Question: My daughter is being tease at school about her glasses and they call her a nerd. She’s been so upset by it that she cries when I ask her about her day and she has started to pretend to be sick hoping that she won’t have to go to school. What should I do?
Answer: Sadly, children can be very cruel about “differences” whether the object of ridicule is glasses, weight or a physical disability. We, as caring adults, must do two things to protect and guide our children. First, we must establish a code of behavior for what is right and what is wrong (but we know that this doesn’t end the teasing). Second, we must teach children not to be victimized by other’s actions.
Children are cruel for a variety of reasons. They like the power it gives them to feel strong. They like the attention from their peers or from the adults. They are experimenting and testing social roles. We as adults set the boundaries for acceptable behavior, and especially; do not allow children to hurt one another. But our long term goal is to teach children how to acquire appropriate power.
Talk to your daughter’s teacher about the teasing. She will want to be aware of the situation and of your daughter’s feelings. But this situation is between two children (unlike a discipline situation where the “transgression” is between an adult and a child), so the adult’s role should begin as an observer. The teacher can inadvertently be nearby when the teasing begins and talk about what she sees:
“That sounds hurtful”
“Has anyone ever said other mean things to you”,
“How did you feel in that moment”,
“How do you feel after you have time to think about it?”
“What can we say to someone who hurts our feelings?”
“What can you do when other children bother you?”
If possible, try to create a problem-solving situation instead of an authoritarian situation. Better to intervene without creating greater antagonism between the children. Those old stereotypes of “tattlers” and “teacher’s pets” still exist and merely give the “bully” more power over the child being ridiculed. The child being ridiculed needs to learn how to “stand up” to the aggression and to feel personal power independently of the criticism of others (certainly a worthy and on-going life lesson).
Both you and the teacher can also discuss with your daughter that many people wear glasses who are intelligent, who are athletes and who are very cool. Your role as parent is to repeat these messages whenever necessary. Go through magazines with your daughter and cut out pictures of famous people looking great in glasses. If your daughter is younger, bring home some Arthur books. Surround your daughter with positive images of herself as a person who wears glasses.
We can all think of great “comebacks” after someone has insulted us. Coach your daughter with some great “comebacks.” Rehearse them together, get dad and friends involved to coach you and her (think of people you know that always rise to a challenge and exude social confidence), practice till she is eager to be challenged.
If she cries at the thought of school, hear her out. Give her space to express the hurt but go on to explain that the tears won’t change her situation. She is beautiful! She is strong! Home is that wonderful place where she is loved unconditionally, where she can bring her struggles from the world and prepare to be her best.
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.