Aaron Gouveia’s five-year-old son Sam loves painting his nails in bright colours.
He also loves to carry his belongings in a purse.
Still considered a “boy’s boy” who loves trucks and sports, Sam was recently bullied by classmates for loving things girls do. On Monday, Gouveia wrote his son’s story on Twitter, pointing out how harmful toxic masculinity can be for young children.
“My rage meter is spiking right now so excuse me if this is a little raw but there are some things I want to say about BS #gender norms,” he wrote on the social media site. “He loves to have his nails painted bright colours because he thinks they ‘look beautiful.’ And he’s right – they are beautiful.”
He noted Sam proudly wore his red nail polish to school one morning, not even realizing nail polish itself was considered “for girls.”
“Sam was ridiculed for being a boy with nail polish. They called him names and told him to take it off. This lasted the entire day,” Gouveia continued.
“When my wife picked him up from school he collapsed into her arms and cried uncontrollably. He was devastated at how other kids turned on him, even his friends. He asked them to stop but that just made it worse. Only one kid stood up for him.”
Gouveia added his son was never afraid to feel different until this incident. He immediately asked his mother to take off his nail polish.
“I know these kids are only in kindergarten but this toxic masculinity bulls**t is LEARNED. Learned most of the time from parents. So parents, I hope you’re proud. I hope this is what you wanted. I hope you’re satisfied.”
Let kids be curious
Tia Slightham of Parenting Solutions told Global News that sometimes, parents can jump the gun and create too much pressure for their children. This can mean allowing them to follow only specific gender norms or banning things that don’t seem to fit.
“Sometimes kids are simply curious, exploring and testing what the world has to offer,” she said. “As children grow and develop the situation my become more serious, but at this moment in time I would let all kids experiment with their interests.”
Child psychologist Dr. Jillian Roberts, founder of parenting resource website Family Sparks, agreed and added promoting a culture of inclusivity starts at home.
WATCH: We’ve come a long way in breaking down gender norm barriers
“Kids are not born being fearful of diversity, they are taught to be that way,” she told Global News. “If every family promoted an acceptance of difference, we would have much less bullying on the playground. I believe that parents should teach their children to be their authentic self. Sometimes, being authentic comes with risk of rejection. However, the benefits of authenticity far outweigh the risks.”
If your child is interested in nail polish or purses or anything else that may cause a backlash from other classmates, Slightham said you shouldn’t forbid it. “As soon as you do, you shut the door for communication with your child.”
“They will feel they have to hide or sneak, which will make them feel badly about who they are. Try to be open and give your child opportunities to explore. If the interest seems to grow and develop into a bigger issue, then you may want to speak to the school to work with them on best next steps.”
Whether your child is curious, going through a phase or just really loves that specific activity or object, allow them to explore it.
What to do if your child is being bullied
Gouveia said he and his wife spent five years preaching tolerance, acceptance, and the importance of expression, but are now concerned his son feels ashamed.
“I talked to Sam and I told him those other kids are just jealous of his nails. I told him to wear an even brighter shade tomorrow. And I told him to ask these kids why they’re so upset and see what they say,” he continued. “I bet they don’t know. I bet their parents don’t even know. But what I do know is Sam is a goddamn fireworks show of a human being and I won’t let that be dulled for a second by this restrictive bulls**t that’s been choking boys forever.”
In an act of solidarity, he also painted his own nails.
“Intolerant parents and their offspring scored a minor victory today but they won’t win the war. I know that because the Sams of the world aren’t going to suffer this bulls**t anymore. Of that I have no doubt.”
Roberts said if your child is on the receiving end of bullying, practice self-compassion. Bullying is incredibly common when difference is involved, and if your child is constantly worried to express themselves, remind them how important they are.
“Explain to your son or daughter what self-compassion means and how important it is to love one’s self, no matter what other people say or do, it is your own opinion that truly matters.”
And if they start thinking negatively about themselves, remind them about their own qualities. “Have your son or daughter begin listing in their mind all the great qualities about themselves.”
Slightham added at the end of the day, our children depend on us for guidance and we need to be there for them.
“Keeping the parent-child bond strong, communication lines open and support system strong, it will help ensure your child that they have a shoulder to lean on no matter what.”