Shrimp, shorty, shortcake, pip squeak...I heard them all as a kid. Yep, I was the kid always at the front of the line. If it was time to line up in size order, you-know-who was front and center. "Really sweetie, you need to be in the front row of the picture so we can see you." "I'm sorry, you have to be up to the bear's hand to go on this ride." "Here is a kiddie menu for you my dear." Ah, good times.
I can remember my friends all going to the juniors department to find their dresses for 8th grade graduation. At the same time, my mom and I searched Dutchess County and beyond for a size 10 children's dress that LOOKED like it came from the juniors department (there was no Limited Too or Justice back then!). Going to the movies with friends was always scary because I knew the ticket vendor was going to try and sell me the ticket for the under 12 price - even when I was 16. Simply the end of the world for a 16 year old hanging out with her friends.
Sure, being short sometimes had its advantages. I got to be the guardian angel in the Christmas pageant because I was the only one who could fit in the costume. I think I also got to be cheerleading captain for awhile for the same reason.
But mostly being "different" from my friends in this way, left me in constant fear of being teased. I hated the nicknames, and the misunderstandings about my age due to my small stature. I just wanted to fit in, but being smaller than most everyone else made me at times feel awkward and not good enough. I had lots of friends, did well in school, and had a great family, but these worries still hurt.
Just about every kid in every school in every country is going to get teased about something in his childhood. Let's face it ... kids can be mean to each other! But is there something we can do to help our children deal with these times? (Besides going to take care of the little teaser ourselves - come on...you know you thought about it!) Is there a way to help prepare them for this awful part of childhood and to give them strategies for handling teasing so it doesn't hurt as much? Or to teach them how to stop it when it happens to them?
I think about what I did or could have done when being teased about being small. I could have told those closest to me that the jokes made me uncomfortable. I wasn't the best at opening up to friends, so maybe that was something I could have been taught to do. I could have stood up for myself more. Maybe I could have also learned to laugh along with some of the comments or events. Instead of getting upset about not fitting into the juniors sizes, maybe I could have joked with my friends about needing to borrow one of their little sister's dresses. I could have shared my anxiety, rather than hide it. Laugh at it, rather than worry about it. Now that I think about it, chances are there were other girls who weren't fitting into a size 2 or 4 at age 13 either. We could have commiserated together.
So, now as a mom I think about how I can teach my child to laugh at herself or open up to her friends about her worries or unhappiness with their comments. I think one way is by setting the example in my own life. Instead of complaining and getting upset on a bad hair day maybe say, "Wow, this is what they mean by a bad hair day! Wait till the moms at pick-up see this do - we are all going to have a good laugh this morning. Whom should I make laugh first?" Or when forgetting a friend's birthday, instead of voicing concern that she will be "so mad at me" say, " I can't believe I forgot her birthday! But you know what...she is such a great friend that I know she will understand. I am going to call her right now and wish her a belated birthday and tell her how much I love her." And instead of venting to everyone when a loved one makes you angry, say, "You know Uncle Paul made me really upset when he teased me about my opinion being stupid. I'm going to call him right now and talk to him about it so I don't waste any more time thinking about it."
I think that one of the best things I can do for my children is to be there for the hugs, the comfort, the talking it out after a bad day. Make sure that they understand that home is a safe place to let it all out. Now matter how small their worry may be, I will listen and take it seriously. And work with them to find a solution - or to just hold their worry for them so that they can move on. Because maybe that is what they need from us - to give us their worries so that we can help them carry them and make their load easier.
I want to teach my children to be strong. To stand up for themselves. To laugh at their mistakes and imperfections. To not take life too seriously. To learn that when other people make fun of them it is usually because of the other person's insecurity or jealousy and not because of them. To be kind and care about people, but not let anyone walk all over them.
It is a lot to teach, but I will try - one day, one moment at a time.
May your heart be at ease,