In elementary school I was called Bucky Beaver and Captain Bucky O’Hare... it was because I have two really amazing front teeth that were unnaturally large for my face at the time. Without braces, my face eventually grew around those teeth helping complete the warm smile I’m know for today. So naturally when I had kids I looked for my signature buck teeth in their ultrasounds and as their baby and permanent teeth came in. Without fail, my strong genetics prevailed and combined with their father’s toothy grin to form what I call “an investment smile”... big teeth that will look amazing later with care.
My youngest came home from school informing me that a kid called her “Buck Tooth Face”. I had been waiting for this moment for years. In fact, we’ve been asking her if her classmates have ever made fun of her large spacey teeth that protrude from her face (let me also mention that thumb sucking as a baby has not helped her at all). However, I’m a bit concerned about getting braces too soon as I’ve witnessed this experience go awry on faces too small to manage all that constricting and readjusting. I admit that I’m biased. Although my teeth were large and I had a massive overbite, I never had braces; my teeth straightened up and pulled back in as my head got bigger... don’t tell my dentist.
In my lack of shock I asked her to talk through it, as we always do about situations like this.
“What does the kid look like?” I asked. She explained the kid with intricate detail all the way down to a pair of braces...
“Ah-ha,” I said out loud... “Look, this kid is projecting because they have braces themselves. Don’t worry about it. You know what you say next time?”.
We talked through a strategy that would empower her without completely embarrassing the other person but put them on notice.
I asked, “Are you bothered by your teeth?”.
“No. Your teeth looked kind of like this and look at you mom. I’ll be ok.
In moments like this and even before, it’s really important to be open with your kids and tell them about your flaws. I’ve been really open with my kids about embarrassing or hurtful situations from my past because I need them to know that I am human and I got past it. I’ve found that these discussions have empowered them to realize that their current situation is not permanent.
“Ok well let me know if they say anything else or if it gets to a point that you’re embarrassed or harmed”. I felt confident that she was feeling more self-confident and assertive, so we moved on to other topics.
Kids can be cruel and I’m no stranger to teasing and name calling. I’ll admit as a child, I did my fair share of it too. But there’s a thin line between rude curiosity, light teasing, and bullying. And that line can blur if kids aren’t aware of how their words can impact others intentionally and unintentionally. On the other hand, teaching kids to think on their toes and defend themselves is a skill that we’re losing in a world where parents jump at the mention of any discomfort from their child. Kids need to learn self advocacy when a situation is safe enough for them to do so. This is not so that in moments like this we want our kids to prove their worth to others, but rather we want them to learn how to stand their ground and differentiate between moments of self advocacy and moments where an adult - parent, teacher, or counselor- are in fact needed.
I'm a former teacher and former college athlete, currently working to make life more equitable for all people. My mission is to get parents to partner with their child's teacher.