Come Together with Kindness
Kindness & Anti-bullying Initiative
When we first decided to take action in 2017, Drew did the following videos.
Because peer pressure is so incredibly immense, so much so that it can sometimes cause children to go so far as to take their own lives, we wanted to start an initiative that encourages POSITIVE peer pressure! Kind is the new cool, right?!
We will do our best to help our small corner of the world come together with kindness, one friend at a time, one stranger at a time, one act of kindness at a time.
We hope to encourage kids to, “come together” and exhibit:
Courage to BE KIND! Have the courage to start a conversation and offer support when encountering negative peer pressure and negative behaviors.
Kindness Be kind and inclusive to everyone, especially those who are not kind to us.
Compassion Exhibit compassion and encouragement to everyone! Reach out not only to those who are hurt by negative behaviors, but also to those who are hurting, as evidenced by the their negative behaviors. #KnowTheirBackStory
To encourage kids to start a positive peer pressure movement by recognizing their efforts to be brave, kind and compassionate.
Why? Drew, now 12 years old, has experienced bullying since he was in Kindergarten. Yes, you read that right, Kindergarten! At the time, Mom worked for a nonprofit child advocacy agency. Mom explained to Drew why she felt some kids might, "be mean." This helped Drew gain some level of understanding to both sides of the issue. Drew has always had no problem taking a stand for others. But it's a bit more difficult sometimes to take a stand for yourself.
Drew's story is essentially every kid's story. You would be hard pressed to find someone, young or old, who has not been impacted by bullying to some degree. Because it is such a common occurrence it isn't always addressed. Additionally, the word, "bully" and "bullying" often seems to cloud the issue. It's never OK to hit someone. It's never OK to harass someone. It's never OK to verbally abuse someone. But because we call these things bullying that common sense is sometimes lost. Kindness is truly the key and we want to help.
In the first grade, Drew was punched in the face when he stood up for another boy who was being physically threatened on the playground. Notice I did not say bullied. He was being physically threatened. An angry boy threatened to push Drew's friend down a steep hill into a drainage ditch. Drew stood up for his friend, got punched in the face and the rest is history! Drew has been teased relentlessly for having wild, curly hair. We even have a book about Drew and his wild, curly hair! Still today he is mistaken for a girl by both kids and adults pretty much on the daily. Kids take it a step further and taunt him because of the way he looks. This has been happening for as long as he can remember.
Drew has encountered bullying type behaviors more and more as he has grown older. He has been teased and taunted for things as crazy as wearing yellow! Yellow! At one time he was afraid to wear several colors, carry certain lunch boxes, wear certain jackets and would not wear shorts for the longest time. When I would encourage him to be himself and wear whatever he chose, he would reluctantly agree and then mumble, “They’re going to tease me for this…” This has been a topic of constant discussion for us. As a result, Drew has gotten much better at processing his feelings and reaching out to others when they hurt him. Now, when someone tells him he is weird he says, “Thank you!” We've embraced this so much we even made a shirt for it!
Most of the time now, Drew tries to help when
someone approaches him and exhibits negative or hurtful behavior. As always, he stands up for others who are being treated poorly, too. Two things made this possible: Empathy for the child exhibiting the negative behavior and gaining self-confidence.
How? What worked for us?
Empathy: For Drew, knowing possible reasons why someone might act like this was huge. Why would someone be so mean? Why would someone choose to hurt you? I explained to Drew that we never know what someone might be going through or what hurt might be in their heart that would lead them to do these things. I was able to use examples from my work in child advocacy and child welfare to explain to him how kids are not bad, their situations are. This is how we developed our #knowtheirbackstory Campaign.
I encouraged Drew to try his best to positively respond with encouraging words to kids acting, "mean." He argued that it would never work. Sometimes it didn't. But sometimes it did. It greatly depended on the other child and how Drew responded to him/her.
For example, Drew has said to other kids, “That’s not something a leader would say.” Drew’s 2nd grade teacher wrote this in his yearbook, “You have an amazing talent of helping others solve problems in a peaceful way.” Having empathy, not only for the person on the receiving end of the negative behavior, but also for the child exhibiting the the negative behavior is key. If a stick is burning on both ends, and you only put out the fire on one end, the other end will continue to burn. Both ends of this issue must be addressed.
Drew tries to encourage the child exhibiting the negative behaviors and encourages everyone to be friends. However, keep in mind, this is reality, Drew is a child, he is a feeling human being so of course, he is not perfect. So things are not always rainbows and unicorns and the older he gets the more he is met with resistance. BUT, these are coping mechanisms he can use. He can even use these skills to help others. Consider it on-the-job-training! Unfortunately, there will always be negative people in the world. We are bound to encounter negative people in our lives. Practicing these skills now provides excellent opportunities for teachable moments and each time this happens it is a process. And guess what? I learn something each time, too. Learning to rope in emotions is extremely difficult for adults, imagine how hard it is for kids?
Self Confidence: For every step Drew would make towards gaining some self-confidence, he would take three steps back each time he was treated poorly. He could go from, "I'm pretty awesome!" to "What is wrong with me? I'm not a normal kid," in a matter of minutes. So, understanding why kids might exhibit such negative behaviors was the first step in seeing the children who were, "mean," in a different light. This allowed Drew to experience empathy. The second step was believing in himself. Understanding that absolutely no one is perfect and that we all have strengths and weaknesses made a big difference. When someone would pick on him I would always ask what strengths that child might have. Though he was reluctant to do so at first, because he was upset and angry at that child, he was almost always able to name one, and sometimes several strengths the other child had. This helped him see that there is good in everyone and reinforced the idea that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. It also took his focus off of the other child's negative behaviors and shifted his focus to the positive attributes the other child possessed. It helped him see that this "mean" child was so much like himself...he knew he'd been ugly before, he knew he'd made mistakes before but he also knows he is a good person.
This helped Drew recognize his own strengths, too. He has come to learn that his biggest contributions are kindness and generosity, which he has been recognized for several times in various ways. The biggest confidence booster, the one that set him over the top, was discovering his love of acting, modeling, theatre and art. Once he began to find his strengths, his confidence was boosted by his own, small successes. The positive energy created by doing things he loved made him feel better about himself.