Thank you for visiting this page! If you prefer, you can read these stories from my home page under the “bullying” category on the right side bar. There you will find a little snippet of each story, then you can chose which ones you would like to read. Or you can just read on from here. Please also have a look at why I started this blog. You will find this on the “bullying” page on the menu bar, just before you select this page. I hope you can join me as I try to change people’s perceptions and take a stand to stamp out bullying for good…
“The up side of bullying, if there is one…”
Have you ever sat back and thought about the challenges that our kids face in everyday life? Why are they so different to those we faced when we were growing up? Or are they?
Today’s world is a whole different landscape than when we were kids. My own kids often ask me “What was it like in the olden days mum?” Olden days! I’m only 42 guys! Yes, we had cars, yes we had TV, yes we went to school! But no we didn’t have the internet, and no we didn’t have all the other forms of social media that are as dominant and as all consuming as those in today’s world.
Our kids are faced with a host of new issues that plague society because of social media. People tend to think they can write what they want about someone and hide behind the security of the computer screen because it’s not a face-to-face interaction. Sadly, some people actually get pleasure out of trying to destroy someone else. Others however do it without thinking how their words might impact on that person’s perception of themselves and their self-esteem. Don’t get me wrong, I love technology, it lets us do all sorts of things we never thought possible, but it also means that all the bullying that goes on in the schoolyard, just doesn’t stop when kids go home. It’s relentless and leaves them with nowhere to run.
If you are anything like me, you have had to, at some stage, navigate your kids through some type of bullying. Hey, we still have to deal with it as adults! Those kids that bullied us at school, are probably somewhere out there doing the same thing to others right now, in their workplaces, schools and anywhere else they get the chance. It is often these people who raise kids just like them. Awesome isn’t it? Not! I had a dad a few years back yell at me at a kids’ footy game because of malicious gossip spawned by his own jealous, conceited, manipulative wife, who spun a web of lies to make the horrible truth about her son’s bullying behaviour towards my son, seem bearable! In these situations we have two options, we can withdraw, take in the abuse, internalise it and let it impact our own opinions of ourselves, or we can stand up, tackle the issue head on and teach our kids that people like this will be forever present in our lives. The later has always been my choice of action. Our kids need to understand that it is these people who are the ones with the problem, hence their need to attack others to make themselves feel better, while gathering an entourage of like minded, simple people to join them in their pitiful crusade against their own misguided existence.
My son was bullied at different stages of primary school, by the son of those parents I mentioned above. Surprise! How can a child act any differently with an example like that! We found out it was happening by noticing a change in his behaviour. Our once happy, energetic boy was suddenly withdrawn and quiet, had stopped riding his motorbike and doing the things that he loved. When we approached him about it, he didn’t know what to say, he was only 9, and could not articulate his feelings. We never dropped the case though, and kept asking him about his day, every day, and how he enjoyed it. Over time he began to talk about how his day went and we began to understand that he was being bullied. My husband and I however, refused to let this become a problem. We recognised the calibre of the person instigating this behaviour and proceeded down a long, windy, sometimes difficult path, of teaching our son how to deal with such a person, and even more important, how not to allow these negative taunts and words become his defining notion of who he was.
It was not an easy task, it meant lots and I mean lots of talking, which can be exhausting when life is so busy with work, our own problems, commitments, activities, the list goes on, but our involvement in our kids’ lives is crucial. We spoke constantly, before school, after school, at dinner, at bedtime at 11.00 at night, later at night, anytime, anywhere. We spoke about everything and anything, we made sure that the communication channels were always open, and that no subject was off limits. We let him know that his needs were paramount and that we were always there for him. We told him that it didn’t matter how silly he thought something was, he needed to tell us about it, because if it meant something to him, it meant something to us. We explained to him the type of person this kid was, and that maybe he lashed out because of his own problems. We never forgot to have fun with our son, and dropped the whole we are adults you do as we say tactic, and focused more on hey, we love you, you mean the world to us, we are a family not a dictatorship, we work things out together. We made examples of bullying from TV programs, observations of people’s behaviour, books, just everyday life, and discussed ways those situations could be dealt with. We made sure that at the end of everyday, we sat as a family and talked. Sometimes we talked heaps, sometimes we just sat and watched TV. But we were there. We praised all his good points, but still picked him up on his actions that needed to be addressed. We never once told him that he was absolutely perfect and couldn’t improve, no one can ever wear that hat, but we never quashed his self-esteem, and always encouraged him to do things he was good at. Some things seemed so small and worthless, but they were not. They helped build his confidence and gave him a sense of accomplishment. We told him how awesome he was, and how so many people loved him. We told him how he enriched our lives and brightened up the room with just his smile and presence. We did the same with his younger sister, who, through this entire journey, amazingly picked up so many life lessons, that she too has developed a wonderful sense of resilience and self-belief and respect.
