What does this look like when it comes to bullying?
It looks like developing confidence, and love, and compassion, and boundaries.
It looks like parents, teachers, and other caregivers teaching and modelling conflict management skills to their young people.
It looks like someone bullying, and their targets choosing not to pick up the pain that they are trying to give away.
It looks like a classroom, a school, a workplace, and a family that does not give power to people hurting others.
It looks like adults and friends, parents and teachers, managers and administrators looking beyond the behaviour and trying to find the root of the problem.
It looks like putting our judgements aside and choosing to find the reason for someone's aggression. It could be pain that someone is feeling - or, a conflict management tool that they are lacking. It looks like healing that pain.
We don't have to play this bullying game. There are "outs" all around us. It's up to us to pick them up and believe that they can work.
Only THEN will we no longer be participating.
My family is in a stormy season.
I have almost 2 year old twins and a 4 year old.
My children are big balls of emotions. Many points in the day feel like I am standing in the eye of a storm while three unreasonable little creatures whip around me.: crying, screaming, falling…
And these are, undoubtedly, the hardest part of being a mom for me.
Do I lose my temper? Sometimes, for sure. How could I not?
Do I try really really hard not to - YES. And I’ll tell you why.
If we want to teach our children to not bully and not to be bullied, we have to model what it is to POWER WITH people, ESPECIALLY during the hard moments.
When we “power with” in parenting, we observe our kids feelings, we sit with them as they rage. We empathize, we keep our boundries, but, we’re kind about it. “Ah, you really wanted more TV. And mum said no. That must feel so hard for you.”
And then, when the storm has passed, we problem solve. We look to see if there are environmental factors creating the emotions (hungry, tired, overstimulated). We explore different schedules, rhythms, behaviour management techniques to help them transition more smoothly.
For older kids, “power with” looks like having family discussions about rules where all members get to share their thoughts and feelings. It looks like letting them make mistakes and talking them through their disappointments. It looks like guiding our children rather than forcing them to comply.
The benefit of this hard work? We create kids who can:
THESE are the kind of responses that stop bullying. Most importantly, these are the responses that lead to creating a more just and kind world.
This book - The Watermelon Shield - is gold! If you are looking for something to help those targeted by bullies, this is the book for you!
It was sent to me by the authors - Rose and Hope McCallum, and is their real-life story of solving their bullying problem and finding peace again.
It does an excellent job of teaching how to stay strong and kind... And gives a creative way for our kids to shield themselves from all hurtful comments.
When Hope was 8, she decided to write this book so that other kids could ward of bullies too.
My 4 year old has been reading it on repeat for 2 weeks - but it would be an effective book to read for kids up to grade 7.
The little peanut reading in the photo is my 2 year old daughter. Although she and her twin brother didn't understand the concept, the images are so realistic that they both have been pointing out the characters emotions (which is excellent to develop their compassion!)
You can get a copy at: www.thewatermelonshield.ca
Remember with kindness also needs to come strength.
Some of us (ahem, finger pointing towards myself) believe that true kindness comes at the expense of our own needs.
But, we know how this plays out: building resentments, exhaustion, compassion fatigue.
True kindness is boundaried, and honest, and gentle with all those around us (and it HAS to include ourselves too!)
So, get out there, be a little kinder than you were yesterday. And, if that means looping yourself into some kindness, throw in some self-care or self-compassion so that you receive too!
This is what strong and kind looks like.
Why does this matter? Feeling "strong and kind" is what my clients embody to stop cycles of bullying and abuse in their lives.
Abuse and bullying obviously makes us scared. When afraid - many people fight, or flight... But, there is a Third Way. People who can stand tall and act in a compassionate manner shows strength. And when we're strong, abusive relationships crumble away.
Why? When we are boundaried and still compassionate, we give nothing to someone who is bullying. The "fix" of power they feel when we show fear doesn't exist any more. So, the bullying ends.
The amazing news is that from this perspective - any person can get out toxic relationships because at our core, we are ALL strong and kind.
If you are stuck - try finding that side of yourself. You might have a way to get there - through physical activity, meditation, prayer, time in nature, by doing some form of art...
When you find it - then, take a pen and paper and brainstorm some actions or responses you could choose when that person harms you. Don't filter yourself.
You'll know when you have the answer. You will laugh, or sit up taller, and, generally feel great!
Double check that your action isn't weak or vindictive in any way... These responses continue the abuse. You want the answer to be STRONG and KIND.
Then, practice! Make sure that your answer flows easily!
