I’ve never met anyone who claims to be a bully. I’ve never met a parent who proudly proclaimed, “Yes, Junior is a bully.” Yet according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 1 out of 4 students reported being bullied during the 2015 school year, and it’s estimated that 64% of the victims of bullying didn’t report it. Something doesn’t add up.
Nearly everyone has seen, or heard, bullying. But how many try to stop it or to help the victim of bullying?
Physical bullying is easy to spot, though not so easy to stop. Verbal bullying may not seem like such a big deal . . . unless you or your child is the target. Looks, body type, race, and disabilities are the main subjects of verbal abuse. And with cyberbullying, no one is exempt from the often anonymous meanness.
When our special-needs daughter, Katy, started school, she brought her joy and sunshine with her, along with a major hearing loss, speech and articulation problems, and chronic illness. School wasn’t easy for her, but she arrived home with a big smile every day . . . until she didn’t. Tears streaming down her face, Katy ran to her room and hid under the covers until her dad and I got her calmed down enough to tell us what happened. A boy in her class had mimicked her and made fun of the way she talked. I knew I’d have a word with her teacher eventually. But for now, we hugged and held our daughter and told her if it happened again, she should think of all the great things we always say about her. “And don’t forget to listen to Jesus, who says you’re his much-loved child, a miracle, a gift.” Katy, still sobbing, said, “I tried! But Michael was right there in front of my face, and you guys and Jesus were whispering in the back of my head. So I couldn’t hardly hear you!” How we wished someone had stood up for Katy! Most of her classmates were good kids, Christian kids. But not one said or did a thing to help. They weren’t bullies, but is that enough? And it’s not just a school problem. Most of us grown-ups have seen bullying or mean teasing or name-calling. How often do we do anything about it?
There are no easy solutions to bullying. But what if we all took the offensive and became aggressively kind? That’s what happens in Larger-Than-Life Lara. In the middle of the night, I was awakened by a fictional tough kid, Laney, who said: “This isn’t about me. This story, I mean. So already you got a reason to hang it up.” I got out of bed, stumbled to my office, and wrote what became Chapter One. Every morning I sat at my computer, eager to discover this story. As bullies wormed their way into the book, I panicked because as hard as I’d tried, I’d never landed on the best way to beat a bully. But Larger-Than-Life Lara did, in a way. Lara is a very large fourth-grader, the new kid in Laney’s classroom. But Lara’s weight isn’t the most notable thing about her. She has a smile that’s so real and deep that it makes Laney, our narrator, crazy because she’s never smiled like that. Lara is kind. When bullying threatens her, hurts her, she forgives. She’s real, and she suffers. But she returns kindness for meanness, and her aggressive kindness transforms the entire class.
That’s what Katy did too, eventually. The rest of the school year, whatever mean things Michael said to her, Katy kept her smile and said, “Thank you, Michael.” Eventually, he gave up. Things weren’t always “happily ever after.” There were other bullies, other “teasers.” But Katy’s aggressive kindness proved to be a powerful weapon.
What if every Christian would be aggressively kind, shining light into darkness, standing up for victims of gossip and bullying? Over 200 years ago, Edmund Burke wrote: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Around 2,000 years ago, Paul wrote: “. . . Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone” (I Thessalonians 5:14, NLT).
Dandi Daley Mackall is the award-winning author of over 450 books for children and adults. She visits countless schools, conducts writing assemblies and workshops across the United States, and presents keynote addresses at conferences and young author events. She is also a frequent guest on radio talk shows and has made dozens of appearances on TV. She has won several awards for her writing, including the Helen Keating Ott Award for Contributions to Children’s Literature, the Edgar Award, and a two-time Mom’s Choice Award winner.
Dandi writes from rural Ohio, where she lives with her husband, Joe, their three children, and their horses, dogs, and cats. Visit her at her website, dandibooks.com.