UK: Raising a Bully?

UK: Raising a Bully?

sticks and stonesI was happily preparing dinner the other day and I could hear my three children chattering away in the hall. Pretty soon the talking turned to bleeting, yes bleeting… and baaing, like a sheep. I could hear my 12-year-old son, JJ, say, “everyone is doing it at school.”

With my parenting radar on alert I popped my head out of the kitchen to ask what they were talking about and JJ explained to me that there is a teacher at school who looks like a sheep and all the students baa at her.

I was pretty horrified at this and I asked what ‘Miss’ (as they call their female teachers) said about their behaviour. JJ told me it was all done behind her back but she was a ‘good laugh’ and he couldn’t imagine she would mind. This of course was one of those moments that led to me abandoning dinner and sitting all three children down for a chat.

If I can help it, I don’t want any child of mine becoming a bully.

You might think I over reacted and that all children get involved in silly things, harmless teasing some might say. Character forming I’ve heard it called before and we’ve all heard the old rhyme ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me’ but it is not true, names really can harm a person, especially a vulnerable one.

I know this first hand, I was called many names as a young child, most of them revolving around my weight and being just a little (and it really only was a little back then) bigger than the average girl but the main reason I know about the hurt and pain that continues for many years long after the name calling stops is because I was a name caller and I really hurt someone else.

I still feel the shame when I write that, I don’t think the regret for the damage I did to a little boy called Simon (name changed for obvious reasons) will ever leave me. I first wrote about having been a bully as a child back in 2010 and it was so important to face up to the past and really acknowledge what I did. I had no idea at the time that what I was doing could be so destructive, as far as I was concerned I was just a little girl desperate to fit in with the gang and going along with everyone else.

But when your whole class cross their arms and mutter ‘fleas, injected for all my life’ each time you come near them, it is a big deal. I don’t recall Simon ever letting on at school just how much this hurt him but I do think he spent a lot of time on his own. The sad thing is that I don’t really remember that much about the whole situation to be honest, as it was inconsequential to me but of course not to him, not when it was damaging his self-esteem each and every day.

That damage went on for a very long time too. I know this as when I was 28 (quite some years ago now) I was contacted by Simon through Friends Reunited and then Facebook. He asked me about our time at school (primary school, ages 7-10) and why certain things had happened and did I remember…. I had to honestly say ‘No. No, I do not remember most of it’.  I think it was therapeutic for Simon to be in touch with a few of his bullies and to be able to finally get a heartfelt sorry from us.

I praise the Lord that he told me he had found a good partner and was at last finding some peace and happiness after years of counselling. He talked about his early upbringing with a stern father in the military and a mother who was never mentally present. Moving areas and schools every two or three years of his life had been tough and a bunch of middle-class kids made it worse and made him doubt himself.

As I quite seriously told my own children this story a couple of weeks ago I had a lump in my throat and I had to fight to stop the tears forming. They were pretty shocked and I really hope they understood what I was saying about how something that seems harmless and just a case of simple teasing can turn out to be life-damaging for some children or even adults.

From the 16th – 20th November, it is anti-bullying week here in the UK but I’d encourage you, wherever you live, to please have a chat with your children about bullying and help them to understand that the line between harmless fun and detrimental behaviour is very fine. Best to just never get close to it and to adopt a positive attitude towards all people, whether they are easy to be around or not.

Have you ever been involved with bullying, either on the receiving or doling out side? What impact has it had on you?

Michelle Pannell

Michelle’s tales of everyday life and imperfect parenting of a 13-year-old boy and 9-year-old twin girls and her positive Christian outlook on life have made her name known in the UK parenting blogosphere. Her blog, Mummy from the Heart, has struck a chord with and is read by thousands of women across the world. Michelle loves life and enjoys keeping it simple. Time with her family, friends and God are what make her happiest, along with a spot of blogging and tweeting, too! Michelle readily left behind the corporate arena but draws on her 25 years of career experience from the fields of hotel, recruitment and HR management in her current voluntary roles at a school, Christian conference centre, night shelter and food bank. As a ONE ambassador, in 2012 Michelle was selected to travel on a delegation to Ethiopia with the organisation to report on global poverty and health. Then in 2014 she was invited to Washington, DC, where she attended the AYA Summit for girls and women worldwide. When asked about her ambassadorship with the ONE Campaign, she stated, "I feel humbled to be able to act as an advocate and campaigner for those living in poverty."

