My mum was a wonderful lady. Gentle, kind, considerate, loving. She had a sense of fun and mischief. She loved music, children, animals. She was a great cook, she could sew, she decorated the house, painting and wallpapering. She was a fantastic gardener, she loved to travel.
She was a good mum, and a wonderful grandma.
But if I ever told her all this, and I did, she would never believe me. She would laugh and say “I’m nothing.” Wow – those two words huh? ”I’m nothing”. It was said flippantly, in an offhand way. But the thing is – she believed it.
When my mum started school, at the age of 5 years old, she went to a Catholic School. The teachers were nuns, she was taught reading, writing, and arithmetic. My mum was a quiet child, she was never naughty or loud, she was a happy confident and much loved only child.
The nuns were vile. At every opportunity they would berate those very small children who were ‘falling behind’ ‘not getting 10 out of 10’ – she would be ridiculed in front of the class for not being able to spell her middle name (Elizabeth). Her hands were rapped with wooden rulers, she was made to stand in the cupboard for whole mornings, because she was ‘stupid’ ‘dumb’ a ‘simpleton’. She was made to stand in the corner of the classroom, wearing a Dunce’s hat! Because the nuns ridiculed my mum, so did the other girls in her year. She had one friend, Joyce, who was also victimised by these nuns. They found solace in each other. The suffered together, their friendship lasted a lifetime.
That’s where, at the formative ages, from 5 to 11 years old – my mum learned never to talk, to say something – in case she said the wrong thing and would be made fun of. Where she learned that she was ‘stupid’. Where she learned not to try, because she was a ‘failure’. Where she learned to make herself ‘small’ – to be the quietest person in the room, so that she didn’t say or do something to get her noticed and made fun of. It's where she learned to be shy. It's where she learned that she was ‘nothing’.
In school, even at a young age, ridicule can turn into a form of bullying. and can have long-term effects. Ridicule from another child, “You’re rubbish at football” “You can’t do sums”… often turns into ostracisation, isolation and emotional damage. We can’t be there for our children all the time, but what we can do is support our child by giving them the ability in identifying the ridicule, telling us about it, telling teachers, encouraging them to find the strength to overcome the ridicule and, seek out new friendships.
Ridicule is often seen, especially within the family, as a kind of affectionate joking. But, especially between siblings, it can turn quite spiteful. This has to be addressed. The home needs to be a safe place where the family can laugh together WITH each other and not AT each other. A place where we learn it’s OK to be different, to be individual, to know that it’s OK to fail at something, a place of encouragement and acceptance.
We also need to teach our children empathy and kindness – so that they do not ridicule others. If you do happen to hear them being unkind to someone, it must be addressed. Ask them “How do you think you might feel if someone had said that to you?” As parents, we should also be a good role model and not ridicule or be unkind about others. If children see us being kind and empathetic to other people, then they will know to treat others gently. If we all prioritised teaching our children kindness and empathy, maybe bullying wouldn't be such a serious problem in society, as it is now.