The Long & the Short of it...
Earlier this week I read with interest an article on the SchoolGate blog by Sarah Ebner.
I don't want to re-hash the article here, but by way of giving a little background - the article detailed the experiences of another parent, Joanne Mallon who has a son who is small for his age.
She recalls a situation her son experienced at school. The class were playing a game whereby they had to describe a fellow classmate without describing them physically. One child blurted out "He's small". As Joanne recalls it: "The teacher came down on this like a ton of bricks, because it was outside the rules of the game..."
The article generated a number of comments and got me thinking.
Clearly we live in a very visual society, and ordinarily when asked to describe someone we will often use physical characteristics. I'm not sure that it's necessarily the right thing to do, and of course we all want our children to know that they are much more than the sum of their physical attributes.
For me, the idea that a teacher would "come down like a ton of bricks" is a little worrying - particularly in this instance. It may be that the child who blurted out "he's small" misunderstood the game. Of course, conversely it may be that he did it knowingly - children can be cruel.
Of course it's also entirely possible that the phrase "coming down like a ton of bricks" is over-egging the teacher's reaction somewhat.
The truth is, what we're really lacking here is context. We weren't there. We can't possibly know:
- If the child was being deliberately mean.
- If the child misunderstood the game.
- How proportionate the teacher's reaction was.
Even those individuals who were actually present would probably give slightly different accounts. It all depends on your perspective, right?
So, where do I stand?
I wouldn't want my own child to be 'labelled' as anything. I think that labels are limiting and potentially harmful. But as parents can we really prevent it?
I think perhaps what we ought to be teaching our children is that everyone is different. We all have different physical attributes. Indeed it would be a very dull world indeed if we all looked the same.
I think it's important to discuss things like this. We want our children to be able to empathise with others. We want them to embrace differences - not to see them in terms of positives or negatives.
Is being short a bad thing? No, of course not.
Is being mean about someone's height a bad thing? Yes.
Is describing someone as small a bad thing? Hmmmm - here it gets tricky, doesn't it? Because, once again it depends on your perspective.
If a child is sensitive about their height it may be that by describing them as small you've hurt their feelings.
If you did so deliberately to hurt their feelings then that's really not a nice way to behave.
If you did so unknowingly - i.e. you didn't realise it would hurt their feelings; well - now you know, so you might think twice before doing it again.
Which brings me on to this: Is it acceptable to call someone small if doesn't upset them?
I'd love to hear what you think - feel free to add a comment and let me know :)
Image credit wadem