The fact that parents have little control over what happens to their children in the classroom can be frustrating, even heartbreaking sometimes. As parents, you are constantly trying to teach your children self-worth, protect them from information they’re not ready for, and instill good values, and it feels like a huge setback when your child comes home from school crying or with inappropriate sexual knowledge. The good news is that there are a few things you can do to help.
First and foremost, you need to reassure your child. If he’s crying because other children are teasing him about being gender-nonconforming, explain that there’s nothing wrong with liking traditionally feminine things. Try reading him stories like Lois Gould’s “The Story of X” or Cheryl Kilodavis’ “My Princess Boy”, so he knows that he’s normal and he’s not alone. If she’s upset because her classmates are making fun of her African-American hair, tell her the kinds of things that helped you and consider reading her “I Love My Hair!” by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley. There’s a whole world of wonderful children’s books that deal with the issues your child faces at school, so bring your child to the library or to the bookstore and enjoy spending time together.
If your child comes home with questions about sex, it may be time to have the dreaded talk. Try to keep things simple and basic without misinforming your child by using euphemisms. The easiest way to have the discussion is to only answer the questions the child asks. Don’t give any more details than he or she needs right then and there. This may be uncomfortable for you, but it’s far better for the discussion to happen with you than for your child to learn about sex from his or her classmates.
Once your child has been comforted, you should definitely consider speaking to his or her teachers. The teachers will be able to use class time to teach their students about why racism, sexism, homophobia, and other issues are not acceptable, and have almost certainly received training in how to speak sensitively about these issues. They should also be aware that at least one of their students has inappropriate sexual knowledge, which can be (though is not always) a sign of sexual abuse. They will want to be able to keep an eye on that child and intervene if it becomes obvious that the child needs help.
Sometimes, inappropriate comments are simply a result of ignorance. The classmate has never met another Asian student and doesn’t understand that it’s not okay to make comments about the shape of your child’s eyes; or has never met another little girl who likes trucks and blocks and sports but hates playing house or dress-up games. Having your child’s teacher talk to the class about diversity can help, and you can offer suggestions to make sure that the teacher handles the conversation well. Sometimes, however, the sad fact is that inappropriate comments happen just because children can be cruel. If that turns out to be the case, talk to your child about bullies and how to handle them. Be supportive, and focus on building up your child’s self-esteem. Tell him or her to be firm in telling the bully to stop but then to just walk away rather than getting into a fight with the bully. Teach your child to keep friends close, so that he or she doesn’t feel so alone and so the bully is less likely to start something. And let your child know that it’s okay to talk to the teacher; that it isn’t the same as “being a tattletale”.
You may not always be able to protect your child at school, but handling things well at home goes a very long way. Letting your child know that you are always there for help, support, and answers will help him or her get through anything that happens at school.