When I was in 4th grade, I bullied someone.
I’m nervous to admit this, but it’s true.
The girl I bullied was very pretty, with gorgeous brown hair. And big curly locks. Her stay-at-home mom put her hair in a bow each day. Her clothes were new and clean and pressed, many of them hand-made by her mom. I think she had one younger brother. She was quiet and sweet.
Wearing my mostly too small, hand-me-down clothes, I was jealous. I’d had a short “pixie cut” since about age 5 because it was easier for my mom and older sister. I had 5 siblings. My mom and dad both worked. There wasn’t a lot of extra time for hand-made clothes or one on one attention. I was a tomboy.
I tell my perception of her life and mine because my young mind made up a lie that life was unfair. The other girl had what I thought I wanted. Her life looked perfect to me. I didn’t know her well or what it was like inside her house. I was jealous and I resorted to bullying because of my thinking.
My 9 year old brain thought like this:
It’s not fair that her mom makes her clothes and does her hair each day.
I should have clothes like that.
My mom should let me grow my hair out.
It’s not fair that her mom pays so much attention to her.
It’s not fair that she is so sweet and quiet and pretty.
I should be more girlie like her.
These thoughts made me feel angry. The action I took as a result of the thoughts and anger I felt was to lash out with mean words, chasing and gum in her beautiful hair.
I still remember that while I was bullying her, I knew my actions were wrong. I was angry at her and ashamed of myself at the same time – a hot mess of emotions. I needed adult guidance. I needed to get my thoughts out of my head. The thoughts were causing me a lot of pain – but of course I didn’t understand it at the time. I didn’t have anyone to talk to – well, I might have had someone, but I didn’t know to reach out. I didn’t know to ask for help or for someone to listen to my painful thinking. I’m pretty sure my parents were not aware of what was happening at school.
If I’d only known that my thoughts weren’t true. If I’d only had someone who could spend time listening to my limiting beliefs and show me that I could focus my thoughts in a way that empowered me.
I don’t spend a lot of time with the “if onlys”. I look back and see that I was meant to bully in 4th grade. My childhood experiences, and maybe especially this one, led me to coaching. I understand now what was happening and why I bullied. I’m passionate about empowering parents and their kids to understand it, too so we can put and end to bullying and violence.
Bullying is an action. Anyone can bully; I don’t believe anyone IS a bully.
This is what I think everyone needs to understand:
#1. Negative thoughts and self image cause awful feelings: Like when a child believes they have it bad and others have it better. They might even believe THEY are bad. It’s not true, but the child who bullies doesn’t know this and they feel terrible as a result of their thinking.
#2. Feelings lead to action: Kids are very in touch with their feelings. Kids experience feelings intensely. Think about your kids (or anyone) and the way they act when they are tired, happy, sad, angry.
#3: Actions create results: Bullying is an action. It looks like teasing, unkind words, mild and escalating violence. Their are also actions that are self inflicted that can come from feeling awful about oneself.
#4: We all understand the results that can come from bullying. Sadness, separation, low self-esteem, and worse.
Interestingly, the result of bullying can prove the child’s thoughts about herself.
A humiliated and ashamed child, humiliates and shames another child. And I will bet that just like me, the child who bullies, ends up feeling more humiliated and ashamed as a result of their actions.
What we resist, persists.
We have to help kids with their thoughts. Listen to your kids. Clear out your own negative beliefs and listen to your kids.
I believe being a devoted listener for our children is one of the best ingredients for helping them build self esteem and love for themselves. If you can help them find thoughts that empower them, even better. If you can’t, get a coach or therapist to help.
And if your child won’t talk to you. Notice. Pay attention. Talk to their teacher. Keep paying attention, keep noticing, inquire. If you can’t, get someone to help you.
If you are a kid who’s hurting: Please reach out to an adult you trust. Many adults want to help. And it may surprise you how many adults have felt the same as you at sometime in their life.
I think about that little girl with the beautiful hair. Sometimes, I worry about how I hurt her. I hope with all my heart that she found the kind of tools I’ve found. When I remember her, I wish her happiness and I send love her way.
If I knew where she was, I would apologize. And listen to her with love.
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