Wednesday, February 28, 2018

When Someone Calls Your Child a Hurtful Name

Have you ever had someone say something mean to you? What about to your child? I used to think I would give that person a piece of my mind but my thoughts have changed on this – I approach it a little more gently and try to see both sides. I am not saying verbal attacks are okay, because they are not, and if an adult ever said something harmful to a child I would be all over it with that power imbalance. Harsh words need to be recognized and dealt with, however, there are several reasons why it occurs and knowing them could help us when we approach that situation. Here are four examples that I am familiar with...

Where did that child learn to use words like stupid, dumb and loser in the first place?

It could be that their parents are using those words regularly around the home. Maybe they hear it used between their parents or are called it themselves on a daily basis. They could be hurting deeply. There still needs to be a consequence but dealing with it lovingly would likely be more effective in the long run. I know when my kids learn a new naughty word where it may have come from because their mama is not perfect and neither are my children. (Note that unlike this example I don't use it directed at them or their dad).

It could be that the child has a disability which includes difficulty with their social skills.

They may think they are being funny or they may be so dysregulated that using mean words is the best way they can get their frustration out without using their fists. Believe me, this is a very real thing. Again, consequences are needed but a restorative approach will help to de-escalate the situation and allow for more learning to occur. One of my sons has been punched before which is not okay but when I got the phone call I did not jump to conclusions other than about my own son and wondering what he may have said to contribute to that reaction. It was dealt with by the school well with everyone recognizing their piece in it and how they can approach a situation like that next time and then we continued the conversation at home.

It could be self-hatred.

When I was 12 I learned that I was fat. I actually had never thought about it until someone told me I was. Oh, and I had a big nose. Cue the dieting and self-loathing. I started to hate the way I looked which meant that low self-image caused me to inflict harsh words on others in order to try to make myself feel better. It doesn't work by the way. My kids have had their freckles made fun of (my oldest has a lot) and we just try to celebrate how cute and unique they are. It will be pointed out for the rest of his life and I don't want him to feel insecure about it.

It could be ignorance.

There are many words that I have used growing up that I did not realize were insulting at the time. As I am exposed to more cultures, experiences and education, I have a greater understanding of the words and they have been phased out of my vocabulary. It makes me so frustrated when people use words like "retard" or "gay" (as a negative way to explain something) or make jokes and assumptions about First Nations or those struggling with mental health or really just any topic that I now have a greater understanding of. I'm learning more every day and try to approach people gently just as I would want to be taught.

I am not saying it's okay to hurt others with our words or actions but we need to understand that everyone has a story. I know because I've been there as the recipient, the bully, the ignorant speaker and as a foster and biological mom who has had kids that use their words and fists to hurt others.

Consequences are needed but so is compassion. 

When your child tells you about being called hurtful words I would encourage you to think "What is their story?" "Do they just not understand what they are saying?" and to remind your kids that it is not okay for someone to say mean things to them, that you are proud of them for telling you, you are a safe place, you will help them and that likely that child is really hurting.

Love is a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them - we can only love others as much as we love ourselves. –Brene Brown



What do you think when someone calls your child a name? How do you approach it?

1 comment:

  1. Thinking of "all sides" is wise in many situations along with thoughtful responses. Great post.