Helping MedKids Navigate Stereotypes at School

In a similar way that friends, family, and neighbors might stereotype medspouses/partners without truly understanding what it’s like to be married to medicine, the same may happen to our children by peers at school. Most of the time this is a non-issue because what someone’s parents do for a living doesn’t really matter to kids. Unfortunately, there are always a few circumstances where things at school can get tough for medkids. Let’s discuss.

When Judgment and Jealousy Are A Default

We know as adults that some people may be fueled by judgment and jealousy. The same thing can happen at school, except it can feel much meaner and much more harsh. When this happens, labels can be assigned and assumptions are made about the children of physicians such as:

  • Their family is wealthy. (They don’t know about the hundreds of thousands of dollars you’re still paying off in medical school debt!)
  • They’re considerably more privileged.
  • Their parents are always able to solve problems or fix things for them.
  • They have it easy.
  • They have a higher status in the community.
  • They have a more stable family life.

It goes without saying, perceptions aren’t always reality. At the same time, we need to understand children’s perceptions are shaped by their own experiences and understanding of the world. Maybe they’ve watched too many TV shows portraying physician families as wealthy and privileged, or maybe they overheard a family member talking badly about a doctor they once knew. While we can’t control what other children are learning, we are absolutely able to help our medkids as they navigate through these friendships and stereotypes.

Sometimes when it goes too far, kids can experience exclusion, teasing, and gossiping from their peers. Some children may decide to try to outdo them in academics or other activities to prove their superiority. In the absolute worst-case scenarios, kids who can’t control their jealousy can become bullies by using physical or verbal aggression to intimidate or harm. When this happens, it needs to be escalated to administration to be handled immediately.

Most of the time, the easiest way for our children to squelch the labels and stereotypes of jealous peers is by ignoring them and simply being friendly and kind. Let your medkid know there’s nothing they can do about it, to just be themselves, and let others think what they want. That’s always easier said than done; however, we cannot control other people’s opinions. This is a good lesson in learning when to let go of the things you cannot control.

When MedKids Move

Children can become scared and overwhelmed when they move to a new school. Whether it’s fear of rejection, loneliness, or unfamiliarity with their surroundings, they can become distant or withdrawn as a form of self-protection. Sometimes, this can be interpreted by others as being ‘cold’. 

As adults, we recognize this. We welcome new people into our space and give them the grace and time necessary to get adjusted. We help. 

Children’s brains haven’t fully developed to understand how emotions translate into how we hold ourselves. Instead of helping when another child seems ‘cold’, sometimes they assign a label to that child. That label is oftentimes ‘snobby’ or ‘thinking they’re too good for anyone’, especially when they find out their parent is a doctor.

If you haven’t already figured it out, telling your child they need to let down their guard doesn’t work. Really, though, what does that even mean? Count on it, your child doesn’t have the faintest idea what that looks like in real action. 

It’s a natural reaction to walk into a new situation feeling a little weary before understanding the landscape, and one that you want them to understand and work through at their own pace. What you can do is help them understand what they’re feeling is self-protection, how others may be experiencing it from the outside, and how they can navigate through it to make new friends and feel more comfortable.  

Talk to your child and let them know it’s ok to feel overwhelmed and probably even scared. These are normal feelings most people feel when they do new things in new places. Even parents. Use examples of when you did new things and how you used ‘action’ to get you through being nervous. What made these feelings go away for you? Was it as simple as just holding your head up, making eye contact, and smiling? Maybe you started a conversation with the person behind you while you were in line. Give them simple tips to help them make it easier for others to break through their protective barrier.

During these conversations, you may think your child didn’t hear a word you said. Trust us, they did and are likely relieved inside to get your guidance. This is why it’s important you go into the conversation having already researched it and can speak with some knowledge of how to advise them.

When Ulterior Motives Strike

It’s a real thing. Some peers may automatically assume your child & your family are wealthy. This may also result in some kids assuming you can ‘pretty much afford anything, so why don’t you just pay for it’? Sadly, these peers may only be interested in a friendship with your child for that very reason.  

It can be difficult for kids to identify when a friend at school is using them. There are some tell-tale signs that may indicate a friendship is not healthy or genuine. Keep an eye out for these behaviors from a friend who is using another:

  1. One-sidedness: The friend will only reach out when they need something and will not reciprocate when your child needs their help or support.
  2. Lack of genuine interest: The friend may not seem genuinely interested in your child’s life, thoughts, or feelings, and may only talk about themselves.
  3. Manipulative behavior: The friend tries to manipulate your child into doing things for them or making decisions that benefit them but not your child.
  4. Constant criticism: The friend may constantly criticize your child or put them down to make themselves feel superior.
  5. Ignoring boundaries: The friend may ignore your child’s boundaries or push them to do things they’re uncomfortable doing.

If you suspect your child’s friend is not a good friend, talk to them about what you’re observing and explain what a good friend looks like: 

  1. Someone who listens to you and cares about what you have to say. They should be interested in your thoughts and feelings.
  2. Someone who is kind and respectful to you and others. They should treat you and others with care and consideration.
  3. Someone who is trustworthy and dependable. They should keep their promises and be there for you when you need them.
  4. Someone who is honest and sincere. They should be honest with you about their feelings and intentions, and not hide behind lies or deceit.
  5. Someone who is fun to be around. They should make you laugh and enjoy spending time together.
  6. Someone who accepts you for who you are. They should not try to change or judge you, but rather support and encourage you to be yourself.

Kids need to know friendships should be built on mutual trust and respect. If they feel their friend is not treating them well, it may be best to distance themselves from that relationship.

It’s almost inevitable medkids will face stereotypes and judgment from their peers in school at some point in their life. As parents, we can help them navigate these challenges effectively by talking to them about their feelings, providing tips for making new friends, and being aware of signs of unhealthy friendships. At the same time, it’s important to remember we need to default to giving grace to others for their misperceptions and use them as opportunities to help squelch the stereotypes and labels others may put on all members of physician families.

Remember, if you send your child into life equipped, you’re helping their chances of having as many positive experiences as possible as they grow and develop friendships.

Interested in more articles on medkids? Be sure to read our article on navigating the holidays and special events with medkids.

  • Elizabeth Landry

    Elizabeth is a Physician family advocate, Certified Life Coach for Physician Wives, EM wife of 20+ years, mother, and founder of The MedCommons – a marriage between her tech/business dev background and passion for helping physician families.

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