Fitting in with other children and friendship groups is one of most important aspects of supporting children’s wellbeing at primary school.
But some children have more hurdles to jump over than most.
The following question was posed recently from a concerned mum.
“We want our son to fit in and make friends when he starts prep next year. He is a happy, confident child but our concern is that he has a large birth mark on his face. Lucas accepts this completely but should we warn him that some children at school might be mean to him? We are concerned that he won’t be ready to handle teasing.”
Here’s what we suggested:-
Lucas probably already knows that some people are less than kind when it comes to difference. If he has been so lucky that he is unaware of this, sadly, at some point in his school life he will encounter a child who may make comments about his birth mark. Preparing him for this is tricky.
If Lucas is extremely ‘grown up’ and you can have ‘serious’ talks with him, you may be able to alert him to the fact that some children may mention his appearance. But it’s important not to scare him or make him afraid of starting school because of what might happen. Make this ‘serious’ talk as casual as possible and reassure Lucas that most people won’t care at all.
What can you advise Lucas to do? If a child comments on his birth mark, he simply needs to explain that he was born with this birth mark and it’s no big deal. Because Lucas is a confident child, he has a great advantage. Bullies tend to focus their ugly attention on shy children who give them the reaction they are looking for. If Lucas is happy, confident and able to express himself well, hopefully the unkind children in the group will move on to easier targets.
Taking all of this into consideration, you could decide not to bring up this subject with Lucas at this point. Doing this may simply focus his attention on the issue and play on his mind. Starting school is already a big step for children, even the most confident children. Until school starts, continue to build Lucas’ confidence so that he walks into school with a positive outlook.
However, before he starts school, make an appointment to the see the school’s principal to discuss the issue. She may also choose to bring Lucas’ teacher to the meeting which would be very positive. Explain to them what the birthmark is and how it occurred so they are informed. Not every adult has adequate knowledge to deal with such things.
Talk through a strategy with them about how the school will deal with this early on. Usually getting such issues ‘out in the air’ and confronting them is the best policy. Teachers genuinely want each student to be happy and confident and will welcome information from parents which helps them help the child. Once Lucas’ little classmates understand why he has the birthmark and what it is, they are less likely to continue to ask questions and it will become a non-issue.
The classroom teacher may take this as an opportunity to introduce the concept of difference and the values of caring and acceptance. Most children have something which is a little different in their lives eg single parent, blended family, grandparent living at home, live in an apartment, live on a farm etc.
Once Lucas starts prep, keep a good eye on his attitude to school and overall demeanour. If he comes home looking upset or doesn’t want to talk about school, find the right time to sit down and have a chat about school.
Always contact the school if you know he is being bullied or believe he is being bullied. Bullying of any kind is unacceptable and teachers will help you handle this issue. No child should ever be expected to handle bullying alone or put up with it in the hope that it will go away.