Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

If each one of us untangled one string at a time...

Saturday, August 20, 2016

First Days of School -- Be Nice to the New Kid Month

By September 7th, most kids up to the age of 18 will be back in school in the U.S. so I've designated September as National 'Be Nice to the New Kid Month.
"Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much."   —Blaise Pascal
If you've ever had to walk into a school knowing no one, I don't have to explain the importance of a peer introducing themselves or including you at their lunch table or sharing a book if you don't have one.  For most kids, the fear and anticipation of starting a new school is like jumping out of an airplane. You know other people have survived but you're not sure you will.  That one kind person can feel like soft welcoming ground.

Although I'm sure she doesn't remember me, I'll never forget the girl who was nice to the new kid.  When my family moved from a small town in Indiana to San Juan, Puerto Rico, I was going into 8th grade.  I didn't know the language. I was leaving the world's best friends right before the best year of elementary. And my new brown and yellow uniform could not have been uglier (the phys ed uniform is too embarrassing even to describe) .  A trifecta of horribleness.

To say that I was scared is an understatement.  I wanted to be invisible until Carmelina broke away from her gaggle of friends and switched from Spanish to English as she took me under her wing.  She introduced me to as many people as she could and although they weren't mean, they didn't pay much attention to me either.  I kept thinking how grateful I was to her for getting me through the dreaded first day. Although most of the other girls didn't ever really warm up to me, Carmelina was kind every single day until graduation.

Kathryn Otoshi, author of the award-winning children's book,One, knows that this is a subject near and dear to my heart so she sent me a copy of Wonder.  It beautifully illustrates the plight of the new or different kid and the tangled ball of emotions most kids experience.  They need mentors.  We are their "Go-To Adults."

So when you drop your kids off at school and you remind them to "be nice to the new kid," know you're raising a leader and this former "new kid" is cheering you on.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Empathy is Everything

It's been way too long since my last post.

There was no time or brain space to blog.  The only important thing became being with a family member who was fighting the good fight against cancer.

Since my brother-in-law's death, it has become even more clear to me how important empathy truly is to the spirit.  True suffering is the feeling of being alone.

Feeling alone is how children/teens feel when they have been belittled and demeaned and no one seems to care.  It's a feeling they don't have to have.  It's grief for an irrational reason.

For anyone who has had this feeling of loss, I think you'll agree that a little empathy goes a long way.

There are many ways to nurture empathy in children -- just ask the Kid President (Robby Novak).  Kid President's Guide to Being Awesome has 100 ideas on how to make the world a better place. If you've never checked out the Soul Pancake's Kid President videos, they're just the perfect thing to inspire empathy and action while making you and your kids have a laugh and a reason to dance.

Empathy is everything, especially when you've lost your reason to dance.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Plz Help Me

I've taken my foot off the pedal the past few months.

I have to admit to fatigue.  At times, I feel like a cheerleader for a team that only wins a few games a year and can't seem to fill a stadium.

The issue of bullying finally started getting some attention for, unfortunately, tragic reasons. First there was Columbine, then national stories of young kids and suicide and then along came Bully, the documentary that exposed some of the unthinkable ways peers treat each other.

Politicians, including the President, jumped in, laws were created and companies started sponsoring bullying prevention initiatives.  All good but I fear bullying will become the latest issue to fade into the background of the national consciousness just like homelessness or AIDS or the environment.  In other words, if you're in it for the long haul, you have to deal with the boomerang effect.  When I talk about bullying prevention, I can now see that dreaded look in people's eyes that say, "Been there, done that."

Plz Help Me

Just when I started thinking that I was wasting my time,  I opened my email and there was an anonymous message that simply read, "Plz help me."  I tried to reach back but there was no way to do it.   It originally was sent to me through a thread on The Bully Project web site.   Luckily I saw that they list a help line and because I haven't stopped worrying about this person, I hope they reached out.

It doesn't matter if bullying is the topic du jour.  It is still a source of incredible pain for thousands of kids and their parents. Missing out on a lighthearted childhood is it's own tragedy.

My area of interest in this big tangled ball of a mess called "bullying" is the bigger topic of resilience and leadership.  My theory is that we have to start focusing on character education at a much younger age and parents need to be at the center of the effort.  It needs to be simple, affordable, sustainable, creative and positive.

In the fall, I will start a series for young parents on how to nurture leadership skills at home and encourage it in school because the more "little leaders" in the classroom, the less likely bullying will be a big problem.  Good all around.

In the meantime, I like to share really good resources.  My pick of the day is the book "Wonder," by R.J. Palacio.  The truth is that kids perceived as "different," whether it's a learning, physical or emotional challenge are picked on.  Wonder will inspire you to be a better parent and will give you an insight to the true meaning of leadership, resilience and spirit.