Another thing we did was that we made sure that the playroom was in the family room. Who cared if there were toys everywhere when visitors came! If it bothered them, they were not welcome! We did this to encourage constant communication, and to enforce the knowledge that he was never alone. We made sure our computer was on the kitchen bench so we always knew who was looking at what, and we made sure that we were involved in everything he was doing. This was not a time for a lot of “me time”, it was a time for family.
Sure there were hard, stressful times when one of us lost it, but hey we are human! It was important in these situations however, to explain our actions and why we acted the way we did. It’s important for our kids to know that we are human.
Our school principal had told me during this time, that a bit of bullying is character building. She said this in front of the mother of the boy who was hurting my son. If I could have slapped the dirty smile off that mother’s face when she heard that, I would have gladly done so! But violence doesn’t solve anything and I am not a violent person! I have to admit though, the feeling was there! I wondered why a principal would say something so controversial and in my eyes, so wrong. It felt as though she was giving kids the green light to act however they pleased with no regard to social values and respect for others. It is unfortunately true to some extent, being exposed to some, and only some bullying behaviour while growing up, does teach kids how to deal with bullies. The odd taunt or remark is something everyone has to cope with, but when the behaviour is repeated, it becomes a dangerous problem. I often wonder, why do we need to teach our kids how to deal with a bully? What kind of demented psychological make up does a bully have that leads them to want to hurt someone physically or mentally, on purpose? It’s disturbing, but we need to understand that most of these people don’t have an epiphany one day and wake up different, so we need to teach our kids how to deal with these personalities, and develop their inner strength, self-belief and self-respect so that they can handle themselves in these situations.
We stressed to our son that violence was not the answer. That it takes a better person to stand tall, draw on their own self-confidence, self-belief and strength, look the bully in the eye, retaliate with an intelligent remark or response and walk away. We told him that he must stand up for himself, and laugh off his taunts, because they were meaningless. We told him to see the amusing side of the mental abuse, because he should never believe that this person’s opinion of him was the truth, when it was only based on jealousy and hate. We told him this because he had tried to ignore him and walk away from him over and over again, but it had never worked, he just kept following him around and continuing his pathetic tirade. We thought at the beginning of this saga, that if our son ignored him, the kid would eventually stop. But he didn’t, so we encouraged him to stand up for himself.
Over the course of this journey, and to this day, we have developed not only a deep, emotional connection with our son, but a friendship that goes beyond the role of parent and child. Our patience, understanding and constant communication with him, has led to the development of a strong, confident, funny, gifted, amazing young man with a heart of gold and a wonderful sense of self-belief. To this day, he reflects on those times and has the heart to say, “I hope he is alright”. Wow, that’s way beyond anything I would be capable of, I’d just say, “Suffer in your jocks!” But he is better than me. His self-esteem is great, his love of life, family, friends, even greater but it could have been so different, it could have been a disaster. We are forever thankful for the way he accepted our guidance, and to a higher being for giving us the patience to help us work through it. When he is confronted with a similar situation now at the ripe old age of 13, he is able to put it in perspective, and realise that these words from these people are really just words. Words spoken or written by some lonely, misguided perhaps insecure person who feels they need to put someone else down in order to make themselves feel better. Sad that some people get off on such things, but that’s the ugly truth about life.
Yes, there are still times when he needs a recap on these valuable life lessons, but that’s ok, we all need a point of reference, a refresher course if you like, every now and then. Our job as parents never stops, we can never sit back and say job done. We must always be in constant communication with our kids and be there for them in every sense of the word. We must never let our kids believe that they are alone. They must understand that every problem has a solution and together, you will find it.
