It was Sunday night and my five-year-old son was quietly watching a movie. I took the opportunity to snuggle in beside him and paint my fingernails and toenails, a rare indulgence.
He lit up, wanting to paint his nails too. He selected a bright blue polish, and smiled as he admired his cool new look.
Monday morning. He hopped into class, quickly catching up with his many friends, chatting about the weekend, and the day ahead. My popular boy set out on his day.
That night, his spirit had changed though. He was preoccupied and somber. As we cuddled before sleep, he opened up.
“I was bullied today.”
I calmly started my line of questioning, covering all of the “who what where when and why’s” that led him to make that statement.
It turns out a group of children took the blue nail polish as a reason to tease and ridicule my son over the course of the day.
Bullying is a topic we have discussed with our son many times before that night. My tall, handsome, popular, outgoing, funny, athletic boy has always been well liked by his peers, and praised for being a good kid, by his teachers.
With great power comes great responsibility though, and we vowed to guide our popular boy to be the “nice” kid too, and to ensure no child ever felt bullied or mistreated by him.
So when he told me with such hurt and sadness how he felt because of the words and actions of those kids, I immediately took it as a great opportunity.
First, we spoke about having confidence and brushing off those who pick on our differences. Tell them to stop. Walk away. Don’t engage. Seek help of grown ups if the behaviour persists.
We then dug deep into how the unkind actions of the other boys made him feel. Embarrassed. Humiliated. Alone.
Now it was time to go for the kill.
“Would you ever want to be responsible for making another child feel like you felt today?”
My son (for whom, in the past, such a question would go in one ear and out the other) looked at me with such innocent disbelief. “No!”
We went back over our many discussions about kindness, inclusiveness, acceptance, and of being a friend to everyone.
The look of pensivness and revelation in his eyes was so touching.
The next day (with blue fingernails, despite my offer to take the polish off) and newfound perspective, my boy marched into class like he was invincible.
Our snuggle that night warmed my heart. The kids continued to pick on him that morning, but lost interest with his new confident, indifferent demeanor.
A beautiful thing happened next, and in the days to come. My son told me stories of how he was kind to others. He engaged a couple of kids who he would not typically play with, and told me about their good qualities. He stuck up for a child being teased, and extended the same tips that he himself had used. He was suddenly so purposeful to make sure his “power” was used for good.
Learning firsthand how it feels to have someone be relentlessly unkind to you is an experience that has helped him to become a better, more empathetic little human.
And today, his nails are painted green.