Helping Our Littles Stand Tall:: Protecting a Child’s Mental Health

A few days ago, my virtually educated kindergartner {A} was logging into TEAMS for the librarian’s special read aloud held every Tuesday afternoon. There were already a few kids waiting online unmuted while the teacher was getting her materials ready. A little boy who is not in A’s class asked her who she was going to dress up as for Book Character Day later in the week. A has been super excited about this event for weeks and happily replied, “Anna from Frozen.” She did not pronounce it “Ahnah,” the way they do in Disney’s Frozen; instead, she said it with the /a/ you hear in the word “apple.” Immediately after she replied, the boy started teasing her, saying:: “You’re not saying it right! That’s not how they say it in Frozen! Ha ha ha!”

Meanwhile, I was cleaning up the remnants of our lunch at the table nearby. My mama bear instincts began going absolutely haywire as I listened in on the conversation unfolding before me. My heart sank as I saw the huge smile slip off my baby girl’s face. The excitement she had previously felt completely dissipated in the wake of the other child’s teasing. She sat there quietly with a furrowed brow as the other kids continued to chatter and share about their costumes. 

A Teachable Moment

After the read aloud was over, I asked A how library time went. She said, “Oh, it was fine.” I asked if she was excited to share about her Book Character Day costume and an uneasy look immediately came over her face. A has always been an outspoken kiddo. From birth, she has been strong willed, persuasive, and vociferous. She has always stuck up for herself, so I was surprised when she said nothing to the child who was making fun of the way she said “Anna.” Though it was hard for me to stand by and watch it happen, I wanted to see how A would respond— because we all know that if it weren’t for the circumstances created by Covid, she would actually be at school fighting these battles on her own. So this was actually a perfect teachable moment even though it killed me in the moment to watch everything play out. 

I asked A how it made her feel when the little boy was teasing her for the way she said “Anna.” She said, “It didn’t make me feel good.” As a former educator, I am a big believer in using stories to teach our kids. So I went to our home library bookcase and pulled out the book Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell and read it to her. If you haven’t read it before, this is a heartwarming book about a special child who teaches everyone in her class a thing or two about kindness; it’s a great addition to your library if you don’t have it yet. 

Feeling Small

After reading, we talked about how sometimes other people can say or do things that make us feel small. A giggled when I asked her if by feeling small I meant that she shrank down into a tiny miniature little A {I melted down to the floor and did my best impression of the Wicked Witch of the West here- kids love when you’re dramatic!}. “No, silly mama! I can’t shrink!” she chuckled. To which I replied, “You’re totally right. Physically, you will not shrink if someone says something unkind to you. But that not-good-feeling you had in your stomach after the little boy teased you- that was your confidence level shrinking. This means you did not feel good about yourself because of what he said.”

I told her about how we are all born with instincts and that instincts are a natural form of protection for us. “Like how animals have camouflage to hide from predators?” “Exactly like that. And sometimes, our instincts tell us when something isn’t right. If you have a bad feeling in your brain and tummy, that’s your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. It is important to listen to that feeling in your brain or tummy. If someone, even if it’s mom or dad, ever makes you feel ‘small’ or uncomfortable in any way, it is absolutely okay to say: ‘Hey, I don’t like the way you’re talking to me and/or I would like to leave this conversation or space.’” 

Role Playing

Next, we practiced role playing so we would know how to react the next time something like this happened. I did so much role playing with my students when I was a kindergarten teacher and I have found it to be an equally useful tool in parenting. We each took turns practicing what we could say if someone was making us feel uncomfortable or bad. Though A laughed as she walked through saying phrases like, “I don’t like the way you’re talking to me” and “please stop that because I do not like it,” I know that this kind of pretend dialogue-ing will ultimately benefit her in the future. 

As parents, it makes our hearts hurt to see our children teased or made fun of. But one of the best tools we can provide our children with is the ability to protect themselves both mentally and physically. Our kids are just like us; they also need mental and physical boundaries for protection. They need us to teach them how to name their emotions so that they can, in turn, form boundaries for themselves. It is so critical to be able to say no! and to be assertive if the occasion calls for it. 

Parenting Resources 

Below are some of my favorite parenting/mental health resources on IG. Check them out for more tips::

  1. @asiansformentalhealth
  2. @biglittlefeelings
  3. @drbeckyathome
  4. @thesocialemotionalteacher

And here are some books to encourage your littles to “stand tall”:

 

  1. Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell
  2. I Like Myself! by Karen Beaumont 
  3. Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
  4. Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andrae 
  5. It’s Okay To Be Different by Todd Parr
  6. Dear Girl, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Paris Rosenthal
  7. She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton
  8. A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon
  9. The Dot by Peter Reynolds 

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Cindy was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and raised in Sugar Land, Texas. She has a BS from the University of Texas at Austin in elementary education and a M.Ed in curriculum and instruction from Houston Baptist University. Cindy married her high school sweetheart, Stuart, after 10 years of dating. Stuart and Cindy are the parents of two beautiful girls and an adorable miniature schnauzer. In her spare time, Cindy loves to bake and try new recipes. In fact, her greatest ambition in life is to be a contestant on the Great American Baking Show one day. Cindy is also a huge Backstreet Boys fan and has seen them live in concert 9 times! Cindy has enjoyed writing her entire life and loves being a contributor for HMB.

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