Bullying: a guide to survival from a victim’s perspective.

Over on More to Be, I wrote about surviving bullying from the perspective of a person who had been through extreme bullying and not only survived, but has devoted a part of her life to helping people overcome the painful moments in their lives.

Join me on More to Be and Be part of the conversation:

http://www.moretobe.com/2013/04/01/bullies-and-perspective-gained-from-a-victim/

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Lesson in loving others…even when I don’t want to.

by Jennifer Dyer

This past weekend we hosted a slumber party to a gaggle of fourth-grade girls. For the most part, we had a fun time.

However…

With Rachel’s autism, big groups of people present a challenge. The noise, the disruption to her environment, and her self-stim behaviors all cause issues. She gets very excited to have people around, but she may strip to just her undershirt and bottoms. Rachel will laugh with excitement, but it might be only an inch from someone’s face. She sometimes makes a mess when she potties, although she cleans it up. She can’t speak clearly yet, and she doesn’t understand social cues.

Add all of those up, and big problems result, the kind that often result in tears either in myself or eldest.

This weekend was no exception. For the children we did not know well, I tried to give a brief explanation of autism, but there was too much birthday party excitement. In retrospect, I should have asked the parents to prepare children ahead of time. The problem was the people unaware of Rachel and her issues didn’t RSVP…

So, a few of the children were mean to Rachel. One made fun of her and imitated her noises and movements, even pulling up her shorts to look more like Rachel. Ugh. My stomach clenches when I write this. It makes me ill to think of someone being so cruel. Another little girl made some rude comments about Rachel and autistic people in general.

What to do?

Eldest ended up in tears after the “making fun of Rachel” incident. Yet, in the midst of that pain, three of the other girls came to Rachel’s defense. How wonderful is that? Furthermore, my sister went upstairs to check on the tears and wound up having a very nice talk about autism with the girls in slumber party pow-wow fashion. I think it made a big difference to the girls, and it was something I could not have done emotionally.

After the party, however, I was left with a big issue. Eldest was still hurting. Tears brimming in her eyes, she clenched her fists. “Why does Rachel have to be autistic anyway?”

My heart squeezed. I have asked that question myself. “I don’t know,” I told her. “What I do know is that God made her that way. Rachel will not have to answer to God for being autistic, but someday people will have to answer to Him for how they treated people with special needs.”

“But I’m so mad,” she said.

I nodded. “Yes, but we have to trust God to take care of the situation. You can choose whether or not to be close to that girl who made fun of Rachel, but we still need to forgive her. Then we trust God to take care of her heart.”

She took a deep breath. I prayed for wisdom and the passage in Matthew 5: 43-47 came to mind. (Interesting that my Bible study covered it just this week…) I said, “The Bible tells us that we should forgive, but Jesus also says that being nice to people who are nice to you is easy. The real challenge is being kind and forgiving to people who aren’t nice and don’t deserve it. That’s when we really show people about His love. After all, Jesus forgives our mistakes. We need to forgive others and trust God to take care of the rest.”

I wondered what school would bring Monday and was surprised at the result. The girl who made fun of Rachel asked if eldest was still her friend. She also wanted to know if she would ever be invited over to our house again. It was such a lesson in letting God take care of other people. That girl’s heart was softened in a way that would not have happened by human means. Based on things eldest has said throughout the year regarding this girl, I had already decided not to call her mother, but to let God handle it. Perhaps this is the first time her heart has been softened toward others. What a miracle, yes?

I am blessed to have seen this lesson come to life. We never know how our lives, even the negative parts, will affect others. Perhaps that little girl will grow up and become a therapist because something she didn’t understand has now been made clear in a nice way. After all, people often fear what they don’t understand. Bullying is one form of acting out based on fears.

I know not all situations end this way. How I wish they did…

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Snarky, meet Grace.

by Jennifer Dyer

Now that eldest has reached the fourth grade, we are dealing with more “mean girl” talk than ever before. Almost every day she comes home and relays a story about someone saying something irritable or snarky to another classmate. Sometimes, it is directed to her.

