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What’s in a name? A whole heap of trouble

Submitted by on Tuesday, 18 January 2011 No Comment

There’s name calling, and then there’s name calling.

We have zero tolerance for one kind in our house: Anything that’s gender, race or sexual preference-based. I called Big Guy out recently for saying, “that’s so gay,” even though he had no idea what the words he was parroting from older children meant.

We’re pretty loose with the language on the other kind, though, which explains the proliferation of doofus, dork and doofenshmirtz in our house, mostly said in a goofy way or as an endearment. The guys already have learned that “geek” and “nerd” are not insults in all quarters. “I’m a nerd, and pretty geeky, too,” I’ll say. “That doesn’t bother me one bit.”

Or, at least, we used to be loose with language. I’ve had to rein in ever since a friend’s son called someone “fancy pants” at school. All sides concede that he wasn’t yelling or abusing. For all I know it was an accurate statement – no information is available about the “victim’s” attire on the day in question.

Yet, when the boy uttered “fancy pants” and a classmate was offended, their kindergarten teacher sent home a note about name calling.

Fancy pants. Yes, fighting words indeed. Pretty soon they’ll be right up there with yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.

I suppose I should be happy we’re not in England, where such an infraction could follow a kid from cradle to grave. Still, zero tolerance policies for even the slightest offense or non-offense are wrong on two levels.

First, they force you to change the way you parent from a “do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do” to “do the right thing because doing something that’s maybe-a-little-but-not-much wrong will get you in trouble.”

And second, there’s every chance that we’re going to raise a society of victims, looking toward some authority to settle every dispute and right every “wrong,” real or perceived.

I used to refuse to do that with the guys. As recently as last fall, I laughed to myself and told Boots to ignore it when a kid at preschool was calling him awful, awful names such as “mister.” I can see now how “mister” is a gateway word to strong slurs such as “fancy pants,” and I’m afraid that if I keep laughing I’ll chuckle myself all the way to the principal’s office.

The thing about name calling is, much of it works itself out in time. That doesn’t mean you ignore it in the interim, and you certainly don’t ignore if if it’s a bona fide slur. But if you handle it with enough counseling and explanations, experience eventually will teach most kids that their friends don’t like it.

Big Guy, for example, got gigged in kindergarten for calling a girl a “boy.” The girl didn’t seem that upset about it, but given that we have zero tolerance for name calling, she told on him anyway because isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?

I, in turn, tried to impress upon Big Guy that people don’t like to be called anything other than their names. He nodded, but he didn’t really get it until a year later when he called a soccer teammate a “boy.” It happened to be a girl he’d been crushing on all season long – mere seconds before the incident he’d been mooning over how cute she was when she did her cute little kitty cat imitation. Big Guy was dismayed when she ran to her mother in tears.

“I think I need to go apologize,” he said, trooping slowly over to where his teammate was crying. If he’d been wearing a hat, it would have been in his hand. The name-calling at school has stopped now. I can’t say the same at home, where his brother’s labeled anything from a “poop head” to a “dumb butt” on any given day.

When Boots inevitably tattles, I tell him the same thing I told him the day “mister” was used so offensively at preschool. “Yes, he’s wrong to call  you any name but your own. But not everything in life is worth getting that upset over. You know you’re head’s not really made of poop, don’t you? Then you can simply ignore it because you know it’s not true.”

The mother of the teammate whom Big Guy made cry later said she’d delivered pretty much the same message to her daughter that day. “You know it’s not true, so don’t let it get to you.”

I wonder if anyone said that to “victim” in the fancy-pants incident.

Copyright 2011 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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