Squashing Name Calling before It Becomes Bullying
By Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, CEDRD, CDN and Mom
Photo Credit: shinealight
via Compfight cc
I am mortified to write this personal account but I do feel socially obligated to share this experience, as it will help in raising awareness of size shaming/teasing/bullying and how it can easily and almost innocently start at a young age. What seems like petty pestering can lead to unfortunate circumstances. What surprised me was this was happening at such a young age and my own child was involved.
So what was it? Well, calling kids names but names regarding body sizes. With that, I went into my youngest son’s class to make candy apples for Halloween. Keep in mind, I am the dietitian making apples coated in sugar. My kids eat cookies or ice cream almost daily, and my husband and I do our best to focus on discussing health as self-care not weight. Well, I took a handful of the children (all boys) with me to the kitchen for a fun hour of cooking. Making candy apples was a first for me and quite messy but definitely easier to deal with than what was about to transpire. While heating the syrup in preparation to dip the apples, the boys became restless. I don’t know who initiated the teasing (Of course I would hope it wasn’t my son), but I heard it. I heard the boys making fun of one child for his size. They were calling him “fat.” Well, before anything else could happen, I immediately intervened. I let the boys know all body sizes and shapes are great whether one is tall, short, thin, fat, or anything. But they were convinced that fat is bad. The little boy had retaliated with “You are ugly.” My son eagerly reported this. I asked my son if he was ugly, and he said no. This was easy for my son, as ugly is a perception and my son is seemingly body confident (I think, in part, due to his ability to recognize that his body is strong as evidenced by his athleticism,) where
as the descriptive word “fat” is slightly more “objective” – in the kids’ minds and in our society, it has more negative associations than the word ugly.
I was shocked and mortified by the above circumstance. The boys quickly forgot about it and moved on, but I wondered if the little boy that was identified as fat internalized the name-calling. I know his mother and let her know what had happened. I also let the class teacher know what had happened so she could handle the class environment. She also said that she would let the other parents of the students involved know. This teacher was sensitive to the issue and did address it with the class as a whole.
To help raise awareness of this issue with children I recommend the following books in an effort to prevent and/or offer your child a corrective conception of such as situation. My son and I read about body acceptance, via the book called Shapesville, embracing our differences in Stellaluna, and bullying in Chester Raccoon and the Big Bad Bully. Even though my son had read these books with me previously, it was helpful for him to connect the days’ name-calling experience with the books. The teacher and I agreed that the boys had no idea what this could domino into but that it is our job as parents and teachers to ensure it gets squashed beforehand.
As Stellaluna said, “I wish you could see in the dark, too.”
“We wish you could land on your feet,” Flitter replied. “How can we be so different and feel so much alike?”
“And how can we feel so different and be so much alike?” wondered Pip.
“Because we’re friends,” said Stellaluna, “and that’s a fact.”
-Stellaluna by Janell Cannon