Don't you love it when your kids set up their own teaching moment? It can make things so much easier!
Every year for Christmas, Caleb gets two Christmas Eve presents: a pair of pajamas and a book. Last year, he got a first book of bible stories. He gets to pick 2 or 3 books (or stories from books) to read at bedtime each night, and for the past few nights, he has picked bible stories. Tonight, he picked the stories of Cain & Abel, Joseph, and Daniel. I was about halfway through Daniel's story when I realized he had inadvertently set a theme for his stories: jealousy. I could not pass up the teaching moment, so after I finished reading, we discussed what jealousy was, how it could make people feel, and how it can cause people to be mean to others. It was actually a perfect segue into another discussion I wanted to have: bullying.
I'm sure we have all heard the stories recently about kids killing themselves or others after enduring often years of being bullied. These stories are so heartbreaking, and so preventable. I read a blog post earlier from Dan at Single Dad Laughing. Dan couragously shares his personal experience as a survivor of horrific bullying at the hands of his classmates. Please, take a moment to read it. Like, now. I'll wait right here.
The post brought tears to my eyes for many reasons. My heart ached for the young boy who endured such torture. I relished his triumph over all those years of darkness. I am in awe of the courage it took to recount his story after so many years.
I, too, was bullied in 5th and 6th grade, although nowhere close to the level of cruelty Dan experienced. You see, I blossomed early, as they say. And quickly. I skipped the trainer and was wearing a bra in the 5th grade. This made me a prime target for taunts by my classmates, boys and girls alike. I believe this was due partially to jealousy (on the girls' part, of course), confusion caused by the newly flowing hormones, and misunderstandings. The girls, sometimes behind my back, sometimes to my face, would pull out the front of their shirts to mimic breasts and laugh. More than once, I was asked if I was having a baby. I was mortified, and tried to hide my body beneath bulky clothes. I also started seeking comfort in food, which of course just made matters worse. By the 6th grade, more of the other girls had starting developing as well, so the taunting moved into picking on my clothes. I had very little interest in popular fashion (I still could care less), but in an effort to fit in better, I tried to conform more. With very little luck; I honestly had no clue. Girls can be particulary cruel. The boys had pretty much backed off by then. I credit an awesome (and gorgeous) best friend with helping me grow and maintain a healthier self image, and learn to embrace my personal style (or lack of same). I refused to let the bullies get to me, and eventually, they gave up and moved on. I also credit my interest in art for helping save my sanity. I had an outlet for the emotions I was otherwise hiding from the world, and I think it made a huge difference.
That was around 20 (ugh!) years ago, and I still see some lingering effects of the minor bullying I experienced. To this day, I have trouble trusting people who are being friendly to me. I find myself expecting a cruel prank meant to humiliate me. I have a wonderful group of friends, but I sometimes wonder what their motives are. The funniest thing about it, I never had an experience that would explain those feelings. But I was always expecting it. That seems to have stuck with me. I can only imagine how more extreme bullying has effected others.
So, it has always been my goal to make sure Caleb grows up being a kind person. Tonight, after our little discussion of jealousy, we talked about bullies and bullying. He has some understanding of what bullying is. Luckily, he has had grown up with a great group of classmates for the last 3 years.
Oh, don't think for a moment that kindergarden is too young to be worried. Read some of the comments on Dan's post. It starts early. I have seen how some kids on the playground taunt other kids. Girls, particularly.
But, Caleb has not experienced anything as of yet. But we still talked about what to do if he feels like he is being bullied. Especially, talking to someone about it. We talked about how it would make another kid feel if Caleb was the bully. And how it would make me feel. And, I think an often overlooked point of view on the subject, what to do if he sees another kids being bullied. His eyelids were drooping by this time, but I think he still got the point.
We can end the current epidemic of bullying if we all show a little more love for our kids. And I don't just mean the kids who share your DNA. I mean all of our kids.
If you are a parent, let your kids know they are loved, they are valuable, and they are wanted, more than anything in this world. Encourage them to talk, if not to you, then to someone. A trusted teacher, a grandparent, even a friends' parent. Start now, don't wait until you see signs. By the time you see the signs, it may be too late.
If you are a teacher, open your eyes and your hearts. If you see an actual or potential bullying situation, PLEASE DON'T TURN AROUND!! I have seen this happen, and it is heartbreaking. You can identify the bullies and the targets on the first day of school. Find a way to diffuse the situation before it happens. Help them get to know one another, and show all of your students how special each and every one of them is. I know that school policies sometimes tie your hands in such situations. But we are talking about kids' lives. Damn the job, HELP THAT KID!
Everyone can live the example, be the change. Be kind, please. Kind words, kind thoughts, kind actions. This can make all the difference. Have you ever seen that commercial (I can't remember what it is for, sorry) where one person's kind action inspires another's? Have you heard that country song on the same theme? Have you read (or seen) Pay It Forward? That is what I'm talking about.
I had no idea when I started my day that this would be the post I would be writing today. Single Dad Laughing unlocked the door. Caleb opened it up for me. They both lead me through. Dan's courage and Caleb's accidental wisdom compelled me to put my thoughts out there.
You will rarely see me quote the bible here, but this is one of the few times: Faith, Hope & Love. The greatest of these is LOVE. (1 Corinthians 13:13) Thank you, Google. Truer words have never been spoken.