A 5-year-old boy got bullied for wearing nail polish at school, but he’s not letting that stop him.
Sam just started kindergarten, but he’s been wearing nail polish for two years. He decided to rock red nails to school on Monday, and after he came home crying because he was picked on for his polish, his dad took to Twitter to call for change. In a 20-part thread, Aaron Gouveia introduced his 13,000 followers to his amazing son. And the story has since gone viral.
“I never expected this. I thought a bunch of people would read it, but I never thought this would happen,” Gouveia tells Yahoo Lifestyle about the overwhelming reaction on social media.
“Sam is unique; he’s a handful, but as much trouble as he is, he’s also incredibly kind and empathetic. He’s a big kid. He’s like a gentle giant,” Gouveia says of his son.
Sam was also recently diagnosed with ADHD. “That’s been challenging,” the father admitted. “He’s got a lot of energy. We’ve been working really hard with him, but we were really nervous about kindergarten because he has a lot of trouble staying in one place for a long time and focusing. But he’s been doing spectacularly.” He describes his son as a “character.” And that is exhibited in his many varied interests, ranging from sports and karate to nail polish and purses. “He’s a great fisherman,” his dad gushes.
Sam’s grandma used to be a manicurist, so she sometimes paints his nails. “It’s not an everyday thing,” says Gouveia. “But he’s put it on sporadically for the last two years.” He wore it often through a year of preschool and never had any issues. “No one said boo,” his dad recalls.
So, when he wanted to wear red nail polish to school on Monday, his parents didn’t think anything of it. “He’s five and I figured kindergarteners are still pretty innocent, and he’d been wearing it for a year in preschool. So I really didn’t think it would be an issue.” Unfortunately, Gouveia was wrong.
“My wife called me and said, ‘Sam just fell apart when I picked him up from school. He was just crying uncontrollably because all the kids were making fun of his nails,’” Gouveia recalls.
“It’s a shame, but it’s not a surprise that he’s getting negative feedback,” Barbara Greenberg, a clinical psychologist specializing in family and youth issues, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “There are plenty of parents who are letting their kids play with other kinds of toys like dolls and nail polish, but they don’t allow them to do it publicly. What’s different here is this boy took common private behavior into the public arena.” Greenberg says that some parents hide these behaviors because they’re embarrassed. “But it’s very common,” she says. “They’re in good and plentiful company, whether or not parents admit it.”
Sam’s parents have nothing to hide, but that doesn’t make it any easier when their child is suffering.
“Your first reaction when you hear your kid crying and devastated is anger. I didn’t write that thread until last night after I got home from work,” he said about his Twitter posts. Before that he sat Sam down to find out what happened.
While his Twitter followers are blaming the school, Gouveia is not. “That’s just not the case at all. From what I can tell from Sam, this was going on not in front of the teachers. It was lunch and whispers and recess. Teachers can’t be everywhere.”
And the dad adds that he and his son actually have a great relationship with Sam’s teacher. “If she had seen this, I have no doubt that she would have shut it down.”
The little guy chose not to involve the teachers, though. “We always tell Sam, unless someone is threatening you or hurting you, try first to work through it on your own, and if it doesn’t get better, then you can you talk to the teachers. So that’s what he was doing and that’s why he didn’t talk to the teachers. He was trying to deal with it himself and asking them to stop.” Unfortunately, they wouldn’t stop. His classmates called him names and told him to take off his nail polish the entire day.
So, it’s unsurprising that Sam was ready to remove the polish that night. “We said, ‘Buddy, we can take the nail polish off if you want, but do you like it?’ And he said yes. And we said, ‘Do you want to keep it on?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I just don’t want to be made fun of.’” His father suggested he keep it on overnight and decide the next morning.
They woke up to an inundation of supportive comments on Twitter. Some are sharing stories of their own sons wearing nail polish. Others are expressing why they themselves like to wear nail polish. Many are posting photos of famous masculine men like the Rock wearing nail polish. And the rest are just cheering the tot on.
Even some celebrities are showing their support. Super Bowl champion and children’s author Martellus Bennett shared a photo of him and his daughter painting their nails.
“And so earlier this morning I started reading some of the Twitter responses to him and started showing him some of the pictures people were sending of themselves with nail polish on. And his face lit up,” Gouveia says. “He literally squealed and said, ‘People really like me in my nail polish? This is the best ever!’ He was so happy, and it really helped it.”
Gouveia was quite surprised by how much support they received on the social media platform. “Twitter can really be a cesspool of humanity sometimes, but this is a case where the overwhelmingly positive sentiment from Twitter made a difference. It was enough to make him say, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna keep my nail polish on today.'”
Sending his kid back into the trenches wasn’t easy. “I’m always worried that he’ll be bullied for something. And the nail polish paints an easy target on him,” Gouveia admits. “But the last thing I want to do is shut his creativity and expressiveness down just for a need to fit in. So this is definitely the harder path, but I have to believe he’ll be better for it.”
Sam’s dad is not really angry at the kids who tormented the little kid. “Kids learn things from their parents,” he says, and Greenberg agrees. “It could even be that these bullies, every time they reach for a ‘female’ toy in their home, their parents tell them that is sissy behavior or something. They are probably just parroting what they hear at home,” she says.
Gouveia thinks there’s more to it. “I think they get hit with gender marketing in commercials and movies, and it sinks in,” he says. “And it’s little things that I think parents don’t think of, like when you’re playing baseball with your son and you’re like, ‘Come on don’t throw like a girl.’ It’s not a huge thing on its own, but when you pile it together with all those other things, it has a cumulative effect, so it’s something to watch.”
The father of three is the first to admit he didn’t get it at first. “I’m not perfect. I was guilty of that,” he says. “He’s my second son. I’ve kind of had the practice run.” Gouveia’s oldest son, who’s 10 now, also showed interest in things like nail polish. “And I was never against it, but I was more uncomfortable with it, and I realized what an idiot I was being.”
When his first son was born, his wife put pink socks on him and his reaction was, “Ehhh … pink socks?” But she told him to stop being an idiot. “I said, ‘OK, you’re right.’ But that was still my first reaction … and ever since then I’ve been absolutely fine with it. It doesn’t faze me at all; Sam’s got tons of different varied interests, and I support all of them.”
Sam likes stuffed animals, carrying things around in one of his many purses, having a catch in the yard, and karate, to name a few. His favorite toy is a miniature tea set that his grandparents gave him. “He loves it. He plays with that thing all the time.”
After this experience, Gouveia asked Sam to paint his dad’s nails for the first time. Sam picked out the color “Main Squeeze” for his dad.
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