Over the last few years, I’d let myself wonder about this moment every so often. My self-possessed, earnest little girl was bound to face it sooner or later: an insult from a peer.
I’ve wondered when it would happen, how she would handle it–if she would run to me and her dad, crestfallen–and how we would find the right words to say to make it all okay.
Shifting from Fun to Cool
She’s a well-liked, well-known soon-to-be second grader and I often joke that when we leave the house, there’s always someone yelling her name or waving to her from a bike or out of a car window as it passes by. She bumps into schoolmates and neighborhood friends at the grocery store or the library and is always quick with a smile and a giggling “HI!”
But I’ve noticed a subtle shift happen this summer. My kiddo–and many of her peers–are as fun and silly as ever, but some of the kids in her age range have started trying on more subtle personalities. They may have older siblings, or are more observant and ready to mimic adult behavior, but they are testing out “cool” which traditionally has been hallmarked by a couldn’t-care-less attitude. This is in direct opposition of what my seven-year-old is bringing to the table; when she is having fun, she is ALL IN.
On her way home from summer day camp last week, she told my husband that another girl had been saying she was being too weird. Gently, my husband asked about how she reacted and she said, “I told her that I like being a little weird because it means I’m unique.” It was a good reply–a great reply, actually–but the little girl persisted, “No,” she said, “It means people are going to not like you when you grow up.”
My daughter seemed pretty nonplussed by the whole interaction, but her dad recognized it as a moment that required a little extra guidance.
Finding the Good in Weird
He had the brilliant idea to talk about some of the grown ups she admires–adults who people might consider “a little weird”. As die-hard MythBusters Jr. fan, she immediately thought of Adam Savage, whose unbridled enthusiasm always resonates with her. Like her, he connects with people around him through an infectious and full-bodied merriment; he is not ashamed of the enjoyment he gets from his hobbies and passions.
She thought of her favorite YouTube stars, Rosanna Pansino of Nerdy Nummies, who has made a career out of baking and being bubbly, and Moriah Elizabeth, a grown up who loves drawing, crafting, and rainbows.
With this simple exercise, my husband turned “weird” into “awesome” and our sweet little girl’s confidence stabilized. Being weird is great! Weird people are true to themselves and bring joy into the world by showing everyone that it’s okay to embrace the things they love.
When I followed up with my daughter a few days later, I wanted to touch on something that might not have come up during her talk with her dad: why someone would say something mean to her in the first place. We talked about how kids are still learning the right ways to show kindness to each other. I told her that her insulter might not have known how to get rid of some sad or angry feelings she was having, so she got them out by trying to make someone else feel bad.
What the little girl said was not nice, and not okay, but I praised my daughter’s response; she stuck up for herself without using her own words to hurt in return. When she understands that an insult is a reflection on the person giving it, and not on herself, then she is in a place where the insult stings less and she can show empathy and understanding to someone who might really need it.
She Summed It Up Best
“Mom,” my daughter concluded, “ being weird just means you’re comfortable with letting yourself have fun.”
I swelled with pride at my freckle-faced daughter wearing a “No prob-llama” tee-shirt and a pair of scuff-soled sneakers. She will certainly face more adversity and insults as she ages, some that take a real stab at tearing into her self-worth, but as long as she sees the value in letting herself have fun, she’ll be a-okay.