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5 Ways to Help Your Indian Kids Deal With Bullying

2080180630_314c29634aby Indu Partha, @indupartha

Growing up can be hard.  Growing up different can be even harder.  News websites are flooded regularly with stories about kids who have been bullied for any number of reasons: they were gay, they were not pretty enough, they were not sexy enough, they weren’t skinny enough. As parents, I think one of our most important jobs is to ensure that our children know that they are “enough.”  For that matter, it is important for all of us to feel that we are “enough.”  We want to keep our children safe and secure at all times, but obviously, we cannot be our children’s shadows 24/7.  I do think, however, that there are steps we can take to decrease the chance that our Indian-American children are bullied in this fast-paced, sometimes impersonal, world.

  1. Choosing a name.  This may not be a popular position, but I do think it puts our children at a disadvantage if we give them a name that is too hard to pronounce.  Yes, it is important to be proud of our heritage, honor our roots, and choose a meaningful name.  But trust me, life is so much easier, and a child fits in so much better, when he/she doesn’t have to repeat their name 10 times when introducing themselves.
  2. We are a hairy people.  We have to face that fact, even while some may not embrace it. There is no getting around the fact that our daughters will be wearing bathing suits, shorts, and sleeveless tops. It is so helpful for shy and embarrassed daughters when moms address the issue of hair removal in a no-nonsense and timely manner.  While it would be great if we all could stand firm with a “don’t be embarrassed about your body” stance, because truly body hair should not be a factor in acceptance, I just don’t think it is a practical one–especially if you live in a warm-weather place like I do.  Children can be horrid to other kids, taunting them for “having a mustache,” or “having fur.” Why not nip the problem in the bud before it starts or at least help your child navigate how to deal with the name-calling?
  3. Luckily, blonde and blue-eyed is not the absolute standard of beauty as it used to be.  However, based on where your child is growing up, he or she may still be the outlier with dark skin, black hair, and features that are stronger than an average white American’s.  We need to teach our kids from an early age that beauty comes in many forms and packages.  Self-esteem and self-confidence need to be developed.  While most Indian families do a great job of congratulating kids for academic success, they often overlook the need for kids to look as physically fit as they are academically strong. Encourage kids to exercise, and to be active and healthy. It is okay if they want to look cute and wear fashionable clothes. No, they shouldn’t be encouraged to spend hours in front of the mirror, or to feel that their beauty is all they offer the world.  However, during the teen years, when life is so much easier when one fits in and belongs, it is nice for our kids to know that we, as parents, “get it.”  Sometimes, cuteness counts.
  4. The stereotype of the nerdy Indian kid who has no social graces has existed for a long time. We should expose our children from an early age to a variety of people from a variety of backgrounds, and teach them how to interact with folks from all walks of life. The ability to make small talk and to be engaging is an invaluable skill that will serve them a lifetime.
  5. Make sure their environment is one in which “kindness counts.” My children’s school district does an awesome job with their “bully-free” messaging.  The mantra of “be respectful, be responsible, be kind” is drummed into their heads from an early age. The school counselors make regular visits to classrooms to remind kids to be a good friend. Investigate. What is your child’s school attitude about bullying? What is the principal or the district doing to ensure the school environment is bully-free?  There are many programs that can be instituted in a school to encourage kindness. Maybe you can be the parent who makes a difference.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not in any way suggesting that we raise kids whose sole purpose is to blend in and be the same as others.  However, as a mom of three kids, and having grown up in this country, I realize that certain choices can impact a child’s happiness and sense of belonging for the better or the worse.  There are many things that we cannot control, our children will need to fight their own battles, and navigate their own journeys without our assistance.  It isn’t the worst thing to start them with a leg up to even the playing field, is it?

I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.  Has bullying been an issue for your children? How have you handled it?

Photo Credit: Harold Laudeus

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