Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (September 15, 2016)
It’s that time of the year again – the beginning of the school year! This time of year can bring about many emotions for children – some face it with rapid excitement, knowing that they will get to see their friends at school again, others face it with dread, perhaps if they are going to a new school where they don’t know anyone.
As a child, I moved to different countries because of my father’s work and had to study at many different schools. From kindergarten to graduating high school, I’ve counted that I attended 7 different schools! Every time I went to start a new school year, it was a challenge for me because it meant getting used to a new school culture, meeting completely new friends, studying in a different way and assimilating to a new culture. It was easier in some schools than in others. Having good friends usually made the school experience enjoyable and not being able to fit in socially at other schools was very challenging. And I experienced some teasing and bullying during my school years, and unfortunately, it seems more common than not for students nowadays.
It’s been heartbreaking for me to hear stories from my students about how they have been teased at school or how they have witnessed others being teased and bullied. There usually isn’t rhyme or reason to why a particular person is targeted and it could be anything from their name, to their physique, to their abilities or inabilities or anything else people can think of. It’s heartbreaking and one thing that is important is to be able to create a loving home environment with open communication so if your child is the victim of such behaviour, home is the place of refuge and help.
This book is a delightful one that touches on the subject above and reinforces how everyone is unique and should confidently embrace their uniqueness. Chrysanthemum, by Kevin Henkes, is about a little mouse who grew up loving her name. She was named after her grandmother and she proudly embraced her long name. However, as she goes to school for the first time, she encounters classmates that laugh at her name. Victoria and her friends, Rita and Jo, tease her about it. They laugh at how long it is, how it’s so difficult to spell and how she’s named after a flower. Chrysanthemum goes from loving her name to being embarrassed about it. She starts to doubt the beauty of her name and also her own worth.
Chrysanthemum then meets Mrs. Delphinium Twinkle, a pregnant music teacher. Mrs. Twinkle defends Chrysanthemum (as she also has a long name that is the name of a flower) saying how lots of people have long names. Chrysanthemum also gets comforted by her family and reassured by them. Chrysanthemum learns that her name is unique and that she should be confident in her uniqueness. The story ends with Mrs. Twinkle giving birth to a girl whom she names Chrysanthemum.
I think there is a lot that children can learn from this book but it also carries an important message for educators and parents. As educators, we are to be sensitive to the needs of students and to be able to be defend and support those who need our help, especially at the critical period of the beginning of the school year. As parents, we are to create homes and relationships that are conducive to our children sharing their struggles and hurts with us. With a strong support network, all children can become confident in their uniqueness like Chrysanthemum!