Azaera said...

Thanks ladies, and I agree Deborah, older kids have no excuses.

Radical Mama said...

All I can say is that I relate - I was always aghast at the adults that would openly point, laugh, stare, etc. at my son when he was a very small baby in glasses. Helping kids understand differences of all kinds is so challenging, but so important. I love the gentle approach (for younger kids) above. I pull out passive aggressive guilt on adults now, especially in my less than charitable moments (I hat to admit, but, well...)