But Words Will Never Hurt Me…..

Ok, so the old saying “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me” can be quite deceiving. Words have a tendency to stick around longer than any broken bone and they also seem to hurt much more than a broken also. So how do we even begin to deal with the impact of the words and actions of others, especially those pesky little boogers…I mean bullies!

Here I have taken a holistic approach on how to address bullying. Journey with me, if you will, to take a look at how to prevent it, how to address it, how to buffer our children from it, the underlying reasons, a restorative justice approach and why this is a community issue.

How To Prevent

The tough part is that we cannot control what other kiddos say or do. The good news is that we can control how we respond. I believe one of the single most important things we can do is expose our children to diverse experiences and talk to them about it. Kids are smart and many times we hold back on conversations because we think they won’t understand. I find this to be ironic though because one of the first things we tell our kids when they are born is how much we love them even though we KNOW they have no concept or understanding of language. We just trust that they’ll feel our love for them and one day they’ll understand. Use this same logic and apply it to anything. I have heard kiddos talk to one another about their diagnoses in terms far more sophisticated than anything I could understand and that is because they are sponges. They will learn quickly and they will understand.

For example: I grew up playing baseball, like so many other kiddos, and one day while I was waiting for my game time to start I went to one of the other fields to watch a game. I happened to be watching the challenger division which was a team of kiddos with varying disabilities. Some kiddos were in wheel chairs, others were developmentally delayed..you name it. I was invited to play and without hesitation I went. I was only 7 or 8 at the time and I never turned down an opportunity to play ball. I quickly adapted to the level of play and learned how to communicate with my deaf teammate, learned when to step in and help out my teammate with a wheel chair, and I even learned triggers for one of my other teammates who would sometimes have melt downs.

My point is this, when we are exposed to diversity as a kiddo we learn how to be inclusive and see the human in one another. There was no pointing and laughing and there was no avoiding anyone because I didn’t understand. It’s not often that we have classmates or close buddies that has been diagnosed with cancer, so when it does happen it is more of a foreign concept. As one person we never represent an entire community but we should recognize that as one person we do have the ability to reach out and ask for help from our community resources like The Seany Foundation. We are here to help step in and provide understanding, educational resources and tools, but we also need to make sure we are giving our children diverse experiences.

How To Address

There are many reasons why bullying can happen and we all have our own ideas on how to address it. Of course, my first instinct is to jump in and handle things to protect my kiddo or loved one, but lets be real…that is rarely the best option…although tempting.

First, know who your allies, gatekeepers and champions are. We’ll use school as an example. The gatekeepers can be administrators, counselors, teachers, etc; the allies could be our kiddo’s buddies or fellow parents; and the champions are the ones who will advocate for the gatekeepers to implement change.

Do NOT be afraid to ask for the bullying to be addressed head on, even if that means incorporating new policies, training or assemblies. Now I know what you might be thinking, this all sounds like a lot to take on when you’re just trying to create a sense of normalcy. You’re right but YOU don’t have to be the one to coordinate. This is where our allies, champions and community resources come into action. There are so many programs that support the anti-bullying movement. My guess is that, if your child is experiencing bullying, there are other kiddos dealing with the same issue.

How To Buffer

In addition to providing our kiddos with diverse experiences it is also important to help our kiddos build a buffer. The biggest way to do this is to build a strong sense of self from a young age. In doing this, as parents, we also need to check ourselves and understand what norms and expectations we buy into and project onto our kiddos.

Again, I will use myself as an example. As a kiddo I always had a sense of fashion, not high fashion but I always had to coordinate my colors and brands in my own little athletic stylish twist. Well…let’s just say, my son is nothing like me. While most kids have mismatch days during spirit week, my child does this every day, no matter the occasion. It would drive me absolutely CRAZY! We literally discussed his fashion sense during a therapy session because I worried people would think I didn’t care for him properly. Needless to say, I have let that issue go….I get it, it’s only clothes. In the bigger picture I realized I was trying to force my kiddo to conform to both my own and society’s ideas of what was “appropriate” attire when what my baby needed was a mother who would allow him the space to be himself freely. Now I compliment him and tell him how amazing he is for expressing himself how ever he sees fit. I realize that, although his uniqueness could leave him open to be made fun of, it was more important that I nurture his confidence so that he can have a buffer to anything coming his way.

