How many times have you heard someone say, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts”?
My son Zack is a little different on the outside. He has a condition called symbrachydactyly — what a mouthful, right? Symbrachydactyly is a fancy way to say “hand deformity.” We call it his “lucky fin” or his “little hand.”
He gets stared at a lot. We don’t like the stares, but we understand his outside is different and that people will look. He’s only 5 and so far, teasing and mean comments have been minimal. I tell him often that he’s strong and unique and yes, that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Maybe it’s cliché, but it’s true.
Rosie Dutton, a teacher in Birmingham, U.K., has taken the “it’s what’s on the inside that counts” lesson to a new level, and the results are amazing.
In a post on her Relax Kids Tamworth Facebook page that’s since gone viral, Dutton detailed a lesson she recently had with her students. She introduced a group of children to two apples that looked exactly the same on the outside. The kids didn’t know that she’d repeatedly dropped one of the apples on the floor before class. We all know what happens when you drop an apple, right? Mushy, yucky brown spots. No one wants that apple. Maybe you put it back in the bowl with the other apples since it looks the same on the outside. Maybe you pick an apple that hasn’t bounced all over the floor and let someone else deal with the bruised apple.
When the teacher introduced the apple she’d dropped, she told them how much she disliked the apple. She used words like “disgusting” and criticized its appearance. It was a horrible color, she said with disdain, and the stem was too short.
Then she told the children they shouldn’t like that apple, either. They passed the apple around, taking turns calling it names.
“You’re a smelly apple.”
“You’ve probably got worms inside you.”
And then this:
“I don’t even know why you exist.”
For the most part, the students jumped on the “let’s be mean to this apple” bandwagon, but one little girl refused to join in the insults. Maybe she thought it was silly to say mean things to a piece of fruit. Maybe it wasn’t in her nature to be unkind. Who knows?
Dutton then passed the “good” apple around, instructing the children to say nice things to it. The children used words like “lovely” and complimented its color and skin. Then, she held both apples up and discussed their similarities. The apples still looked the same on the outside because we all know that those yucky bruises no one likes don’t show up until you bite into the apple and expose the insides.
You see where this is going, right?
Dutton cut the apples open. The apple that had received the kind comments was clear and juicy, but the apple that had been told it was “smelly” and “disgusting” was bruised and mushy.
It was a “lightbulb moment” for the kids. Dutton went on to explain how people who are bullied may be broken on the inside but often look just like everyone else on the outside. This is a powerful, visual lesson that even younger children can understand. It provides a great jumping off point for discussions about bullying.
The teacher didn’t expect the viral response and posted a follow up for those who are interested in recreating the experience: she used a red apple that was tapped repeatedly (but gently) on the floor. In touching the apple, the bruising was evident but none of the children noticed the apple looked any different that the unbruised apple.
This is a simple and relevant exercise you can do with any size group to start those important conversations about the effects of bullying. We throw around the phrase “it’s what’s on the inside that counts” but we also need that reminder that what’s on the outside may fool us.
We are not apples. We can nip bullying in the bud when we see it happening. We can teach our children to be that kid who refuses to take part in the mean-spirited comments. We can do even better than that and teach them to stand up for someone being picked on. We can share our experiences of being picked on, teased, or made to feel small and let those experiences help others.
As for me, I’ll keep telling my kids, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.” And while I can’t open them up and see what they’re really feeling, I can definitely do more. Talk more. Listen more. Ask more questions. Ask the tough questions. I can do better.
We can all do better.
Now, go find some apples and talk to your kids. What are you waiting for?