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Change. Sometimes it's really good -- sometimes it can leave you helpless. A few years back, change is what led to my eight-year-old daughter's world being turned upside down. She changed schools because we moved to a new house. My princess was in grade three at the time, and she encountered her first set of bullies. I felt helpless.
These bullies were not the big tough ones that steal your lunch money, or shove your head in the toilet. They were cute little darlings who loved princesses and everything pink. My daughter being a tomboy became an instant target. She was not girly enough; she had her distinct sense of style that didn't sit well with them. She loved superheroes and everything related to sports. The mean girls at her school were ready to take on their tweens, while my girl, still enjoyed hanging out at the playground. She was a misfit.
That first year, I blamed the challenges she faced on her adjusting to the new school. I spoke to the teachers, and tried to find solutions for her. I bought her a girly wardrobe (that her strong personality rejected). I bought her a new soccer ball so that kids in her grade would see an incentive to play with her. But nothing worked. She was still left out of every activity. She would come home sad everyday. She would cry every week. We would have pep talks regularly, but I could not mend my daughter's broken heart. I could not take back the words kids said to my child. Her loneliness haunted me. As a mother, I was watching a child dying on the inside. It was like watching a beautiful flower wilting in the cold.
She was at the end of Gr 4 with not a friend in sight. I accepted her situation wasn't going to change, because I was bullied as a child, and I knew that unless she changed schools again, things would remain the same. I remember one of my bullies from childhood once telling me that he didn't care if I complained about him. He said "What's the worst that's gonna happen to me? I'm gonna get suspended for a day or two, my mom will ground me for a week, but after that I'll be back." There was such conviction in his statement, that I remember being livid with fear.
When I was a kid I realized there was only so much schools, Principals, and teachers could do. Now as an adult who survived bullying, I realize it is my responsibility as a parent to figure out how to set up a system to protect our kids.
After a year and a half of watching my daughter's misery, I took matters into my own hands. I decided I would surround her with girls on my own time, so she could make friends in an environment she was comfortable in, because swimming classes, soccer, and basketball didn't help.So began my faith-based youth group. I called some of my own friends that I grew up with, and asked if they would be interested in sending their daughters over for an evening full of motivation, art, and baking. We would do this every two weeks. It started with only three girls, but soon snowballed till I had 12 girls sitting around my dining table.
We made lip-gloss, origami, and cupcakes all while discussing hard-hitting issues like being peacekeepers in the world, and issues of body image for girls.
I had girls from all different backgrounds with different interests come together and find joy in baking and motivation. They all seemed so happy, their joy made my heart sing. They chose a name for themselves "The Habs Peacekeepers", because they loved the Montreal Canadiens (Montreal's NHL hockey team also know as the habs), and their goal was to be peacekeepers wherever they went.
As the youth group took on a life of its own, my daughter's situation at school didn't change much. Every year I wrote letters to her teachers. Some days were really bad, and some incidences were very painful. Her teachers would get involved and things would improve for a few weeks, but then would go back to the way they were.
Though things remained tough at school, slowly I started seeing little changes in her. She stopped crying after school. Instead, she started to focus on befriending her teachers and doing well in school. There were still some occasional setbacks, but her Habs Peacekeeper buddies became her support group that she would look forward to seeing every two weeks.
Either the youth group was helping her, or perhaps she was just developing a thick skin. I wasn't sure. I didn't realize how integral her new friends were for her until this past holiday season, when I became really ill. I was unable to meet up with my youth group for two months. And that's when the bullying demons started to haunt my baby girl all over again. "Mommy, I feel like I don't exist in my class." "Mommy, those girls are still spreading rumors about me." So I called the principal again, who would do very little for my broken-hearted child. Yes there are great anti-bullying programs at her school, but it helped her very little. What is a zero tolerance policy, I'm still not sure.
Perhaps I haven't raised hell like I should've at her school, but maybe that's because I think sometimes we have to find solutions away from the problems. When I had a bad case of the mean girls in Gr 6, there was very little that could be done to change them.
Kids need support when they are bullied, if their environment doesn't change, as parents we have to think outside of the box. These past three years have been very difficult for our family, but my husband and I saw an opportunity to help our child and help others become anti-bullying advocates.
Since it's inception the girls that attend have changed. Now we are down to solid group of five or six girls, plus there is tons of big sister support from all the families who take part regularly. As they grow into their teens, their interests and concerns have evolved. We don't make lip gloss anymore, instead we make brown bag dinners for homeless people -- that my husband and I drop off to a homeless shelter. Instead of talking about bonding, the youth group now discus's issues like self-respect, drugs, peer pressure and bullying.
Though change might be tough at times, it teaches one to look back and see the positive things that have come out of it. It teaches to adapt and overcome obstacles.
Getting bullied is one of those things that can make you stronger but will scar you for life. Not everyone addresses the signs of bullying, its important that as a society at large we become sensitive enough to admit when a child needs help. We must stop being a culture that "blames the victim". Most importantly we must stop creating lofty rules and zero tolerance policies that are not practiced.
I was blessed to come out stronger, and now as an adult it is my hope, that my daughter comes out of this even stronger.
Amber - @amberzcorner
Please take the time to watch this powerful video below on bullying.
Follow Amber Rehman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/amberzcorner