Bullying and Belonging

It starts with committing to creating a caring and nurturing environment

by Tamara Fyke

butterflyMy son was about eight years old, and he was in second grade. I found him one day upstairs in his room crying.

“What’s going on, sweetie?” I asked with great concern.

“I’m stupid. The other kids are reading chapter books, and I can’t. They make fun of me,” he confessed.

I promised him that we would get help, figure out what was going on. I held him and reassured him of my love as he wept. I whispered the truth to him that he was the most special little boy in the world to me.

From that moment, we began the investigation with reading specialists and tutors. He even got glasses. We were on our way to a better school experience.

But the teasing didn’t stop. Now my son was laughed at because he wore glasses. The kid just couldn’t get a break!

We had another tearful conversation, and I encouraged my boy to stand up for himself. “Tell them to stop. And if they don’t, ask a teacher for help.”

My son’s story isn’t unique or particularly severe, but it affected his heart and his view of school. To this day he tells me that his favorite experience was preschool because he got to ride the bikes in the gym. That makes sense because he’s a boy and an athlete. However, I wonder if the fondness of that memory is also because he was in a nurturing environment.

sad boyAccording to stopbullying.gov, “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior — verbal, social or physical — among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.”

The current popularity of the Netflix hit show 13 Reasons Why is evidence that this is a story that resonates with kids. Additionally, a recent social media post about bullying on our Love In A Big World FaceBook page prompted the greatest response we’ve ever seen. That tells me that people are looking for answers.

First, bullying is not relegated to childhood. As an adult, I have experienced bullying in relationships and in the workplace. Often, schools that have the biggest problems with bullying are the ones where teachers don’t get along. We owe it to ourselves and our kids to get our act together. The gossip, backbiting, and meanness must stop. Instead, let’s get to know each other and cultivate healthy relationships both in and out of the workplace.

planting seedsSecond, as in my son’s case, bullying often hurts us most when it targets areas in which we feel weak. Therefore, it behooves us to increase our own self-awareness and do the personal work we need to do to better love ourselves. We needed to find out the root of my son's problem so we could get him the support he needed. Whether the challenge is intellectual, mental, social or physical, there are resources available to assist us on our journey to wholeness. There is no shame in asking for help.

And last, we all know bullying is a problem; this is nothing new. Years ago, bullying was often regarded as a right of passage experience. When the underdog stood up to the bully, he or she  became the hero. What I think is different now is that the stakes are higher. This is no longer about a bloody nose on a playground; this is about life and death, in some cases homicide or suicide. Therefore, we must take action.

sunflowersFrom a positive youth development approach, it is about decreasing risk factors and increasing protective factors. This does not mean putting up posters that say “No Bullying Zone.” It means rolling up our sleeves and doing the hard work of having the critical conversations with adults and kids that need to be had because relationships matter… people count!

We must choose Kindness — treating others the way we want to be treated. Yes, what I’m advocating for takes time… it’s neither glamorous nor complicated. We must be committed to creating a caring and nurturing environment, starting with a smile, a positive attitude and kind words. We need to build each other up, not tear each other down.

The simple truth is we all want to be seen and safe; we have a need to belong. So, let’s challenge ourselves to experience life with our whole heart engaged — and teach our kids to do the same.

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