When Your Kid Doesn’t Want To Be ‘Different’

This morning as I drove the kids to school, I told them that I had packed them each a fish cutlet. (This is basically like a fried potato/fish patty flavoured with tumeric, salt, lemon, cilantro and garam masala). I had made them yesterday for the first time, from my mom’s recipe collection, and the kids quite enjoyed them. So, I was surprised when my son asked, voice quivering, “Why do we have to have that?

In the rearview mirror, I watched his face crumple and my daughter cover her ears, anticipating the familiar howling that normally follows the trembling voice.

“Because you liked them yesterday and we had a couple left. Didn’t you like them?”

“Yeeeeeessssss…” His voice trailed off and his eyes squeezed shut. His mouth was looking like an upside down U. *sniff*

(My daughter rolled her eyes, hands hovering just over her ears. It could go either way from here.)

“So, then why are you upset? I’m just telling you because I put a spoon in your lunch kit, too. If the cutlet is a bit crumbly, you can use your spoon to scoop up the bits.”

“Becaaaaussse…*waaaaahhhh*…it’s so weird! Everyone will make fun of me!”

My heart sank. Partly because I was picturing his entire class of 3-5 year olds, standing around him in a circle, pointing and laughing, and partly because he was in the midst of something that we all get stuck in: Do I be me, or do I be like everyone else?

I tried to reason with him. “Do other people bring things to school that you don’t eat? Like ham sandwiches? Or pepperoni?”

He nodded, two tears making twin paths down to his chin.

“And do you tell them their food is weird?”

“No…but…”

“Ok, so if someone says anything today, just tell them it’s not nice of them to say your food is weird, and that you don’t call their food weird.” (I had no idea if this was good advice. But it didn’t matter because it totally went over his head.)

The thing about kids is they call it like they see it. If something smells or looks funny, they’ll let you know. Sometimes it’s a trait to be admired. Other times, it can really hurt another kid’s feelings. And especially when they are in preschool, I don’t think we can expect them to hide these thoughts too much. Purposely taunting someone is one thing, but saying, “Your lunch smells funny” can simply be stating a fact.

Fish cutlets - who knew they would be such a hot topic?
Fish cutlets – who knew they would be such a hot topic?

As I write this, we are approaching his lunch hour. I really hope it goes well. There is a chance someone may say something to him, or look at him strangely. And as I sit here, I wonder if I did the right thing. Mostly, I think I did. I’m trying to model authenticity and encourage self-acceptance because in the long run, this will hopefully help them be happier adults. But, he is just 5…and a fish cutlet does smell. (Yummy to me, perhaps revolting to a kid who’s never had one).

I just feel that I had to get the message across that being different is not a bad thing. Whether it’s what we eat, the activities we enjoy, the ideas we have. But even at 36, this trips me up from time to time, too. It just shows up in different forms.

Anyway, I’ll keep you posted. Have you encountered this before with your kids? Either with food or something else? How did you handle it?

10 thoughts on “When Your Kid Doesn’t Want To Be ‘Different’

  1. I do hope his day went well and that he made it through the fear of what his peers might think. I was just talking to a co-worker the other day about schools and day cares today. Kids can really be quite mean to their peers it seems. We have to hope that parents like you continue to teach todays youth to be good with who they are. I hope it all worked out.

    Irish

    1. Hi Irish! Thanks for asking – everything did go well and I’ll be sharing a post on Monday with a few more details, including my own experiences and thoughts. Sometimes I think kids will just be kids – especially the littles who really don’t have filters. But with the spotlight now on bullying we do need to educate ourselves and our youth on the effects of such behaviour.

  2. This is a teaching moment, the time to suggest some multicultural education to your child’s teacher, which can include some food sampling.

    1. Hi Denise! Hope you’re doing well – so nice to hear from you! I love this idea, and remember having something like this when I was in elementary school. Great suggestion!

  3. i like Denise’s idea because kids are really in tough situation because they want to fit in with their friends. While it is a great learning moment and time for kids to stand up for their own, I know my cousin actually threw away her lunch to avoid being made fun of which we found out later on about. Hopefully it went okay with your kiddos.

    1. Hi Dixya, I agree – Denise had a great idea! I do want my children to feel good about what they take to school no matter who says what because the last thing I want is them feeling embarrassed. And I definitely don’t want them throwing away food. I remember kids used to do that when I was in elementary school. I’ll be writing a follow-up post on Monday – stay tuned!

  4. I can very much relate to your son. Growing up, my mom would pack Indian snacks in my lunch. For the longest time – all I wanted was a simple P&J sandwich. I really didn’t accept who I was till the end of high school / early college. In college, I missed Indian food so much and could see my mother thinking, “I know you would miss my cooking!”. Now I cook Indian food all the time!

    You are doing a great job of understanding where your son is coming from but also teaching him that being different is not a bad thing.

    The funny thing is the friends that liked my Indian snacks in elementary school are still my friends today – guess those who accept you are the ones whose friendships will last 🙂

    1. Thanks for sharing your own experience, Kamana! I never used to get desi food in my lunches, but I did get made fun of for eating tapioca pudding! Yup, the kids would laugh and say I was eating eyeballs. 😉 I’m going to be posting on Monday more on this, and how my kids’ lunches went down with the fish cutlets!

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