Sticks and stones might break my bones but words will never hurt me.
Whoever came up with that little ditty must not have been called names very often. Anyone who’s ever been called stupid, moron, goody two shoes, dumb, and other childhood names can attest to the fact that those words hurt like an arrow to the heart.
Unfortunately, our children will likely not escape childhood without having someone—a friend, a neighbor, a classmate or a sibling—hurl a hurtful name at them. Sometimes, our kids will be the ones shouting the despicable names at someone else.
Chances are, you’ve heard your child call someone a not-so-nice name. This is perfectly natural, given our own selfish hearts! But this is something you want to nip in the bud before it has time to become a nasty habit. So levy consequences for each name-calling incident. Remind the child why name calling is forbidden (it’s hurtful, it’s mean, it’s simply not how we should treat anyone, regardless of how that person treated us). Develop alternative methods to handling frustration or anger, which are two of the key triggers to name calling.
Being Called Names
There’s not a single best way to teach a child to handle name calling for the simple fact that it’s tricky at any age to know what to do when someone says something outrageous or hurtful, but especially for a child.
In the moment, the child can simply walk away. Usually, removing oneself from the situation will defuse it and not allow it to escalate for either child. Ignoring the name calling–while hard–generally shuts down the other child. But it’s not a foolproof method, to which I’m sure many of us can attest.
Practice with your son or daughter on what to say to another child who might call them a name. What should they say? How could they react? This type of role playing is especially helpful because if a child has practiced something, she’s more apt to use it in a real life situation.
You should also talk with your child briefly about the incident. Remind her that while name-calling can hurt, it doesn’t define her as a person (i.e., she’s not stupid). If it’s in response to her not knowing something or being able to accomplish something, then tell her that there’s things you don’t know or can’t do yet. That’s why she’s in school and why you’re continually learning things yourself.
Finally, discuss why the classmate, friend or neighbor might be calling her names. It could be doing so because of her own bad feelings about herself. Maybe her home isn’t as nice as your daughter’s is. Maybe the other kid is struggling in school. Maybe she just had a fight with her best friend. Thinking of the other person and considering the whys behind the words can take the sting out of the words and also help your child develop compassion and empathy towards others. It also helps her not see herself as a victim and the other child as a villain, which is essential to them both putting the situation behind them
Being called a name isn’t the most pleasant experience, but with a little assistance from Mom and Dad, we can help our children move beyond the incident and into a brighter future.
Until next time,