If you're reading this, it means you care, too.  Thank you.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Did You Ever Know Red Hood Doing Some Good Down By The Bay?

Raffi randomly came up in a conversation my husband and I were having the other day about how frustrating it must be to be a "pioneer."  We were discussing how we knew people 25 years ago that were talking about climate change and when a few of my "far out" cousins were discussing nutrition, we would just roll our eyes and reach for the bologna sandwiches on white bread followed by  twinkies. "Life's too short! The gooey white fluff in the middle makes me happy! "

Now I'm pouring over books like Anticancer, making rice with turmeric and buying the organic version of everything...which is what got my husband and I talking about how long it takes the general population to change. And how hard it must have been for the brave souls who knew better and dared to have a voice.

The children's music of Raffi was undeniably the house favorite throughout the childhoods of our four children.  Dancing to "Down by the Bay" was almost a requirement for anyone coming to visit.

One day I heard on the news that Raffi had refused to have his CDs sold in those obnoxious plastic jewel boxes because they were bad for the environment.  Remember, sugar cereals were still a staple in our house, as well as the kind of really orange cheese that was individually wrapped in plastic.  I thought, "Whoa! That's over the top!"

Of course now I know better and my respect for Raffi goes way beyond his talent for bringing joy by singing songs that make you want to jump around with your kids.

I've always thought deep in the recesses of my brain that Raffi and I would have a lot in common some day...and the day is here.

He's still a pioneer but this time it's about children and the critical issue of internet safety.  He was right about the environment and now he's right about the failure of technology companies to protect our kids.

After the tragic suicide of Amanda Todd, Raffi co-founded the Red Hood Project and has written Lightweb Darkweb about online safety.  Parent education is key but who will stand up against some of the giants who are not sincerely stepping up to protect our kids?  And honestly, I believe parent and child internet education should begin in kindergarten or first grade.

Now that I'm older, I can recognize a hero much quicker.  Raffi Rocks.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Kid President says #Makeithappy Online

Once again, Kid President is full of good ideas.  Seems as if Coca Cola thinks so, too.

Whether we're the type of parents who diligently talk to our children about online safety or the type of parents who are afraid of our children's "new neighborhood"  and just hope for the best, most of us don't talk to our kids about how to make it happy.

Countering negativity online is within everyone's reach and children should be encouraged to always fill someone's bucket whether they're in the schoolyard or are online.

Let's turn it around so that negative comments are the exception instead of the rule.

#Makeithappy...and for sound advice about kids, technology and all things media I suggest Common Sense Media as one of the best resources out there.

Positivity.  It's also Gluten Free.  Right, Kid President?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Peanut Butter Jelly Time Homecoming

When it comes to serving our country, One (Soldier) Can Count.  When it comes to supporting families, One (School) Can Count.  When it comes to getting home safe and sound, One (Adorable Little Daughter) Can Count.

We all can make a difference.  Just ask J.E. Woodard School in Columbia, Tennessee.  They make it a point to teach their students how to be a ONE all year long.

Thank you to David Fitzgerald for his service and to the J.E. Woodard Elementary School for inspiring me today.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Reading, Pajamas and the Little Leaders Among Us

I met the most extraordinary boy yesterday through the Pajama Program.  (Please click the link if you want to find out about the coolest organization doing something simply spectacular...inspiring reading and providing warm pajamas to under served kids.)

Shane, age 8, and I were reading the book Frieda B.  It's a whimsical book about imagination and dreams. It led to a conversation about what we want in our lives.  He said his dream was to become a billionaire.  When I asked why, I expected answers like "getting a big house" or "buying every video game."  His answer shocked me.
Shane:  "I want to give it away."
Me:  "Who would you give it to?"
Shane:  "People with cancer who can't buy things on their own."
I was humbled...for the second time that morning.

Before the kids arrived, the volunteers were talking about helping kids.  One wise man, Steve, who worked as a volunteer in the inner city Newark (NJ) school system for years talked about cutting through the rough exterior of kids who struggle during their growing up years.  His approach was to find common ground and build trust.  Common ground can be hard to find when there's an age, ethnic, and demographic difference.  He did it by bringing in photos of his dogs.
Trust is like love. Both parties have to feel it before it really exists. -- Simon Sinek
He said that it doesn't matter how old the kids are.  His advice is to never lose faith.   Sometimes middle and high school kids act tough but there's still a child underneath all the layers.

I have to add to that.  I think there's also a leader under all those layers.  Sometimes we just need the chance to have the conversation.

Thanks Pajama Program, sponsored by Scholastic and Carter's,  for providing the platform and the common ground called books to be inspired by the little leaders among us.