When I was in 4th grade, I bullied someone.
So hard to admit this, but it’s true.
The girl I bullied was very pretty. She had long, curly, gorgeous 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. She was quiet and sweet. A living doll. In my young mind, she had the whole of her mom’s attention.
Wearing my mostly too small, hand-me-down clothes, I was jealous. I’d had a “pixie cut” since about age 5. When my hair was longer, I screamed every time my mom and sister came near me with a brush, so short hair was the answer. I competed for attention with five siblings. My parents worked all day. There wasn’t a lot of time for hand-made clothes or one on one attention. I was a scruffy tomboy.
I tell my perception of her life and mine because I’d 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. I resorted to bullying because of the stories I’d made up about her life and mine.
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.
- If my life were different, I’d be sweet and quiet and pretty like her.
- I should be more girlie.
These thoughts made me feel angry and sad. As a result of the anger and sadness that I couldn’t really let myself feel, I lashed out with mean words, chasing on the playground and gum in her beautiful hair.
I still remember that while I was bullying her, I knew what I was doing was wrong. I was angry at that little girl 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. I needed someone to show me how to feel my emotions. My beliefs were causing me a lot of pain – but I didn’t understand it at the time. I didn’t have anyone to talk to and I didn’t know to reach out. I didn’t know to ask for help. There was no one to listen to my painful thinking and to comfort me while I cried.
If I’d only known that my thoughts weren’t true. If only someone would have spent time listening to me and helping me understand that we all create painful stories – no matter what our circumstances are in life.
If an adult could have shown me then that I could focus my thoughts in a way that empowered me, I probably wouldn’t have been so mean to that girl. (and to myself)
I don’t spend a lot of time with the “if onlys”. I can see now that I was meant to bully in 4th grade. My childhood experiences, and maybe especially this one, led me to who I am now. Now I see what was happening and why I bullied. This knowledge has empowered me to help parents and their kids understand it, too.
The bully label is limiting. Bullying is an action. Anyone can act like a bully, but there is no such thing as a Bully. If we remove the label of Bully, we can begin to understand why it happens and change it.
This is what I think everyone needs to understand:
#1. Negative thoughts and self image cause awful feelings
When a child believes that they have it bad and others have it better – it’s very painful. Children might even believe that they are bad. It’s not true, but the child who bullies doesn’t know this and feels terrible as a result of their thinking about themselves.
#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 behave when they are tired, happy, sad, angry. But what many adults do is model and teach children not to feel their emotions! We show kids how to avoid, brush off and skip over negative emotions. The result is our feelings get bottled up and many of us explode (hello, bullying!) because bottled up feelings can be harmful. We need to allow feelings to come. When we do, they quickly go.
#3: Actions create results
Bullying is an action. It can look like teasing, unkind words, mild or escalating violence. Some actions that come from feeling especially awful about oneself are self inflicted and devastating.
#4: We all understand the results that can come from bullying
Sadness, separation, low self-esteem, and much worse.
What’s very interesting is that the result of bullying can be more evidence for the child’s negative thoughts about herself.
A humiliated and ashamed child, then humiliates and shames another child. And I bet that just like it was for me, the child who bullies ends up feeling more humiliated and ashamed as a result of their bullying actions.
We have to help children with their thoughts and feelings. How do we help:
Love yourself. Do the work you need to do to get yourself to a neutral, loving place within yourself.
Listen to your children with devotion and like your life and theirs depends on it.
Feel your emotions and model what it’s like for your kids.
Allow your children to process all of their emotions.
Be present. Spend unconditional time with your kids.
Talk & lecture less.
Listen, listen, and then listen one minute longer.
Love them and never ever stop.
And if your child won’t talk to you. Notice. Pay attention. Talk to their teachers. Keep paying attention, keep noticing, inquire. If you can’t help or have difficulty talking to your kids, get someone to help you like a therapist or coach.
If you are a child who’s hurting: Please reach out to an adult you trust. Many 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 beautiful girl with the gorgeous hair. Sometimes, I worry about how I hurt her and wonder if she’s ok. 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.