Life isn’t about what happens to you, it’s about how you respond to what happens to you. That’s what I’ve always told my kids. The concept became especially relevant when my son was being bullied.
We’d gone through the various emotions a family encounters when raising a bullied child—denial, disbelief, anger, frustration and, finally, acceptance.
We reported every incident respectfully and tried everything to get the other children to stop—with little success, at first. It was then we realized that we had to do whatever it took to help our son build the confidence and self-esteem he needed to flourish, despite the way he was treated.
Life can be challenging and people can be cruel. We wanted him to know that his positive self-image had to come from within. If he depended on others to make him happy, or feel good about himself, he’d likely have a rocky road ahead.
It worked, and we’re grateful every day that we made the choices we made. The bullying stopped, and my son began to develop a strong circle of friends with his same interests.
You might think that would be the end of the story—but it doesn’t stop there.
Every experience can influence how a child views the world. I’ve seen many bullied children become so desperate not to be the one “at the bottom of the food chain” that they’ll do anything to climb to the top—even if it means turning the tables. They become the bully and treat others badly who they may consider friends—just to avoid being the target.
It’s heartbreaking to watch.
Our experience had become an opportunity. We’d helped our child survive being the victim of bullying behavior, and it was time to allow that to help him build compassion and empathy—become a better person.
Some have commented to me that bullying is a good thing because it builds confidence. I couldn’t disagree more. Bullying is unacceptable, and if I had the choice, my son wouldn’t have had this experience. It’s damaging and life-altering.
But when I asked my son if it was OK with him for me to mention what happened to him in my books and columns, he responded by saying, “Mom, if that helps even one kid who is being bullied, it makes what I went through almost worth it.”
Life isn’t about what happens to you, it’s about how you respond to what happens to you. Being bullied doesn’t make you stronger, using every life experience to build compassion, empathy and make you a better person does.
Taryn Grimes-Herbert is a screenwriter, performer, the author of the I’ve Got character-building book series for children, and was 2010’s Woman of Achievement in the Arts Honoree for Orange County, NY. Calling upon her professional acting experience on Broadway, film and television, she speaks out and takes her books into classrooms hoping to help kids build character, develop empathy and learn to create a positive future through creative dramatics activities.