Our son was targeted because he is an all round good kid. He is handsome, kind, caring, loyal, a great friend, all those things that some people just can’t deal with. He had also developed a great friendship with this other boy’s best friend. All these things combined, had created a sense of jealously, possessiveness, hate and maybe even a feeling of being threatened, in this other boy. Other kids are targeted for different reasons, but it is not the reason that is the problem, it is the fallout from bullying that is, for the victim and also for the bully. We must understand that we are dealing with children, children who make mistakes. My father always told me when I was a child, “If you understand more than someone else, then understand their ignorance”. So true, but so hard.
My husband and I are not trained psychiatrists or psychologists, we are just parents. This was our experience. There were no textbooks involved in determining our approach to this issue, just the undying, unconditional love we have for our child.
There are situations where a child will need professional intervention, and this cannot be ignored. There is no shame in that, the only shame would be in not giving a child the help they need. There is nothing to lose but so much to gain.
It’s important that our kids understand who they are as people and accept their good and bad points, after all no-one is perfect. They must also possess a great deal of self-respect and self-belief. These gifts, you can call them, need to be instilled in them from a young age, but it is never too late. We need to provide them with these tools so that they can build the necessary resilience to get through the various problems life will throw their way. Repeated bullying is a huge problem with devastating consequences, and must be dealt with quickly and firmly. We must however also be realistic enough to realise, that it’s ok that sometimes our kids are challenged by some smart alec kid with nothing better to do. It’s ok, because with your help, guidance and patience, you will equip your child with the necessary traits and tools to tackle these situations in life, and a whole lot more.
“Pick on somebody your own size!”
A few years ago when my daughter was 4 years old and in kinder, I was putting her to bed one night. She looked at me with her beautiful big brown eyes, graced with long, thick, dark eyelashes that look like butterfly wings and said, “Mummy, I’m not beautiful because I’m not tall!” She then started to cry. Tears welled up in my eyes and I felt the sudden need to scoop her up with both arms, wrap her up in cotton wool, and protect her forever from this big, sometimes horrible world. Here we go I thought, I knew this would happen.
I asked her who would say something like that, but the answer didn’t matter. She told me it was a little boy at kinder who was the same height as her! How ironic, I thought! But it wasn’t just him, other kids were saying it too. I wanted to tell her that they were just being silly, but it was true. She was and still is, small for her age. Very petite, small, thin, but with a face that could melt ice. I decided to be upfront and honest, I knew that this would be something that she would have to deal with on many occasions, so instead of trying to make her feel better, I started to teach her to accept herself for who she was, and to love herself for it. After all, no one is perfect! “So what!”, I said, “Yes, you are small, but hey, so am I!” (Yes, it’s true, I stand at a massive 155cms!) I explained to her that people had tried to put me down my whole life because of my height, but it had never bothered me. Who cares what they think! I told her that sometimes people try to find something in someone else that they can pick on. For some reason it makes them feel better about themselves.
Our society dictates what is considered to be acceptable and what is not. Some people get caught up in these sad, idealistic expectations, and never quite learn how to think for themselves and make their own judgements. How simplistic, how sad, how downright ignorant! They think that they have the right to tell someone else when they fall short of the mark. Why? Why can’t we just accept each other’s differences and celebrate them?
Many mothers have made comments to me about my daughter’s height, as though it’s ok to use her as a point of conversation and to state the obvious. They don’t stop to think about how their comments might affect her when she hears them. How often have I stopped myself from stating the obvious about their child! So many times I have wanted to lash out and say “Yes, she is, and look at your kid, now she’s a bit chubby isn’t she, or gee she’s pretty ugly, the poor thing!” But I can’t. That would be lowering myself to their sad standards, and conflicting against my own.
My daughter still has to deal with the constant taunts and snide remarks about her height. It’s brilliant to see her reaction now, she will come back with something like, “Yeah, I am small, well done for realising that!” It’s amazing to see how people just don’t know how to react to her honesty! I wish I could protect her against what people have to say, but I can’t. It will never go away, we know that, but it’s ok. Together we have understood that some people just don’t think, and say stuff sometimes that they shouldn’t, or even worse, some people say stuff just to be hurtful. We can’t change them, but we can accept and love ourselves for who we are, and let their words bounce off us and have no impact. Their opinions are irrelevant to how we see ourselves because they have no value. It’s great that we are all different, we need to embrace that and accept everyone equally. She gets that now, she knows that she has so many qualities to be thankful for, one of them being that beautiful face that could melt ice!
