I can still remember what it felt like to be bullied, and I also remember coming home and teasing my sister so that I could regain the power that I had lost at school. I don’t know the exact reasons why I was bullied. I was from a poor family of a minority religion, with grandparents that didn’t speak English. Maybe the roots of bullying stemmed from all of these reasons, maybe it was none of them. As a young girl, I was shy, quiet, a “nice girl” and very protective of my parents. I didn’t want them to feel badly or disappoint them in any way. I tried to do what I was told and to be a good student. I was a silent sufferer. I told no adult. Kids who saw and heard all the name calling and physical violence, the by-standers, were also silent. I can still hear the name calling and labeling. I dealt with exclusion, intolerance, stereotyping, crude name calling, domination, victimization and a lack of self-belief.
The irony is that bullying issues have become part of my life’s work. Within my career as a performing artist, writer, composer and educator, I create songs, plays and stories that nurture self-esteem and respectful living, encourage children to be a hero in their own lives, and create an awareness of the importance of inclusion, kindness and caring. In my Peace Begins with You and Me-We’re Bully-Free teaching concerts, I also encourage children to tell a trusted adult if a problem is too big to handle.
However, if there is one primary message to share with you today, it is this:
WE have to be there in the moment, and to be still long enough to notice our child’s nonverbal and verbal signals. No matter how busy and distracted we are, we need to offer children the focus, time and open listening. We need to be ready to be entrusted to hear and to guide.
And remember to call upon the creative arts! The arts provide teaching tools. Use them. Integrate MEANINGFUL songs, stories, plays, art and dance expression, and help children find the words, the actions and the voice that encourages self-respect, self-esteem, empowerment and love for humanity.