By Samantha Childs
Whether it is nasty comments shared across the cafeteria table, or targeted humiliation campaigns on social media, bullying is everywhere. Author and educator, Samantha Childs, shares her personal experience of being both a child who was tormented for her physical features and one who poked fun at another.
“Egghead! Egghead!” The whispered words hit the back of my head, neck, and ears like the snap of rubber bands on bare skin.
I was 13 years old, at a new middle school, and the only girl in the all-boys study hall.
I stared down at my textbook and notebook in front of me, watching as the words before me became an illegible word soup. My heart pounded in my ears and I silently plead with the universe, “No.”
The Teasing Continued
“Egghead! Egghead! Egghead! Egghead! Egghead.” The chanting spread, like a wildfire. Like joy. Every boy chanted that biting word. It jumped from desk to desk, from mouth to mouth. The whole class was there – even the shy blond boy who was my crush. And they were all chanting at me.
The bravest thing I could muster was to lift my eyes from my desk, to the face of the teacher in front of the room. But he would not look back.
I must deserve it, I told myself. The only way the world made sense was if I deserved to be treated this way. My forehead was big, and that made me unlovable. Something had to be deeply wrong with me for everyone to dislike me. The boys chanting, my old friends abandoning me, the girls and boys ignoring me. It had to be me. I felt ashamed for existing.
Middle school can be rough.
The Pain Of Being Bullied Can Last A Lifetime
My heart aches for that younger me. And I still hear her voice in my ear, worrying that others won’t like her or telling me that she doesn’t think she is good enough. (I hear it even now writing this article.) Sometimes we take the bullies with us, internally, because we think it’s keeping us safe, and in check. We don’t want to be caught off guard again. The fall – and even more, the shock of the fall – hurt too much the first time.
Bullying leaves such a lasting effect, I think because it unearths a core fear within us that we aren’t lovable. This fear can spring up into our lives in so many countless annoying ways, wanting to be seen and healed. In my own life, I’ve found that with almost every problem I have, when I dig deep enough, that is the little gem I find: the fear that I am unlovable. And I say gem because, behind that fear, when we rub it off like dirt, is the beautiful truth that the fear isn’t real – it’s just a fear – and that we are all lovable, exactly as we are. Even thirteen-year-old me and her big forehead and tear brimmed eyes.
Bullying Affects Everyone
After I wrote a children’s book about bullying, so many people told me their own personal stories. While experiencing bullying feels so isolating when it happens to you, the truth is that bullying touches all lives, jabbing its boney finger right into our ribcages. Ouch. Some had been bullied. Some had bullied. Some had witnessed it. Most, if we are honest with ourselves, I think have experienced bullying from each of those viewpoints. This is not always comfortable to admit. But it is ok. We are lovable, foibles and all.
I once told a classmate that she had very long toes. (Interestingly, I also have very long toes.) The whole class started laughing with such fervor. I felt stunned – and also, like a bully. The laughing was too strong. I have thought about this and felt badly about it for decades. I wish I could take back my comment, not because I intended it to be mean – it was more careless – but because I didn’t like it being attached to the laughter that followed it. And I didn’t like that small feeling of power and acceptance that I felt while they laughed. I wanted it – to be loved and accepted, especially at that time in my life when I was ignored and bullied everyday- but I didn’t want it that way. Girl with the beautiful toes, I am so sorry.
How To Prevent Bullying
Now, I am frequently asked for advice on bullying, especially for parents raising children in a world where bullying now occurs both on the playground and in the digital realms as well. Here are a few things that come to mind:
Set An Example
Think about how you speak when you are behind closed doors with your family. When you are saying critical things about others (even celebrities) your children are listening. When you stand up for others, even just in conversations, your children are listening.
Read Books About Bullying
Read children’s books about bullying and talk about them afterwards. How would you have felt if you were bullied? What could you have done to get help? What could you do if you saw someone bullying? Could you make the situation better or worse? Why do you think that people bully others? Make it fun and not feel like a lecture!
Let Your Child Know They Are Loved
In every way, let your child know that they don’t have to be perfect (or anywhere near it) to be loved. They are lovable exactly as they are, always. Tell them this with words. With books. With actions. And let them know that they can come to you, no matter what, and that you will help them. Shame is often a huge deterrent in kids not reaching out to their parents for help. When it happened to me, I was too ashamed to reach out to my mom, and, super-parent that she is, she had to do detective work and volunteer at my school’s library to uncover what was happening to me.
Utilize Available (Free) Resources
Get free resources from the experts. An organization I love is PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center. They have amazing resources for parents and kids.
Be Kind To Yourself
First of all, you deserve it. You deserve your love. Second, you are your child’s role model. How you treat yourself and speak to yourself is an example to your child of how they should treat and speak to themselves.
About The Author
Samantha Childs is an author and teacher from Solana Beach, California. She holds a BA in Literature from Claremont McKenna College, a JD from UCLA School of Law, and an MFA in Nonfiction Writing from Columbia University. Her new award-winning children’s book, Henri and the Magnificent Snort: A Children’s Book about Bullying, Belonging, and Love, tells her experience with bullying through the story of her French bulldog, Henri, who is bullied in the story because he snorts. He then learns that he is lovable, snorts and all! Samantha inspires others to see their own magnificence and the beautiful truth that we are all lovable, snorts and all.