“Women Behaving Badly…”
I grew up always seeing the good in everyone. Everyone was wonderful in my eyes. I was always worried about hurting someone else’s feelings. Why would someone want to hurt someone else on purpose, I thought, that’s insane! My husband, who is way more streetwise than me, reminded me often, “Be careful, not everyone thinks like you!” Yeah right, I thought, what a sad way to look at life. But he was right. It wasn’t until I was in my mid 30s that my perception of human nature changed forever.
When my son started primary school, I didn’t know many people in our area. We had moved in not long before. Great, I thought, time to make some new friends! On a Year Prep orientation evening, I met a girl who had gone to the same high school as my husband. Awesome, I thought, she seems nice! I liked her instantly, but with her came “someone else”. When this other woman, who we will call Abby, (not her real name) saw me talking to her friend, who we will call Kate, she gave me the ultimate “Hands Off” look, the kind of look you would give someone checking out your husband! My husband and I looked at each other and he said to me “Watch out for that one!” How bad could she be I thought, maybe we can all be friends! But somewhere deep down inside I had an inkling that my husband could be right.
Well, we did all become friends, and more mums came along too. Soon we had a nice little friendship group that met for coffee every Friday morning. I was rapt! I saw the good in all of them, and thought that maybe my first impression of Abby was wrong. Abby did have some great qualities. (Unfortunately she would later prove that she had some bad ones too.) It was fun, my little girl who had not started school yet, had someone to play with and I had, what I thought were great friends. I kept brushing off the strange remarks by Abby, possessive, sometimes, abrupt remarks, towards me and others, that I thought I would just ignore. After a while, Abby and Kate had a falling out.
Kate and I became inseparable. We did everything together, I thought of her as a member of my family. But after a while, it changed. I had never before experienced so many ups and downs in a friendship, and couldn’t understand why it had to be so hard.
Over time, Kate and I started to have our differences, I’m sure we were both to blame. She then made friends with Abby again. I still saw nothing wrong with it, and thought we could all become friends again, but things had changed. Abby gave her the time she needed. I couldn’t, and didn’t want to, commit to dropping our kids off at school in the morning and going out all day until school pick up. I had a little girl I wanted to spend quality time with, and what about all that housey stuff? Who was going to do that? And hey, if I didn’t want to go to the gym with them as a group, why should I? What was this, high school? The occasional coffee in the morning was great, but this was crazy I thought! I wasn’t going to cave into peer group pressure, so I didn’t. And so, it began. It was the beginning of me being ostracised from the group because I was not conforming to their expectations!
To make matters worse, I then discovered that Abby’s son had been bullying my own son (see my post “The up side of bullying…If there is one). Thinking we were all friends, I approached Abby and told her my son did not want to have her son at his birthday party because of what was going on. I understand that this would have been difficult for her to hear, but it was the truth, and I wanted her to hear it from me first. This was not a new concept for her, there had been other kids he had done this to, not only at school, but back in kinder as well, so I had been told by one of her closest friends. Sadly, I don’t think he even knew he was doing anything wrong. He was only a child himself, but his actions had consequences and his parents needed to understand that, for everyone’s sake. Just to add to the problem, my husband had seen through both Abby and Kate way before me, and told me that they were having a negative influence on me and that our friendship was not healthy. He had seen how Abby’s son was treating ours with his own eyes, and told me that he didn’t want them in our house ever again! So I approached her, naively thinking that we could fix the issues between our kids.
This started a series of events that ended up in the principal’s office because she yelled at me in the playground, after yelling at me at a shopping centre! Apparently, she had it on record that I had told another mum that her son was a bully! Even if I did, I wouldn’t have been the first to say it! Her very close friends were saying exactly that, and so much more, the difference was, they were saying it behind her back! My son had mentioned, to this other mum, how he was being treated, after she asked him if they were going to play football together. The cat was out of the bag, so I told her that yes there were problems between them, but I didn’t go into detail and I never called him a bully, at this stage. But it didn’t matter what I said or didn’t say, she ran with what she wanted to hear and spun a web of lies that she ultimately believed to be the truth. It was crazy, abusive text messages, calling me names in front of my little girl, all this because I approached her about her son’s behaviour.
