Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sticks and Stones

Last week some older boys called Danny a retard.

It was devastating. At least it was for me. Danny was more angry that the kids were not letting him use the slide; the name calling didn't seem to faze him too much. Thankfully.

But me? Well, I cried for more than an hour that afternoon.

I know no one wants to see their kid made fun of, but there is something extraordinarily painful to me about Danny being mocked for his quirks. I can't quite articulate it. I guess it is just a fear of mine that he will not be able to make friends or that other kids will be mean to him because of his differences.

I know this is a fear all moms have, but truly, this is different. Of course, I would never want Charlotte to be mocked, but I am pretty sure if she were called a retard, I would be able to brush it off much more easily and chalk it up to the stupidity of bullies.

But Danny being called that word hits home. Not because he is slow mentally or because he is intellectually disabled in any way. Actually, he isn't at all. Academically, he is right on target for his age, and above average in some areas.

Socially, though, Danny has some delays. Definitely. And he has quirks which can sometimes put others off. And having kids make fun of him for those differences makes me worry even more about Danny's future social life. I worry that he won't have friends and that he'll be lonely. And having some kid make fun of him for it just highlights that my fears aren't unthinkable.

Fortunately, that afternoon as I cried, I did something very smart. I called my sister. I knew she would understand. She loves Danny as much as anyone could--she has always been his defender.

She was as angry as I was, but then she gave me an amazing gift. She helped me not just see past it, but also how to turn this into a learning experience for Danny and Charlotte. And even for me.

Beth urged me to not allow Danny to become the victim, but to teach him that those boys were wrong. Beth tells her kids that when kids are mean to them, they should say, "You are being mean to me. When you are mean, I can't play with you. Friends are not mean." After that, they are to walk away and play somewhere else.

She advised me to point out to Char and Dan that those mean kids should never have said those things. The mean kids are the ones with the problem, and my kids should seek out friends who are nice. Friends, like A, who stuck up for Danny on the playground that day. In fact, A was the one who told me what had happened, and who actually told the mean kids' mom. A was so angry at what they had done to Danny that she couldn't let it rest.

So, that evening, I talked with Charlotte and Danny. I explained that the big kids were being mean, that they were wrong and that we should never treat people that way. I also pointed out that A, on the other hand, was a really good friend, and that she was the kind of friend the kids should seek out.

I don't know how much sank in with Danny. He didn't seem all that interested in the conversation. Still, it made me feel better. I know that this is just one of many times in which Danny will most probably be mocked for his differences. I also know that most kids get teased and have their feelings hurt many times throughout childhood. I know I sure did.

But now, with my sister's help, I realized that I don't have to just sit here and bear it. Instead, I can use these moments to empower my children, to teach them right from wrong and how to be a good friend. And I can teach them that they don't have to put up with people being cruel to them. They are not victims, no matter how badly their feelings have been hurt. They have the power to walk away and choose to make different friends.

Friends like A.

And friends like my sister.

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