I also get that this is a very different example than a kiddo who is being bullied because of the impact of treatment. My son could very easily change the way he dresses but we can’t stop the impact that treatment has on our kiddos. We can, however, still create that buffer. One thing I will say over and over again is that we all long for three things 1) to be liked 2) to be accepted and 3) to be understood. Not every day will be a good day but when we are able to embrace and celebrate our kiddos for everything they are and everything they aren’t we begin to build a buffer for them. As adults we often consider ourselves to be the educated ones who need to teach our children but I have found that the truth is quite opposite. Our kiddos are themselves, freely, until adults begin teaching them to try and fit into these imaginary boxes that are riddled with norms and expectations. When we do this we begin to break down their buffer.

The Underlying Reasons

It is just as important to understand why bullying happens as it is to address it. I have found that many times bullying occurs because the kiddo, or “bully” themselves have experienced bullying in some form. This might come from an older sibling, cousin, parent, classmate, teammate, etc. I strongly believe if we only address the bully for their negative behaviors we miss out on helping a kiddo who most likely needs some relief as well. This also means that if we don’t address the underlying issue, we are only addressing half of the problem. This is why I will talk about why bullying is a community issue rather than just an individual or family concern.

Another issue might be that the kiddo engaging in bullying behaviors gets the attention they seek. I remember my mom telling me “not all attention is good attention” but for some people this doesn’t hold true. Maybe they enjoy making people laugh, even if it is at another person’s expense. I find myself referring to kiddos throughout this blog, but truthfully, we see this as adults as well. We often refer to this as scapegoating. Scapegoating is another issue that can be addressed, but not today. The important part of this is making sure that we are encouraging positive interaction and positive attention. We need to teach our kiddos that it is not funny to pick on one another for our differences and encourage them to step up and speak out when they see it happening. Many times, when we realize what we are doing isn’t funny or ok, we change our actions because ultimately we want to liked, acceptance and understood…..which is opposite of bullying.

Restorative Justice

This is huge with any conflict resolution. The term “restorative justice” has been a new trendy topic, but how many of us actually know what it means? Restorative justice is a form of conflict resolution that allows both parties to come together and have BOTH parties be active participants in the healing process. Traditionally we have a punitive process which means if our kiddo is being bullied, we report it to the school, the school then handles it and the kiddo who was bullied is left out of the process while the kiddo who did the bullying receives punishment and has now gotten in “trouble”. Restorative justice seeks to provide healing to both parties in an inclusive process.

How would that look with bullying? Simple, sort of. The kiddo who has been bullied gets to address their bully and learn to use their voice, advocate for themselves and be an active participant in the conclusion of what too place and ultimately happened TO THEM. Additionally, the one engaging in bullying behavior gains a deeper understanding of their actions, how it impacted the other party and is reminded that they are not just getting in trouble. Yes there are natural consequences for our actions but now they are also given the opportunity to learn how to become accountable for their actions.

As I mentioned previously, we all seek to be liked, accepted and understood, but we also want to be right (vs. wrong), good (vs. bad) and to be ok (vs. not ok). Restorative justice takes these judgements out and allows for both parties to move towards healing. How we perceive ourselves is typically how we act and treat others. We need to be reminded that even when we make poor decisions we can still be a good person and we can still be ok. We want to teach them how to genuinely connect with one another and understand that how we act can really have an impact. We want to take out the good/bad and right/wrong mentalities.

Community Issue

The reason I say it is a community issue is because, as humans, especially little humans trying to figure out what is means to be a human, we follow trends, we pick up on social cues and tend to do/say things that help us find a sense of belonging. If a kiddo is engaging in acts of bullying and they themselves have not experienced bullying, my guess would be that their actions are somehow being encouraged OR at least NOT being discouraged. This means that the bullying is now a reflection of the greater community. We also need to be aware of the bystander affect. We need to make sure we aren’t waiting for someone else to speak up. WE can be that someone. We dont want to turn a blind eye to it either. I so often hear “that’s not my problem” and even though it might be true for the moment, in the bigger picture it is all of our problem. Believe it or not, it is actually possible to hold one another accountable in a gentle, loving manner. So please, if you see it, at school, at camp, in the workplace, on the ball field…WHERE EVER, find a safe way to address it. What happens to our kiddos impacts their happiness, their adulthood which impacts future generations and our community as a whole.

10/31 Recap: Check out the latest podcast where Kahila interviews TSF’s COO Robby Medina. Robby shares parts of his story, thoughts and insights on going through treatment as a kiddo and how it still impacts him today! Check out the podcast using one of the various, easy to use platforms, by searching “Cancer the Easy Life”:
Android: Podcast Player (purple icon)
iPhone: Podcast App (purple icon)


Upcoming Events:
11/14 Podcast: Bullying
11/15 Seany Movie Night (purchase tickets online: The Seany Foundation)
11/17 Childhood Cancer Thrivership Symposium (Registration required: The Seany Foundation)