My older daughter Grace is incredibly outgoing, enthusiastic, caring and sensitive. Kindergarten has been great overall. She's had a loving teacher and lots of good times. She wakes up every day excited to go to school but remains really sensitive to feeling left out and teasing.
We struggled through a few weeks where her best friend found someone else to play with and Grace came home crushed every day. She cried and felt left out. I did what I could to comfort her but she just didn't understand why everyone couldn't play together. I talked to the teacher who encouraged me to schedule play dates with other kids and to let her know that she was always available for her to talk to if she was having a rough day. She offered to intervene when Grace felt left out. That felt a little strange to me because the teacher intervening felt more like a band-aid to the problem than an actual solution. But happily, the girls started playing again and no intervention was needed. I breathed a sigh of relief and forgot all about coming up with a strategy for her hurt feelings.
Another instance happened yesterday when she came home from school claiming it was "the worst day ever." She felt embarrassed when she spilled her applesauce all over her pants and a couple of boys started teasing her. Her best friend is out of town and she was sitting at a different table. She also said she had no one to play with because everyone buddies up and wouldn't include her when she asked (and trust me, she's really social and totally asks). She said one little girl told her that people didn't like to play with her two days in a row.
If you could meet Grace, and if you're reading this, maybe you have - you would know she's full of joy and energy. (Have I mentioned that she's incredibly social? Because there's that too). But when things don't seem right, she's also quick to tattle or cry. That's her instinct when she's feeling something so negative so deeply. She cried the entire way home from school. And so I wanted to come up with some tools she could use.
After reading a bit on the internet about why kids tease and what to do in those situations, we came up with a plan. But first, I wanted to share a bit of yoga philosophy. In ancient yoga teachings, it's said that we all have a part of ourselves that is unchanging and eternal. In yoga, it's called purusha. In religious terms, you might call it a soul. When we talked, we called it her "sunshine" because it's a really easy visual. Us adults often need these same reminders.
I had her show me where were heart was and I told her that inside there, there was a big bright sunshine. She closed her eyes and visualized it. The sunshine was always there - no matter what - and was always shining as brightly as the real sun. Lots of times, the clouds block the sun - it could be someone teasing us or not understanding why our friend doesn't want to play with us or when I yell at her - there's a billion things that bring on the gray. This is where it's important to pay attention because it may feel like our sunshine disappeared with all those clouds around but in reality, that sun is blazing as brightly as ever.
I told Grace she can't help what other kids do. There will always be mean kids and sometimes, whether it's intentional or not, her feelings will get hurt. These are things out her control. What she can control is how cloudy she lets it get and how long she lets the clouds stick around. Because that sunshine that makes her the beautiful, joyous, caring little girl is always there. We came up with a little mantra for when she's feeling down ("Shine bright like a diamond" - from the Rihanna song) and we worked on how to react when someone teases her. (And then we listened to the song like 12 times ;) ).
Because kids who are teasing are typically looking for some kind of negative reaction , we worked on making a "cool, happy face." Smiling, confident. And then saying something positive and either walking or turning away. And then we practiced.
They played the teaser and I came up with responses.
"Your shirt is ugly." Smile. "I love this shirt. Maybe you look somewhere else instead." Turn around and walk away.
"Your haircut makes you look like a boy." Smile. "Boys are awesome." Turn around and walk away.
"Haha, you spilled applesauce all over your pants!" Smile. "I LOVE applesauce. Just saving it for later."
"Your face looks like a wolf." Smile. Growl. Walk away. (This was met with a lot of giggles!)
You get the idea. :) The truth is, I told her, it doesn't really matter WHAT you say. It's just the idea that you're not letting what happened send you into immediate despair. It gives her the space to determine how she wants to feel rather than just caving into her immediate emotional reaction. And in theory, the positive response and walking away takes the power away from the teaser.
I told her it will probably still hurt on the inside because it takes a lot of practice to remember how bright your own sun is shining. But I have to think that the "fake it 'till you make it" attitude will have lasting positive effects.