One day at the post office, I mentioned to the clerk that I was writing a book on bullying. Her face lit up eager to tell me about her son. I was so impressed with her story – and how she helped change his life, that we share it in Chapter Five of The Bullying Antidote.
A local post office clerk was called in by the principal at her son’s school because he was bullying younger students. During the meeting, the mother’s heart sank for the little children. She asked them, “Is he scaring you?” They nodded their heads. In front of her son, she said, “I promise you he will never do that again. If you need any help, or someone else is ever bullying you, he will be the one to go to.”
That experience changed the young man. Over time, through programs at school and working with his mother at home, he became a friend to those children.
The school security guard bumped into him one day and asked how he was doing. “Great!” the boy replied. “Love school, and I’m getting good grades.” The surprised guard joked with him: “I thought I would see you in juvenile hall by now.”
“Now, he is a sweetheart,” his mother boasts. “He will even be speaker at his graduation!”
I gave her one of the first copies of The Bullying Antidote. That evening she read the passage to her son—who didn’t remember the experience. “Was I mean, mom? Was I mean?”
The Take-Away of this story:
Kids mostly don’t realize they are being mean. Parents and teachers can nip meanness in the bud by speaking up when it happens saying, “That was mean,” and encouraging them to soften the statement: “Can you say that another way?” With feedback helps children develop their identity, self-image and character. Identifying what’s mean, and knowing that mean is not good, can curb negative behaviors and bullying.
It is even more important to notice and comment on positive behaviors, to reinforce desired behavior. Martin Seligman, the “Father of Positive Psychology,” advises parents to look for emerging strengths and virtues, like kindness, prudence, judgment, and fairness. Noticing and identifying positive qualities build “signature strengths” in youngsters. These positive strengths can be buffers against negative emotions and depression, and lift life up to a more positive plane.
This is one way to build emotional and social health and pro-social skills in children, and to foster self- regulation that interrupts meanness and curbs bullying.