Thinking back to infant school, I don’t remember having many problems. I didn’t feel unconfident, but there were times where I felt like the attention was on me. It was like what I was doing was wrong and people were judging me. I felt different.
There were incidences in infant school where I was made fun of by people in the older years, for reasons I was oblivious to. I was a child, I wasn’t worried about what people would think or say about me because of how I looked or what I wore, etc. I didn’t have those expectations that people would, either. But, in year 1, I got glasses. I remember walking into class in the morning and all of my classmates laughing at me. I can’t remember what I thought, but I know I just didn’t understand what was funny.
As a child, we are vulnerable to comments made by others. We haven’t found coping mechanisms, or had enough experience to know how to deal with them. One time, everyone in my class was given a chocolate bar. I started eating mine and the teacher said “You’re not supposed to eat it yet, Lewis!” and I felt really ashamed because I thought I’d done something wrong and everyone was looking at me. I still feel uncomfortable whenever I’ve done something which later someone said I wasn’t supposed to do.
I’m convinced people behave how they do in school because of the environment. People can act out of character. It’s like there’s a hierarchy, and it’s ‘cool’ to behave in the same way or copy what people do just so you fit in or follow a group. It’s like the experiment where students volunteered to be prison guards and in-mates. Before the experiment, it was just a university basement. But during it, the conditions of the basement and behaviour of the students were identical to a real prison.
Whilst some children have no intent nor interest in belittling people and never project their insecurities onto them, other children (and sometimes teachers) seem to be so insecure and lacking in understanding of other people that they’ll make fun of them like there’s something ‘wrong’ with them. Perhaps some people just aren’t used to seeing people who are different and, when they do, they conclude there must be something wrong with them because they don’t do what is accepted in their narrow social group. Personally, I never had any intention to hurt anyone at school, but I was bullied, and I know I have bullied others – this was out of my nature and not who I am, and I’m not proud of it.
I believe we need to encourage children; not put them down. We must be careful with the words, tone, and facial expressions we choose to use. This requires a cultural shift in our schools.