It’s No Name-Calling Week, a week dedicated to bringing national attention to the problem of name-calling in our schools. Inspired by James Howe’s young adult novel, The Misfits, GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) and Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing created the No Name-Calling Week Coalition in hopes of starting an on-going dialogue about ways to eliminate bullying.
Since hearing about this initiative at the beginning of the month, name-calling has been on my mind. That was just code for; No Name-Calling Week has triggered my obsessive thoughts. Now unlike many of the other topics I have tendency to perseverate over, I believe the issues of name-calling, teasing and bullying are well worth my time and energy. So as I fixated on the words expressed in my home over the last few weeks, I was surprised by how often we call each other names. I’ll spare you the potty words and pseudo-insults ending in “head,” for I’m sure you can image that with a 3 and a 5-year-old at home, the list could go on and on (and we parents are not innocent bystanders either).
Like most preschoolers, my kids love saying silly things and basically whatever else is on their minds. Not much filtering with the 5 and under crowd. And while name-calling is pretty common, it’s typically playful in nature. At this stage, my kids’ perspective taking skills aren’t super sharp, but I know they have some understanding that their words or actions could hurt someone else. There are times when I see anger or frustration incite an outburst of name-calling, but for the most part, kids this age are not necessarily looking to harm someone with their words. And when they do find themselves on the receiving end of name-calling, they are quick to learn how it feels – not good.
I know as kids get older, the intent behind name-calling changes and it takes on stronger tones with more hurtful comments. As an elementary school teacher it was hard not to notice how kids use name-calling in attempt to gain power or simply “fit-in.” Social influences are strong and increase with each passing year. When kids enter adolescence, name-calling and teasing reach new heights. It is meant to hurt, embarrass and humiliate. Kids at this stage of development can zero in on someone’s vulnerabilities and attack – questioning “manhood,” making fun of physical appearances, teasing about romantic feelings…..adolescents have strong opinions about acceptable and not acceptable traits, and they are quick to comment or exclude others based on these beliefs.
Of course name-calling can be lighthearted, but when it’s used in hurtful ways – which it often is – consequences can be great. Name-calling and teasing can produce extreme amounts of stress and grief for kids. It can have a huge impact on how they feel about themselves and how they feel about school. But kids – at any age – can be given tools for dealing with hurtful words directed at them. As parents we can listen and acknowledge our kids’ feelings. We can encourage them when they make efforts to deal with difficult situations on their own. And we can role play with our kids to help them feel prepared to show confidence and strength while staying clam and in control when upsetting and uncomfortable situations arise.
Preparing our kids to handle difficult situations is such an important job, and preparing our kids to avoid being the perpetrator of hurtful acts is of equal importance. As a mom of two young ones, I feel like I’m constantly reminding my daughters to “be nice.” Our words are important, and kids are never too young to hear that.
And as I’ve allowed myself to be consumed with thoughts on name-calling my mind continues to return to the book of wisdom by Ruiz and the first of his Four Agreements that ensure “right conduct”:
#1 Be Impeccable With Your Words.
How do you handle name-calling at your house?
Just a couple of great children’s books to help kids think about and deal with name-calling and bullying:
Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes (age 4 and up)
My Secret Bully by Trudy Ludwig (age 5 and up)
Just Kidding by Trudy Ludwig (age 8 and up)
And a post to restore your faith in humanity:
Mill Creek Middle School Student Inspires Classmates Through Posts on Lockers