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SOCIAL GOOD:  Interview with Christine Guthery, Founder of SPARK Kindness

SOCIAL GOOD: Interview with Christine Guthery, Founder of SPARK Kindness

SPARKSPARK = Successful, Positive, Authentic, Resilient, Kids

The moment you sit down with Christine Guthery, a funny transformation takes place, you find yourself swelling with optimism, self-confidence and personal-potential. It’s a gift Christine has, she simultaneously exudes these attributes and brings them out in others. She’s passionate about what she does and her enthusiasm has a way of igniting passion in others.

Christine is a lawyer by training but as the mother of three children (now ages 16, 9 and 7), she has discovered that her real calling is as a community activist and SPARK Kindness is community activism at its finest.

SPARK is the offshoot of a coalition called Parents against Bullying and Cyber-Bullying, which Christine founded in 2010, and its sister organization, the Metro-west [Boston] Anti-Bullying Coalition (ABC). The need for an anti-bullying coalition arose from a wide-spread, cyber-bullying incident at a local middle school, which impacted more than 90 students and their families in 2010.

Ironically, though neither Christine nor anyone in her family has ever been a victim of bullying, Christine is on a mission to prevent it. “Bullying is a social justice issue,” Christine says. “in order to rise above it, you have to be resilient, empowered, self-confident. I’m a lawyer by training and this idea of building resiliency inspires me. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. That’s my cause.”

“The definition of ‘bully’ used to be pretty straightforward. It was a label once reserved for kids, who were considered outliers or playground thugs, the type of kids who committed physical acts on their victims. But times have changed. Now it’s not just the kids who are insecure or outcast that are doing the bullying, rather it’s also the popular kids, both boys and girls, who are trying to reach the top of their social/athletic/academic pyramid that can be the perpetrators,” Christine says.

“Not too long ago,” Christine continues, “a slanderous note passed around at school could impact a whole class of students or even a school community but when the kids went home at the end of the day, they left the incident at school. Now, with the Internet and smart phones, [and thanks to social media sites like Facebook, MySpace and Instagram,] bullying incidents can enter the cyber-sphere and quickly go viral. Kids have no way of leaving an incident behind them,” explains Christine. “In fact, these days, a great deal of bullying occurs during out-of-school-time.”

Christine believes that genocide and ethnic-cleansing—such as the ones that have occurred in Darfur, South Sudan and Nazi Germany—is “bullying taken to extreme measures.” And it’s really this mindset, this deep desire to eradicate the cause at it’s root, that has given rise to SPARK Kindness. The evolution came in 2012, when Christine realized that just talking about bullying wasn’t making progress.

“For two years [2010 & 2011] I had been focusing on bullying and trying to understand it better,” she says, “but then I realized, what if we shifted the conversation away from the outcome (bullying) and toward the prevention (nurturing kindness and resiliency)? What if our efforts were proactive rather than reactive?”

She compares this shift in mindset with the approach of Western medicine, where the focus is on addressing the illness, not on maintaining and promoting wellness. “I was finding that just talking about bullying was disempowering,” Christine reflects. “When I focused on the positives of resilience, kindness and courage, I felt empowered. It was exactly like the emotion of ‘elevation’ or self-transcendence that psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, described in his 2012 TED talk,” she says. “In other words, when you witness someone doing something positive or altruistic, it inspires you to do something positive or altruistic. This is where SPARK Kindness came from, how can we build the community we want rather than just address the ills we want to avoid?”

The answer:

teach children not just about kindness and emotional self-awareness early on but how to be resilient and seek support when they are feeling insecure or are suffering. SPARK Kindness, ignite positive change in your community.

chirtine gutheryTo find out ways to SPARK Kindness in your own community, click the logo above or visit

This post summarizes an interview between SPARK Kindness founder, Christine Guthery and World Moms Blog Managing Editor, Kyla P’an. This is a World Moms Blog exclusive interview.

Kyla P'an (Portugal)

Kyla was born in suburban Philadelphia but spent most of her time growing up in New England. She took her first big, solo-trip at age 14, when she traveled to visit a friend on a small Greek island. Since then, travels have included: three months on the European rails, three years studying and working in Japan, and nine months taking the slow route back from Japan to the US when she was done. In addition to her work as Managing Editor of World Moms Network, Kyla is a freelance writer, copy editor, recovering triathlete and occasional blogger. Until recently, she and her husband resided outside of Boston, Massachusetts, where they were raising two spunky kids, two frisky cats, a snail, a fish and a snake. They now live outside of Lisbon, Portugal with two spunky teens and three frisky cats. You can read more about Kyla’s outlook on the world and parenting on her personal blogs, Growing Muses And Muses Where We Go

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