I recently had the occasion to work with a large group of 6- and 7-year-olds. We were working on a craft. One of the little girls wanted to tell me a story. I will paraphrase it below:
“You know how some kids get left back? Well, there’s this big, fat, smelly, stupid kid. His name is [omitted]. Well, my sister told me that he was left back and was going to be in MY class. And I was like, EWWW! But then she told me she was just joking.”
The minute she said the kid’s name, I knew who it was. My stomach dropped a little bit. I looked across the table at one of the other kids who was listening. A kid who is also a little husky. She looked a little uncomfortable. Then I looked back at my storyteller, a little girl, who I really, really like. A nice kid. And I said, “Want to hear a story? Well, you know that little boy? He’s my friend’s son, and he’s really, really nice. Have you ever spoken to him?” The little girl looked at me, told me that she had never spoken to him, and then she said one word. “Ooops.”
I kept talking. “I’ll bet if you spoke to him you would see how very nice he is. By the way, just because someone is fat doesn’t mean they are smelly or stupid. Everyone is unique. Everyone has their gifts. I know [NAME], and he’s a great kid. You’d really like him.” And then I shut up and went back to doing the project.
I told Big Girl the story tonight at bedtime. I asked her how the heavier little girl probably felt when she heard the first girl call someone else names because he happens to be heavier. “Bad,” she said. I asked her what she thought of the story. “It was bad. I know [NAME]. He is really nice. I’m glad he didn’t hear that story. If I was there I would have told Storyteller that I know that boy, and he’s nice.” I told her I was, too, and that I was very proud of her for thinking of my friend’s son’s feelings. And that if she learns one thing from me I hope it’s that starting rumors is never a good thing. And then, after I explained what a rumor was, I switched the topic.
I hope by not making a huge deal about it, and just telling it like it is I touched one of the kids who heard the story. I hope my original storyteller will remember what I said and give someone a chance before making another snap judgment. I hope Big Girl really will have the courage and compassion to stick up for someone someday. I hope the chubby girl across the table from Storyteller heard what I said, and didn’t feel too bad hearing her make assumptions about someone who is overweight.
Okay, let’s hear it. Did I handle this right? Wrong? What would you have said or done? Honestly, this working with kids thing is really challenging sometimes.