Friday, December 21, 2012

WEIRDNESS and CONSENT

A few days ago, My six year old son came to me and told me that several kids in his class said that he was "bossy and weird," that they didn't like him, didn't want to be his friends and that he should not try to play with them anymore.

My first thought was, "WHAT THE ****?! He's SIX!!" The 2nd was, "Why? Aiden is a handsome, smart, vibrant little boy who only ever wants to make friends!" The third was, "What the HELL do I do about this to make him feel better? Do I call the school?! Do I get involved? Do I stay out of it? Do I trust HIM to handle it?! WHAT DO I DO?!"

I had no idea that this ridiculousness started so early in life. I should have, as I experienced bullying early in life myself, and knowing my son to be much like his Mom, he CAN be a bit bossy, hyper, and maybe a bit... eccentric. It's a magnet for bullies. I prayed the uncomfortable rite of passage would PASS him by... Sadly, that is not the case here.

I have already faced some intolerance with my younger son. Ryan has been targeted by children AND adults for his behavior related to Autism Spectrum Disorder. He's been bullied before, and until recently was blissfully unaware, or unfazed by it. People do not understand that "high-functioning" Autism, is STILL Autism. Often, people simply see a bratty, unruly, disrespectful kid, instead of what is truly going on, and as loving and gentle a soul as he is, his behavior CAN BE confusing at times. Sometimes, in playgroups, etc, the children will laugh at him; the PARENTS, will shoot me concerned looks, and steer their children away... and it HURTS him! He doesn't understand why they "Can't" play with him! And it KILLS ME. However, I've had some time to mentally prepare myself, to steel my resolve that he will NEVER be made to feel bad about who he is, by any person, INCLUDING the one looking back at him in the mirror. SO FAR, I've been able to say to him, "You've done NOTHING wrong. They just don't get how awesome you are. They are missing out on you. You're not missing out on ANYTHING," and until now that has worked for him.

Hearing that Aiden was being bullied left me completely FLOORED. I never saw it coming and was stumped as to how to handle it. Aiden is extremely sensitive, a huge people pleaser and wants to be EVERYBODY'S best friend. He got that from me. However, He got a wonderful gift from his father, the Pragmatist... the gift of common sense.

It became clear, suddenly, how to handle the situation. The conversation continued like this:

Mom: (looking my son square in in eye) "Well Bubba? Are they right?"
A: "What?"
M: "They said you're weird. Are you weird?"
A: "I don't know. No. No, I'm not weird. What's 'weird' mean?"
M: It means, different from everyone else. Special. INTERESTING, Funky and cool."
A: "So, it's GOOD?"
M: "I think so, but that's just me. You have to decide that for yourself Buddy."
A: "Why would they call me that, if they don't want to be my friend?"
M: "Because they don't get it. They don't get you. You're too cool for them."
A: "Ooooh..."
M: "So, let me ask you again, Are you weird?"
A: "Yup!"
M: "And what do you think you should say if someone calls you weird?"
A: "Thank you?"
M: "Exactly."

We went on to discuss the BIG difference between being a leader, and being "bossy." Barking orders and not playing by the rules is being "bossy," is NOT ok, and if WAS acting that way, "knock it off." By contrast, a true leader is compassionate and adaptable. Leaders do not NEED to be followed, but WILL lead, as required. We gave Aiden examples of his own leadership qualities, like doing chores without being asked, helping Ryan with his reading or playing with Kay busy so that Mommy can make dinner. It is a wonderful quality that we are proud to see in him, every day.

Then came the hard part of the discussion... BULLIES. All people need to feel important, but that shutting another person out of a group, belittling or intimidating others to make oneself feel in control, important or special is VERY WRONG. No one should EVER feel pressured to act out of character. We told our son that if someone tries to shut him out, just say, "Ok, great. Whatever makes you happy," and move on. As long as he understands that there is nothing wrong with him, and knows and likes himself, he stays in control of who himself and his own life. In a nutshell, My husband and I told him the "Abridged" philosophy of Eleanor Roosevelt:

The story goes that Madame Roosevelt was questioned during a White House press conference about the "snub" of the Secretary of Labor at a recent event. Her response, according to the 1935 (AP) article was in classic Eleanor Roosevelt fashion:

“A snub” defined the first lady, “is the effort of a person who feels superior to make someone else feel inferior. To do so, he has to find someone who can be made to feel inferior.” She made clear she didn’t think the labor secretary fell within the category of the “snubable.” (1)

In terms that he would understand, we told him to remember that, "only YOU can decide who you are in your life. NO ONE gets that right but you. If someone doesn't want to play with you, that's ok. If they say, "I don't like you," reply with, "Congratulations," and walk away. If they keep bothering you, tell the teacher. If they don't stop, tell US. But always remember, the problem is THEIRS - NOT YOURS." I guess it DOES go back to that basic philosophy, whether you are five years old, six, 20 or 38. No one can MAKE you feel inferior without YOUR consent.

My son went to school the next day with his head held high (albeit 15 minutes late... not unusual) but self-assured. As he entered the building I said, as I do every day, "I love you! I'm very proud of you!" He smiled and said, "I know. I love you, Mom."

That is the best I can hope for; that he truly DOES believe in himself. For the time being, it's what I have to believe, and hope I'm ready for the next time...

Danielle Burnett


(1) Source: http://quoteinvestigator.com/2012/04/30/no-one-inferior/ (1935 March 26, News And Courier, Heart Balm Suit Ban Given Support By Mrs. Roosevelt, Page 7, Charleston, South Carolina. Google News Archive)

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