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There's No Such Thing As A Bully: Turning the Tables

The author shares an important phase of parenting a bullied child.

Life isn’t about what happens to you, it’s about how you respond to what happens to you. That’s what I’ve always told my kids. The concept became especially relevant when my son was being bullied.

We’d gone through the various emotions a family encounters when raising a bullied child—denial, disbelief, anger, frustration and, finally, acceptance.

We reported every incident respectfully and tried everything to get the other children to stop—with little success, at first. It was then we realized that we had to do whatever it took to help our son build the confidence and self-esteem he needed to flourish, despite the way he was treated.

Life can be challenging and people can be cruel. We wanted him to know that his positive self-image had to come from within. If he depended on others to make him happy, or feel good about himself, he’d likely have a rocky road ahead.

It worked, and we’re grateful every day that we made the choices we made. The bullying stopped, and my son began to develop a strong circle of friends with his same interests.

You might think that would be the end of the story—but it doesn’t stop there.

Every experience can influence how a child views the world. I’ve seen many bullied children become so desperate not to be the one “at the bottom of the food chain” that they’ll do anything to climb to the top—even if it means turning the tables. They become the bully and treat others badly who they may consider friends—just to avoid being the target.

It’s heartbreaking to watch.

Our experience had become an opportunity. We’d helped our child survive being the victim of bullying behavior, and it was time to allow that to help him build compassion and empathy—become a better person.

Some have commented to me that bullying is a good thing because it builds confidence. I couldn’t disagree more. Bullying is unacceptable, and if I had the choice, my son wouldn’t have had this experience. It’s damaging and life-altering.

But when I asked my son if it was OK with him for me to mention what happened to him in my books and columns, he responded by saying, “Mom, if that helps even one kid who is being bullied, it makes what I went through almost worth it.”

Life isn’t about what happens to you, it’s about how you respond to what happens to you. Being bullied doesn’t make you stronger, using every life experience to build compassion, empathy and make you a better person does. 

Taryn Grimes-Herbert is a screenwriter, performer, the author of the I’ve Got character-building book series for children, and was 2010’s Woman of Achievement in the Arts Honoree for Orange County, NY. Calling upon her professional acting experience on Broadway, film and television, she speaks out and takes her books into classrooms hoping to help kids build character, develop empathy and learn to create a positive future through creative dramatics activities.

Her books can also be found on Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.

For more information visit: http://www.ivegotbooks.netFacebook.

Kathy Plachy March 09, 2012 at 03:04 PM
While I agree that parents of bullied children can help by encouraging self-esteem that is not dependent on the opinions of others, it may be a mistake to take too simple an approach to this problem. First, there are many different levels of bullying. The child who is just randomly picked by other children as "the one we don't like" is in a different situation than the child who is very different, and is victimized because of appearance, their race or economic background, a disability, or their adherence to an accepted gender type. This second type of bullying is actually supported and accepted by the attitudes of some adults. As a parent, and a former PTA and Girl Scout volunteer, I found direct evidence of this...kids whose families had attitudes towards people who they perceived as different or just "other," and those attitudes were passed on to their children. I think that we need to start by changing the cultural atmosphere that gives some people, in all age groups, victim status. I also think that we need to stop making excuses for kids who feel the need to pick on someone else. We almost encourage the aggressive attitudes of bullies, or dismiss it as funny or inconsequential. But who knows all of the negative, long term affects on our children...from the child who is bullied to the child who grows up thinking it is ok to treat others badly.
Taryn Grimes-Herbert March 09, 2012 at 05:51 PM
Agreed, Kathy. It's a fine line--but encouraging self-esteem is in no way a simple approach. It's an everyday effort--one that takes time, patience, and excellent communication with your child. That said, you are right that recognizing the signs and taking appropriate action based on the level of every incident (as I've discussed in many of my columns) is key.
BG7 March 09, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Yes, when I was the smallest kid in my class of 50 being picked on by the largest and most aggressive skinhead in my 1970's class, towering a couple of feet above me and twice my weight, self-esteem nuturing would have been a great help.
Taryn Grimes-Herbert March 09, 2012 at 10:11 PM
BG7, please read previous columns, and you'll see where the self-esteem approach has value--in particular, when the suicide rate of bullied children rises so drastically. Obviously, as I have expressed in many columns, we need to protect our kids from physical attacks, but we can't stop there.
EHC March 09, 2012 at 10:46 PM
Please read this column about being ostracized. Go to www.delanceyplace.com "the pain of exclusion" Yet another problem among students and grownups.

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