I’ve made many mistakes in my life, but I regret one more than any other. When I was 10, I bullied someone else.
I was a shy kid, and after being thrust into a new school became even more introverted. I was having a hell-of a time making friends and feeling like I fit in. Often times, I sat quietly with a group of cool kids that were nice enough to allow me to tag along, wrestling with thoughts in my head — trying hard to find something “cool” to say.
One day a new girl came to our school. Her name was Rachel , I think. She was a reddish blonde, slightly chubby with thick glasses. If that wasn’t enough to make Rachel different, she had an additional burden, she had Down’s Syndrome.
Like any kid, Rachel wanted nothing more than to fit in. She tried hard to be friendly and “normal.” Usually the kids politely tolerated her, but when given an “out,” quickly extricated themselves from her presence. There was always some eye-rolling or talk behind her back. Kids found her friendly-persistence to be annoying. But Rachel was persistent, she kept trying to make friends. And on this day, she tried to integrate herself with my group of friends.
She tried her best to stir up conversation. Each conversational one-liner Rachel threw was met with a brick wall of conceit and smugness from us “cool kids.” Although no one said anything mean to her, it was obvious she was not well-received.
In that moment, I made one of the biggest mistakes in my life. I told her in front of everyone that “we” did not want her around. I don’t know what came over me, I have never been that mean girl. I never thought it was cool to hurt other people’s feelings. It was almost like an out-of-body experience. In my mind, I saw these cool kids (who I desperately wanted to accept me) having a big laugh over it and giving me a high-five. But that’s not what happened. They all just kind of looked at me like “why did you say that to her?”
It was too late, the damage had been done. And I was too proud to say sorry. It has been over two and half decades since that fateful day, but it seems as though it just happened yesterday. I can barely remember what Rachel looked like now (and am not even sure of her name); I hope she doesn’t remember me at all.
I never thought of myself as a bully. I was more likely to be bullied than to bully someone else. But in that moment, I became that horrible kid who beat someone else down emotionally. Even though my bullish behavior didn’t continue with Rachel or anyone else, I was nonetheless a bully in that moment in time. I hope son, you will never become a bully.
How to Stop Kids From Bullying
Teach them empathy. Encourage your kids to assume the feelings of someone else or something else. If your child squishes a snail with his shoe, take that time to examine their behavior. “Now, how would you feel if someone squished you? Think about how much his snail mommy and daddy will miss him.
Build their self-confidence. It is often insecurity that causes bullies to lash out. If your child is self-confidant, they will feel no desire to artificially boost their self-esteem by flooring someone else’s. Compliments, sports, and other activities are ways to boost your child’s confidence.
Give your child an outlet to her emotions. As early as second grade, I began having secrets. There were certain pains and hurts that I didn’t express to my parents. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s just my nature, or I thought they wouldn’t understand or didn’t have time to worry. But I know kids don’t tell their parents everything. Always encourage your kids to express their emotions. That dreaded question which often gets no response, “How was school today?” – is actually necessary. Keep asking and insisting that your child really tell you about their school day, friends, and other relationships.
Keep them safe. Bullies sometimes attack at school because they feel victimized at home. Keep home secure and safe.
Now, I was a pretty empathetic child and I felt safe at home, but I didn’t have self-confidence or an outlet for my emotions. Had I had all four, maybe I wouldn’t hurt Rachel the way I did.