One of the first instincts you have as a parent is to protect your child. Even before a baby is born, parents obsess about correct diet, medical care and safe baby items. And, of course, their child's name.
Many of these questions come up when a name is being chosen: What will other kids call them? Will they be teased because of the name? Is it too weird? Will it result in funny initials or rhyme with something we wouldn't want them called?
I was always a little annoyed by those questions. I wanted the names I chose for my kids to be names I liked, not names I thought their elementary school classmates would like. Besides, before I was married, my name was Sarah Brown. It's not a "weird" name by any stretch of the imagination, but I got teased about it from time to time. Kids are creative!
As kids get older and start to have their own preferences and personalities, parents often worry about their choices in clothes, toys, Halloween costumes or things they may say or do. I hear a lot of parents discouraging or even forbidding certain clothing or behavior out of fear of how their children will be treated. Maybe that frilly tutu is OK on your son when he's playing dress up at home but what about when he wants to leave the house wearing it?
No parent wants their child hurt or mistreated, so what do you do? You can encourage your child to act/dress/talk more like other kids or you can let them be themselves, even if that means they might be mistreated by other kids, or worse, adults.
The truth is that children will be teased at some point, no matter how much we try to prevent it from happening. Even as teenagers and then as adults they will feel judged by their peers at times. I like to focus my energy on teaching my kids to feel confident and empowered to deal with these situations rather than trying to avoid it at all costs.
Of course, we all wish our children would, "do as I say and not as I do," but the truth is that they really learn about the world from our actions. We tell our children that they should be themselves, that they shouldn't worry about what other people think and that they shouldn't judge or tease other children. But what message are they getting when we won't let them do things simply for fear of what others will think or how other kids may treat them? I think the better message is that they should be themselves and that teasing or judging others is wrong.
I worry that if I teach my kids that there is an acceptable way to dress, talk and act in front of other children, they will hear that it's not OK to be themselves. And by extension, that it's not OK for other children to be themselves. If so, is it then OK to tease or bully those kids for it? Or stand by and laugh when someone else does?
I know I'll struggle with this issue as my children grow. I hope my decisions will not be made out of fear and I will try to teach them to value themselves and others, including their differences.
Have you ever made a parenting decision based on fear of your child getting teased or taunted?
Sara Parisi is an on-the-go mom of three energetic boys.
See more of Sarah's stories here.