And, if you try all of this and can't get there - reach out to me. This is the process that I use to help people step out of bullying cycles, and would love to help you feel calmer, happier, and more in control of your life!
Reaching out for help can feel so hard. Many people who are bullied, or who are bullying, are frozen in fear. I know that you are likely terrified that doing ANYTHING will make the situation worse. The good news about my methods? Unless I'm worried about your safety, YOU are 100% in charge. You brainstorm solutions. You pick the right one. We then create a detailed plan - and only you decide if we will take any actions.
The goal? To help you find you again... I want you to be strong, but I want you to remain deeply kind. Why? Because this will not only end your bullying abuse, but, help you return back to yourself again.
Maybe a safe first step might be to send me a message to set up a quick Discovery Call. We'll chat for 20 minutes - you can learn more about me, and I can learn a bit more about you. Then, you can take some time to decide whether it's time to act.
I'm here for you!
I don't hide my sadness from my children.
Can that make them feel uncomfortable? Sure. It is off-putting when anyone is emoting - especially parents who are often stable and calm.
To help them through this discomfort, my husband and I teach them how to soothe someone who is feeling low.
The messaging is clear "it's not your job to make mummy feel better, but, we can soothe her while her emotions make their way through". We then ask them if they would like to give a hug, have a snuggle, or give a soft a blanket or stuffy.
Doing this gives them tools to handle not only our emotions, but their friends, classmates, and other adults that they encounter.
It also teaches them that feelings are normal, and the method of handling them is to feel them, and take care of yourself through the process.
Today? Well, I was feeling sad because my father-in-law had died, and I just really wanted to see him. My eldest brought me a stuffy, and the twins followed suit with every plush animal in the house.
But also such a relief. It is easier NOT to pretend to be calm and strong all the time.
And for my kids? They learn that emotions are normal. They learn how to react lovingly to other people when they are low. This type of response is then normalized, and, hopefully played out in the schoolyard.
If this isn't an antidote to bullying, I'm not sure what is!
Judgement just enflames bullying - it clouds us so we stop searching for the root issues. It closes us off to one another, it shuts down our hearts.
The truth? Within a cycle of bullying, there is intense pain and paralyzing fear.
It is what fuels the person bullying. It is placed into the person they are harming. It seeps into their teachers, their administrators... and deeply into their parents.
The solution can be complex... sure. But, to get there, we need to start caring.
Until we shift out of a place of judgement and into a curious and caring mindset, we will never solve the issue.
It is SO easy to snap, to punish, to get angry when our kids are unkind... We were raised to believe that punishment will teach our kids "the lesson" to not bully again.
But, it doesn't seem to work.
Instead, I suggest to parents and educators to get themselves into the mindset of the 4C's when they have to talk with their children or students when there has been an issue.
The 4C's are: coach, calm, caring & curious.
If we can stay loving and non-judgemental, the TRUE story can come out. And when it does - we can solve it.
Usually, when the root issue is resolved, bullying ends.
Let's remember our little people need to learn how to BE, and that includes how to be KIND. It is up to us to help them learn those lessons.
I give this poster to clients to figure out how they handle conflict. When we are stuck within a power struggle (which, in it's extreme form is bullying), we choose to Power Over, or Power Under. We can also think about it as choosing "violence" or "silence".
They key to snap out of these power-plays (and even get out of bullying or abusive relationships!) is to use a Third Way - that is to Power With! There are other words for it - assertive, strong & kind voice, standing up, etc.
Everyone's strong and kind voice sounds different. It's important to find your own so that you will use it!
Send me a message if you want to learn more, or, if you want me to send you a copy of this poster to print!
In the midst of life - of the mess, the clutter, the rushing and accomplishing, I always take time every night to write 5 things I am grateful for.
Choosing this practice gives me a moment every day to focus on what went RIGHT.
The moment in this picture, encapsulates something I’m always grateful for - my son’s relationship with his Grampa.
They delight in each other’s presence, and, in my hurried and harried state, Grampa’s giggle about something my son has done brings ME back to the reality of the moment… When I shift my focus from my whirring mental state into the present, I have a chance to see something adorable or hilarious, and my mind eases.
The expectation of writing 5 things down every day forces me to be more mindful DURING the day of the great things - the birds flying south, a hug between my kids, a kind nod of a passerby. So, I don’t always have to rely on Grampa to shift my focus, I can do it myself too.
Being tapped into what IS helps me to lighten the load of my anxieties about the future.