During one of these discussions, I shook my head. “It makes me so sad you are dealing with this, and it will probably get worse over the next few years.”

“Why, mom?”

“This is the age when kids change a lot and their lives sometimes feel out of control. In order to feel more in control, sometimes people lash out verbally at others.”

We went on to talk about a girl who had hurt her feelings that day. While I acknowledged eldest’s emotional pain, I urged her to look at the other angles of the situation. “Why do you think she would say something like that? Do you think she felt threatened? Do you think she might feel like you don’t like her enough, so she is trying to show that her feelings aren’t hurt even though they really are?”

She tilted her head at my convoluted explanation. “But it was mean.”

“Yes, but we never know what is going on with her otherwise, in the other areas of her life. Maybe her home life is a big mess, so she is acting out, trying to work out her frustration.”

A few days later, eldest came home with another report. “You were right about that girl. She has all kinds of problems. She said none of us could imagine what she has been through.”

I asked, “Did you tell her she was right, that none of you could imagine what she feels like, but that you would be there to listen if she needed it?”

I could see her mind working that one over. “Hmmm… No, she announced that and ran away.”

A few days later she came home and reported more of the story. The girl had opened up to some of the other girls and began to share her feelings. Some of the rude sarcasm has faded and the girl is trying harder to be friends rather than get into fights. She is working with the girls rather than against them, so to speak. Eldest and some of the other girls have tried to reach out to her in kindness and compassion.

Sadly, bullying and rudeness don’t always have such an easy solution, but I’m so glad compassion toward others has helped to solve a lot of issues at my daughter’s school. This instance was not the only one that my daughter has reported. Each time, I commiserate or even relate a similar instance from my own childhood, but then we go on to discuss why the people might act that way. We focus on compassion and even pray for that person. Each time, my daughter has come home later to report that things have smoothed over with the different girls. Fortunately, I am not the only mother working on this attitude with their kids. Compassion and understanding seems to be a dominant trait in this grade. That makes a huge difference.

Tween and teen years are so stressful! If more kids were able to give each other grace, I wonder if the years would be just a bit less tumultuous…

Happy days, my friends!

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Bullying: when your child may be the perpetrator.

by Jennifer Dyer

At a recent get-together with some friends, some of our kids had an issue. Not a stick-someone’s-head-in-the-toilet-and-post-it-on-YouTube issue, but a little disagreement that left some kids in tears, some in trouble, and most of the adults in confusion. The reasons weren’t important, but I was impressed by the way one mom used the issue to build character in her child.

As we all know, there are multiple sides to every issue. Once the moms got down to the bottom, we realized that some inappropriate “bossiness” had occurred on several sides (which is a huge shock for those of you with tween girls…).

In the aftermath, the mom of one of the involved girls modeled some excellent parenting. She didn’t deny her child’s part in the issue, nor make excuses for the behavior. She didn’t fight with the other moms about it, and she didn’t blame the other kids. She pulled her child aside and spoke to her quietly, so that no one else even noticed. The child was grounded for the incident, but her mother also conveyed to her that it wasn’t necessary to always be the one who is right, nor is it necessary to be the one in control. They had a long dialog about how to treat others and how to interact when disagreements occur.

The mother did not allow her child to toss blame around, either. Instead, she helped her daughter understand how her actions affected others. Later, I saw the girl quietly go to others and apologize, even to some adults.

As this group of kids consists almost entirely of first born children, there are some strong personalities. I had several discussions with my own child about her part in the incident. I conveyed my desire for her to get along with others and how to handle conflict with kindness. We also discussed people’s reactions and how those affected everyone else. We brainstormed ways to react the next time a disagreement occurred. She also owned up to her part, for which I praised her.

As moms, we hope that these little steps toward building character in our children will help them as they prepare for the tumultuous teen years.

