By Nicole Girvan, Head of Lower School
The lessons of childhood are nuanced and unavoidable—and can make us stronger adults. When I talk with friends and family about our childhood memories, mixed emotions hover over us. I loved my childhood and feel fortunate, but there were many challenging moments when I had doubts about the character of others or questioned my identity and place in the world.
Two childhood encounters with prejudice made indelible memories. At nine years old, I was called a derogatory name because of the shape of my eyes. Another time I overheard my African-American and Vietnamese brother—who was ten at the time—insulted because of his skin color. There were many moments like this for me as an Asian American, as well as for my four brothers and sisters who are part African-American. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is a phrase I found solace in over and over again.
Refusing to be hurt by another person’s hateful words did not make it easier to accept bullying behaviors. To be kind, honest, and hardworking were three characteristics my parents emphasized on a daily basis. At that time, I did not realize that when they instilled this in us, they were equipping us for life. My parents taught my siblings and me that no person has power over us and that one’s character matters more than gender, religion, race, or even abilities.
As a parent of three boys (two of whom are of color), I cannot help but share stories of my childhood experiences with them to teach them the value of strength, grit, and perseverance. I try to model kindness, forgiveness, and inclusivity, and I can only hope that all of this is enough to ready them to deal with adversity appropriately and productively.
I encourage you to engage in conversations about inclusivity with your child. Help your child understand what this word looks like and sounds like, even if it is uncomfortable. These conversations are not easy, but as parents, we owe it to our children to bestow them with knowledge and strategies to prepare them for life’s inevitable challenges. A name can hurt, and a negative experience may linger in the memory, but neither defines the true value of any person.