Once a family has spent time helping a child survive bullying, it can be difficult for everybody to make the transition into the final phase of “moving on.”
Once bitten, twice shy.
But I can’t tell you how important it was for my son to embrace the fact he’d gotten past it. I wanted him to feel confident and hopeful about the future and allow the experience to make him stronger as he moved forward.
That wasn’t easy to achieve. It took patience and a positive attitude.
I do an exercise with both my kids called “I’ve Been Framed” that encourages perspective during difficult times. I feel that it really helps my kids stay focused on the good things that happen.
Here’s how it works:
- Start with 2 sturdy pieces of paper—1 large and 1 about half that size.
- Draw a decorative border around the edges of the smaller one, similar to a frame, and cut out an inside square.
- On the next sheet, have the child paste his or her photo or draw a self-portrait in the center.
- Next, encourage him or her to surround that picture with images of people and things relevant to them. Note: Unlike the “Most Incredible Dream Life” exercise, where you envision your future, this is really about the past and present. It may take a while. Help them think about extra-curricular activities, family members, hobbies, friends, favorite memories or classes in school. They can draw them, use photos or cut out pictures from magazines.
- Don’t make a big deal if they choose to include something negative. It will give you insight and provide an opportunity for a casual chat. By letting them control the project, they feel empowered, and if you see any , you’ll know to immediately consult with a professional for advice.
- Take the frame and have the child place it over the larger poster. Now move it it from place to place—adjusting where the frame is centered. Then talk about it. Sometimes the focus will be on family. Sometimes the focus is school, friends or fun. Emphasize the fact that your child can choose where to focus their attention. Concentrating on the positive creates a nice picture and helps to maintain a good perspective. We should learn from negative things that happen, but we don’t have to hold onto them so closely that they become the center of our lives.
Exercises like these simply provide a way to communicate. It’s not always easy to get a child to open up about how they’re feeling, but it’s crucial that they express themselves.
My daughter has been experiencing fairly typical social issues at school. But, even when it’s not “bullying,” kids can be brutal. Sometimes kids are more likely to draw or write about it than talk about it. So I use my books, artwork and creative dramatics exercises to keep the lines of communication open.
The other day, she was sharing her frustrations when my son came into the room. He smiled at her and said in a comforting tone, “I know it feels bad now, but you’ll get through it, and it won’t seem so important to you later.”
His words didn’t solve her problem, but it was clear she found them comforting. And I was thrilled to know he’d gotten the message. Even though he acknowledged his negative experiences, hed chosen to “frame” his life around the positive and keep things in perspective.
Sometimes, it’s a matter of focus.
Taryn Grimes-Herbert is 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.