How Does Being Labeled a Bully Affect Children?
I am no stranger to bullies. I was often the youngest and smallest kid in my class who was also bright (which sometimes made me stand out in class) and was painfully shy and hated attention. I went out of my way to avoid confrontation and made friends with other students who had none. I learned a lot about myself and others who were like me but never got many chances to befriend so-called bullies. Their wild antics, put-downs, and teasing made it hard for me to understand why someone would be mean to others. Even after being out of school, I see bullies in the workplace and find them confusing. It was nice to read a book about the other side of bullying and how labels, while earned, can be damaging to mending social interactions. Who knows? Your worst bully can become a great friend!
Psychology has shown that labels can limit how children see themselves, as well as how other children and adults see them. Every label sends a message that tells kids how to think about themselves. When children are labeled as “bullies,” it may signal to their peers that they are bad kids who should be avoided and it may give adults permission to show scorn. Educator and mom Rene Micka aims to help children understand the consequences of being a bully through her debut children’s book Charlie’s Birthday Wish.
This story focuses on the class bully who is banished by his peers for his behavior. Charlie wants to change his ways and his birthday wish is to be forgiven for being cruel to his friends at school. In the story, he realizes all the pain that he has caused and from the help of his mother he learned that friendships have to be earned. Charlie told his peers that he was wrong and invited them to his birthday in hopes to make new memories. Will his friends forgive Charlie and come to his party?
Smartly written from the viewpoint of Charlie, the story’s antagonist, Charlie’s Birthday Wish teaches children to consider how bullies can be misunderstood, remorseful, and even forgiven. It also explores the consequences faced by those who choose to be unkind. The story uses rhyme to open an age-appropriate conversation about unkindness and its implications, not only for the oppressed, but also for the oppressor himself.
Q&A from Author Rene Micka on Bullying
- How can parents teach children that friendships are not a right and must be earned? I tell my children that a person who brings you joy, offers you help when you need it, and confidence to go about your day, is a true friend. A real friend would not make you feel insecure, judged, intimidated, or controlled. I tell them not to sacrifice who they are for a person who is not good to them or for them.
- What are the short and long-term consequences of being a bully? Short term consequences of being a bully are a lack of true friendship, possible isolation, lack of confidence and self-worth, effects of disciplinary actions. Long-term consequences of being a bully include more adult forms of bullying in the work place, difficulty keeping steady employment, struggle in interpersonal relationships, increased risk of alcohol and drug abuse, and more likely to have a criminal record.
- What, in your opinion, is the best way to teach children ways to be a good friend? I remind them of what a true friend is and tell them to be that person for others. Then I role play with them using different social situations and talk them through the various way they can be the friend they want to be.
- How can parents, teachers, and guardians show and teach the importance of forgiveness by acting as role models? Forgiveness, is healing to both parties. It not only helps ease the pain of those offended, it can also help shed some light as to why the incident happened in the first place. The reason is not usually because the child dislikes the other child. It is good for the victim to hear that. Asking for forgiveness can help a child acknowledge the situation and work towards improved behaviors. We as parents need to demonstrate how to say sorry by making an effort to ask for forgiveness when we have done something wrong. Again, role playing is great for teaching kids to navigate these social situations.
- In your book, Charlie’s Birthday Wish, it focuses on a bully who wants to make amends to his classmates. I love that perspective. What things do you think Charlie did right to correct the situation and do you think the outcome is realistic for children? Charlie realized that he had alienated himself just before his party. The first thing he did was tell his mother what a terrible friend he had been. From there she was able to teach him the error of his ways. She suggested that he apologize, and he did so in the Birthday Invitation that was written in rhyme. His apology was not only sincere, it included the reason for his behavior. This was key for how his friends were able to forgive him in the end. In real life some kids would have come to the party anyway, without the apology, in hopes that things will improve if they get to know each other. That does happen, but a true friendship would not likely to evolve, just because a child attends the party. In the story, Charlie felt the only way to make things right and to have true friends, was to say that he was sincerely sorry for what he had done.
- Bullying just doesn’t happen in school and can continue in the workplace. I was once told by a co-worker that a bully in our office needed acceptance, too, but he was not willing to change his behavior despite my efforts. How would you tell an adult to handle that situation? Can the situation be improved from a one-sided perspective? A therapist once said to me that you can not make another person change their ways. The only thing we can do is to change our actions and attitudes. From there, others will adapt to the new you. Some people have always struggled socially and may never adapt completely. Often times, there is a reason they are behaving this way, but dialogue is not always possible. Instead, continue to do your best to recognize everyone’s strengths and try to look past some social weaknesses. Most importantly, strive daily to make everyone feel valued, included, and appreciated. After all, everyone needs accolades from time to time. Who knows, they may come around in the end. If no change happens for them, at least you have made some positive changes that will enhance your quality of life and peer relationships.
About Rene Micka
Rene Micka is a parent and an educator who has worked with children of all ages for 15 years. She spends a great deal of time volunteering at her children’s Catholic school, where she runs many of the programs. Character education is a focus of all her efforts in the classroom. As a member of the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program, Micka’s experiences have led her to have a greater understanding of the issues affecting children in distressed situations. Although she is no longer teaching, she has made it her mission to see to it that children get the better life they deserve. Charlie’s Birthday Wish is her debut children’s book.
List Price: $ 12.99