And, as we take on whatever important tasks we have chosen - for me it’s helping families to get to sleep, and, to help stop cycles of bullying, I can ALSO find ways to ground myself into the exceptional little moments that happen all around me every day.
I know it's so easy (and understandable!) to be mad when bullying happens; To be mad at the principal, or the teacher, or the parents, or the kid... But, can I, just for a second, place another option in your mind:
Maybe, we deal with bullying so badly because society is lacking conflict management skills.
- the principal felt confident that they had an answer.
- the teacher felt like they had all the tools to handle every behaviour in their classroom.
- the parent had all the wisdom to handle their kid with aggressive behaviour.
- the child or teen bullying knew how to regulate their emotions and feelings and handle their pain.
Now think about how conversations might go when bullying did occur from a place of confidence. I can imagine everyone would feel much calmer. There would be more listening, more collaboration, and cooler heads.
I know that this isn't a popular thought, but it's one we need to start pondering.
It could be that ONE answer is to help students, teachers, administrators and parents handle conflict better.
If we made this a priority, I believe we'd start to move the needle towards much safer schools for everyone.
The blog speaks to our deepest humanity - and many of you will feel relieved at the message that we need to be more gentle with each other - because most people are walking around with deep pain.
There is so much judgement in our society right now, and so little curiosity. People are so quick to make decisions on people's intentions when they don't have the whole story.
12 years ago, I lost my dad and a good friend Mimi in an accident. It was surreal experience - one that shook me to my core, but, irregardless of MY emotions, the world just kept spinning.
I know I tried hard to keep things together in public. I wasn't the person who was going to lash out - but, I was someone who might break down. I remember one day, after a fleeting memory of a moment I shared with my dad and friend Mimi, I fell to the side of a sidewalk and just wept. People walked by me... and I cried and cried. I'm sure some of those people walking by judged my meltdown - they likely rolled their eyes - and then got on with their day.
Had they known the story, they might have helped, or said a kind word, or scooped me up in a hug.
So many of you can resonate with that kind of moment - the moment that you snap, or flip, or crumble. And YES, sometimes those things happen in public.
What this article reminds us is that we need to be gentle with each other. We need to remember that most people have significant challenges - and, instead of making judgements on other's when they show big emotions, we could lean forward with compassion instead.
Please, read this article. And, when you do, ask yourself who you are judging... Think about what information you are missing. Decide whether your judgements are fair, and if they are not, or not informed, please drop them.
Instead, you could consider opening your heart - try saying a kind word or give a gentle hug. Isn't that what we all deserve in those moments?
A friend of mine from camp showed me this years ago. Since then, it s been on my mind quite a bit... It helps me to decide whether I need to share something or not. (Or, helps me see why I feel badly about sharing something I just shouldn't have, and, gives me some guidelines on what to apologize for!)
This is an excellent tool to show with your older children and teens so that they learn another method to stay kind even though they are in conflict.
Remember though, if you want them to live this, you need to emulate it too. Our best (or worst!) lessons in conflict management are from those closest to us.
Before you share this with them, think about whether YOU are following these rules. (And, if you want to be super vulnerable, show this to them AND share with them what YOU want to work on too!)
Tell me how it goes
I spoke at the Ontario School Counsellor's Association conference a week ago. My husband Joel has presented there too for years, so, many of my participants have gotten to know us well.
After my presentation on conflict skills, a man approached me. He said "Can I ask kind of a personal question? Do you and Joel ever, like YELL at each other? Or, when you are solving problems, do you just hold hands and gaze lovingly in each others eyes?"
"Oh no, we yell sometimes."
The man laughed "Darn! You crushed my vision of you two!"
"No, I said, you just learned that we were humans."
I know that I teach this stuff - to parents, to targets of bullying, and to people bullying... I know that I have SO many answers, but, you need to know that I am far from perfect.
Staying calm in a storm of feelings is HARD WORK. It takes practice, and messing up, and then more practice.
What I do know is that the only way I can do my work AND try to stay curious and kind in conflict with my family is to look after myself too.
This is a picture of the end of my run today.
I started to run in the summer, and have continued to do so for 20 minutes almost every day. It gives me a chance to let off steam, to think, to breathe, and to let go of the day's tension.
The result? I am about 700% calmer with my family.
So, if you are like me and want to do conflict better, but, are ALSO a human with real-deal emotions, what daily practice can you start? Think of an activity that shifts your emotions for about 24 hour hours.
Got it? Now go do it!!!