One of the most difficult things to see as a parent is your child upset after being bullied or made fun of. Their tears and emotional pain become yours, and you want to make sure you do everything in your power to protect them. While it's so important to teach your child to treat others how they want to be treated and not be a bully, you also need to teach them to have the courage to stand up to bullies and help protect those they're hurting.
Before bullying was such a rampant and horrific problem in schools like it is today, 10-year-old me was targeted by a group of girls in middle school. It started with one, the obvious ring leader, but it didn't take long for others to follow her lead. I didn't understand it, because these girls were my supposed "best friends" only days earlier.
Bullying led to insecurities and self-doubt that, I'm sad to say, have followed me well into my 30s.
I was a vibrant little girl, full of energy, and always up for a good time. I was voted "cutest fifth grade girl" (which really shouldn't have even been a superlative!), had a modeling contract, and booked a commercial that same year. While things never got physical, I was put down, purposely left out, loudly whispered about, and had terrible rumors spread about me. After a while, I began to believe the things they were saying, which led to insecurities and self-doubt that, I'm sad to say, have followed me well into my 30s.
When I found myself in a similar situation in high school, I truly began to believe there was something wrong with me. A few of the same girls from middle school participated in the high school bullying, which included things like writing "I'm fat" in permanent marker on my locker and waiting around the corner to see my reaction.
During these years of bullying, no one was standing up for me, comforting me (other than my family), or reaching out to offer a kind word or acknowledge what was happening. I vowed then that when I had children of my own, they would not only never BE the bully, but they would be the one there FOR the bullied. My family was there as much as they could be, but I was never validated among my peers, which only sustained my feelings of self-doubt.
I just pray I'll never have to look into the eyes of my children and see the hurt that I once felt.
As a parent, it's my responsibility to teach my children compassion. I want them to see those who may need a friend and step up. I do this by having conversations about what positive friendships look like; that a friend is someone who helps you feel good about yourself, someone you have fun with, and someone you trust with sharing your feelings. I cultivate their individual interests and allow them to develop different social groups and relationships. Does your child enjoy playing a sport or have a passion for cooking? Being part of a team, club, or group teaches partnership and cooperation. This offers children the opportunity to have a social network of people with shared interests and goals, a network from which they are more likely to have someone stand by them during trying times.
Lastly, and most importantly, you have to model the right kinds of behavior. Consciously and subconsciously, our children look to us for examples of how to be. By demonstrating care, concern, and empathy for others, we empower our kids to do the same. At the end of the day, I just pray I'll never have to look into the eyes of my children and see the hurt that I once felt. We need to do better.