With the terrifying reality that Charlie will be starting first grade in just a few weeks (sniff, sniff), I thought I’d share a bit from my heart about encouraging our kids to DARE to be themselves. It’s easy to tell myself to Dare to Be Different, but that’s been a lifelong journey to get to a place of comfort with who I am as a person. How do we encourage our kids to reach out of their comfort zones and truly be themselves? Especially when society, culture, and other people will have something to say about who they are as a person and who they should be.
You see, my Purple Butterfly is finally spreading his wings and heading off to school full-time. And I don’t worry about him making friends or enjoying school or keeping up with the work. But if I am being honest, I am terrified of bullying. How do I encourage my kids to pursue what they love, but also protect them from what the world might throw at them? Here are some things I’ve been mulling over in the past few weeks as we prep for full day school.
1. A love of “opposite gender” toys, colors, etc. doesn’t determine manliness or femininity
With the recent chaos surrounding Target’s decision to remove gender-based signs from stores, the world has basically imploded. But at the heart of it, I think it’s an attempt to buck the trend that we’ve learned forever: that boys and girls have separate toys that they must play with exclusively. We might think that Target’s boldness is silly and it’s another case of people being offended over something so simple. But we live in a culture where girls who like trucks and mud and rough-housing are simply tomboys and boys who like flowers and dolls and pink are made fun of for their choices. Can we all agree that kids can play with whatever toys they want to regardless of their gender?
The boys recently had the opportunity to select backpacks for the upcoming year. I offered a few choices, but when Jack spied a backpack that looked like the entire thing was a giant pink cupcake with sprinkles, he was laser-focused and would select nothing else. He carried it the whole way around the store with pride. He loves cupcakes and he loves pink. He also loves trucks and superhero fights.
2. Don’t make decisions because of potential bullies.
I will admit that the simple school supply decisions of my boys’ caused me to pause. Not because I cared what they had selected, but because I had worried if someone else might say something to them. But instead of offering more choices that were “boyish” or simply forbidding what they had picked, I showed off their love of their new finds and talked with them about why they picked what they did.
Pretty in pink, flowers, and hairy: the perfect folder combination.
If we say yes or no to our kids based on what someone else might think, then we’ve usually let the bullies win (and in this case, before we’ve ever even encountered them). Be secure in your choices and own those decisions. Confidence is one of the best things we can instill in our children and is a lifelong process.
3. Discourage bullying STRONGLY
It often happens that it could “never be our kid” and the thought that we might be raising the bully can be terrifying on its own, but talking to our kids about how we interact with people, what constitutes making fun of someone, and the effects of bullying (both in person and online) are SO important to the dynamic when we send our kids off to school. Talk about differences between people and how those things make the world unique, not weird.
4. Love the world and others fiercely
The world is full of awesome people to love, be friends with and do life with. LOVE them in all of their individuality and know that your truest friends love you for who you are – kitty cats, mixed tapes, and all.
When you see something, say something. Stand up to the ones who try to stifle creativity with their words. Speak out for the ones who can’t speak for themselves. Share the best of you with the worst of others and change the world one school supply at a time.
Too soon, these little ones will be off on their own adventures. Let’s make sure they’re ready to shine!
How do you prepare your kids for life in the great big world?