Her husband, who went to knock on someone’s door because their kid was throwing rocks at his, later “advised” me while he was yelling at me at a kids’ footy game, that if there was a problem I should have gone straight to the school, not to his wife. That made no sense to me, as we were friends I thought we could work it out. She was horrible, she used her words like a weapon, and what she said to me was disturbing and hurtful, but you could tell that it gave her pleasure. What kind of a person was this? Who acts in this way? I had never met anyone like her before!
In the meantime, Kate had accused me of betraying her trust. Apparently I had said something personal about her to someone else. It was not true, it was not me that had said it. I know who did, and it was not me. This was nuts, I thought! Needless to say, Kate didn’t believe me, and our friendship ended. It was hard for me at first because I really valued her as a friend, she had meant a lot to me. But as time went by, she showed me exactly who she really was. She would say hello to me when she wasn’t with Abby, but then when she was with her, she would put her head down and ignore me. How sad I thought, my husband had been right about her too! It hurt, heaps, but I knew there was nothing else to do, but move on. Staying in a negative place with negative people adds no value to you and your life, so you must, as hard as it is, make a change for the better.
I walked away from the whole lot of them, to the sounds of lots of murmuring and gossip. They would meet at a tree in the playground before school pick up, and talk. By this stage they had gathered momentum, others, who I didn’t know, had joined them. I knew they were talking about me because the others would look at me as though I was some evil villain, and they never said hello. Even though they had never met me, they didn’t make their own judgements about who I was, they believed Abby and Kate. How childish, I thought, but that is human nature.
I was deliberately keeping to myself, still unsure who I could trust, and scared to get hurt again. I withdrew because I was re-building myself, bit by bit, and learning valuable life lessons. I had never before had to deal with these feelings and they were confronting, to say the least. I knew I had to draw on the incredible anger I was feeling and turn it into something positive. Letting it fester would be dangerous. There was that element of loss of trust, that I mentioned above. How could I trust a new friend again? I worked hard on that one, because I was not going to let these women define my morals and values. They had done enough!
It was hard to walk past that tree every day, at the beginning. I heard what the gossip was saying, that I was untrustworthy, a bitch, a liar, a viper, what rock had I crawled out from under, not a good friend, it went on and on. All this, because I stood up for my son.
I could only imagine how hard it would be for our kids to deal with bullying without the wealth of knowledge that life experience and age gives us. How could they cope with the rumors, the feeling of being left out, the hurt that came with knowing the horrible things that people were saying about you? I suddenly understood my son’s pain and how kids felt in these situations, because I was going through it too. If I hadn’t experienced it for myself, I would never have been able to really understand, fundamentally, what it felt like. I could empathise, I could guess or assume, but I would never actually know.
I couldn’t believe that at this age, I had to deal with this issue! I had two choices, I could wait in my car and not get out and ultimately hide, or I could walk past them and go and pick up my son. Waiting in my car meant, to me, that I was intimidated by them, scared, weak, maybe guilty, and I definitely was not! Well, I chose to walk past them, sometimes through them, every single day. I did this with my head held high because I knew I could, I had done nothing wrong. I was guilty of two things, telling the truth and protecting my son. I knew that I was capable of getting through this ridiculous drama, because I had belief in myself, I respected myself, I had a husband and family that supported me and I had the internal strength to show my kids that bullies are nothing more than a pack of deceitful, undermining, manipulative people, who lash out at others to mask their own insecurities and warped sense of self. On their own they are worthless, but together they are dangerous. I was fortunate enough to not only see it, but to believe it, and lead by example, for the sake of my kids.
I learnt a lot from this experience and it changed me forever. If given the choice I would do it again. I would stand up and tell the truth and I would protect my children without fear of consequence, because at the end of it all, my kids mean so much more to me than some draining, negative, toxic, consuming friendship that was doomed from the start.