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Bullying: who has the power?

by Jennifer Dyer

Bullying is often an issue of power. In many cases the bully-er is not a “bad” person, and they may not even be intending to hurt others. Some kids (and adults) feel the world would be a better place if it were run by them. They tend to mow over others in order to maintain that position of power. Other people enjoy the power they feel from being hateful and rude to others. They usually have some deep psychological issues from their own feelings of inferiority and lack of power. Some people are taught to hate by those around them and may continue to live in that ignorance.

Why is this important to understand? It helps to know the “enemy.” I want my daughter to understand why people do mean things. Are they afraid? Has someone made them feel so small that this is their only way to deal with the world? Perhaps their lives lack compassion, or perhaps they have no idea that they hurt others by their words. Perhaps they lack a personal edit button. Whatever the reason, once we understand the heart of a person it is easier to love them, to deal with them, to pray for them, to forgive them, and to have compassion for them. Forgiving and having compassion for someone who has hurt you is a way to transfer power, so to speak.

In my post for MomLifeToday entitled, “Bullying: How does a mother deal with it?” I spoke of meeting a black woman who had grown up in the deep south before the 1960’s. If anyone understood bullying, it was her. She told me some of the most heart wrenching stories, but instead of living in bitterness, she lived in peace, love, and understanding of those who persecuted her because of her wise mother. Her mother helped her see that the people who hated her just didn’t understand God and His amazing love. They even prayed for those who hurt them as a family. Amazing! Through her parent’s support, she grew into an amazing person in spite of the hate she endured.

In addition to understanding “the enemy,” understanding self is important. I remember an instance where someone “hurt my feelings.” One of my friends shook his head at me and said, “No, he didn’t hurt your feelings. You allowed his actions to have an impact on your feelings. You are giving him the power over your emotions.” Yes, we could argue that this is not always accurate, or that simple, but my friend’s advice helped me see that I had power over how I let others affect me. I could choose, to an extent, how much I let someone’s actions or words to impact my life. Suddenly, I was empowered.

What are some ways you have helped your children understand others and deal with the negative words and actions that have affected them?

Also, a good book for reading and discussing the bullying issue with your children is, Blubber, by Judy Blume.  (Book review on Blubber.)

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Bullying: keeping perspective.

by Jennifer Dyer

Matthew West‘s inspiration for his latest album came from letters written by his fans. One such letter was about a lonely and isolated boy trying to survive middle school and the mean-spirited, bullying comments that many of his classmates toss in his direction. My heart when out to that boy, as he could be any one of us.

High school and middle school were some of the hardest years of my life, and I still revisit those days occasionally. In my nightmares. I’m usually in my pajamas and looking for a bathroom, only to discover the one and only facility available is in the middle of the student-packed gymnasium. With no walls. Ack!

So, how to make it through the piranha-infested waters of middle and high school? How to make it through the seasons of being a bully target? I’ve already suggested becoming involved in extra-curricular activities and service projects outside of school, so today I want to talk about keeping perspective.

A few months ago I developed an infection that almost took my life. In a moment of near death I prayed to live, for the will to live. And in that same moment I knew it would be hard. I just didn’t know how hard.

How did I make it, at least mentally? Prayer, lot’s of prayer, and perspective. I told myself that it would not last forever even though it felt like it might. My parents, sister, and husband told me the same. I kept my focus on what was important: my children and my family. In the moments where the treatments were akin to torture, and I felt as though my surgeon was the meanest bully on the planet, I thought of my many reasons to survive. And I reminded myself that the pain would not last forever.

So, it is with the teen years. I had many ups and downs–more downs–but in retrospect, it was such a brief time in my life. Today I can think of high school as a mere, but smelly, subway stop where I had to wait until time to go to college and begin the rest of my life, which I have enjoyed very much, cancer and all.

So, whether you are a teen or the parent of a teen trying to navigate through this time in your life, keep your perspective. Parents, help your child keep their perspective. Remind them that the world is a much bigger place than the walls of their schools. Life has different seasons and many subway stops, if you will. Don’t allow difficulties, including difficult people, to make you or your child feel trapped. Keep the perspective that in a few years everything will change.

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