In her powerful TED Talk, Miriam Laundry makes the case that, though bullying can be an issue for many kids, an often overlooked issue is that the biggest bully of all may be the one in the mirror. With depression and anxiety on the rise among young people, Laundry is on a mission to help kids and teens recognize the power of the words they say to themselves and face the “big, bad bully” in their mind.
Laundry teamed up with self-esteem expert and best-selling author of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series, Jack Canfield, in the new children’s book, “The Big, Bad Bully.”
I corresponded with Laundry and Canfield via email to learn what parents can do to help their kids face their own big, bad bully. Here’s what they told me.
The Epoch Times: What inspired you to write “The Big, Bad Bully?”
Miriam Laundry: I was inspired to write this story after an experience I had with my daughter. She was about 12 years old, when one evening she was standing in front of a full-length mirror and she was criticizing herself as she was talking to me. “Mommy, why do I have such frizzy hair? Why am I so short? Why do I have so many pimples?” None of my responses to her were helping until out of frustration I finally said, “Stop it! You’re bullying yourself!”
At that point, my daughter stopped talking and I could see in her eyes that she understood. She was quietly processing it.
We all know how bad bullying is, the thought that she was bullying herself was enough to make her stop and understand what she was doing to herself.
If my daughter was going through this, surely there would be other children and teens suffering from an internal bully.
The Epoch Times: Negative self-talk seems to come naturally to many people. Why do you think that is?
Jack Canfield: We are used to hearing criticism from others. Either others are criticizing themselves or we hear them criticizing other people or even criticizing us. We internalize all of this. Maybe we hear our sibling say, “You’re ugly,” or our parents say, “You’re so messy—your bedroom is always a mess,” and the more we hear little things like this, the more we believe it.
We’re also always comparing ourselves to others. Social media has made this worse. We see other people’s perfect photographs, but we fail to remember that those photos could have been photoshopped or that they took a hundred photos and chose the best one, with the best angle. We compare ourselves to those photos and always come up short.
We see kids on TV in family shows that are attractive and dress well, and we compare ourselves to them. If we didn’t compare ourselves to others, then we wouldn’t have negative self-talk.
We internalize all the negative things we hear, and this is why negative self-talk comes naturally.
The Epoch Times: How can parents recognize if their child has an issue with negative self-talk?
Ms. Laundry: Notice how your child talks about himself. Is he or she telling you good things about themselves or are they always being critical when talking about themselves? This is probably the best indicator.
Another thing to watch for is your child’s involvement in activities at school and outside of school. Are they trying out for teams or joining different clubs? If they’re not, I would start asking about it. Their answer will reveal a lot. A lot of times, children who have issues with negative self-talk don’t want to go for something new because their negative self-talk is telling them they’re not good enough for it.
Make sure you’re talking to your child. You’ll know.
The Epoch Times: What are some ways kids and teens can overcome their “big, bad bully?”
Ms. Laundry: There is an exercise I taught my daughter to do that evening when I discovered she was bullying herself. It’s an exercise I learned from Jack at one of his seminars. It’s called the mirror exercise, which we have included in the book for children to do.
It’s a powerful little exercise that helps change the negative self-talk into a kinder self-talk and has to do with standing in front of a mirror and talking to yourself about all the good things that happened during the day.
The instructions for The Mirror Exercise and a printable download can be found at: MiriamLaundry.com/my-daughters-bully/. The great thing about printing it out is, it’s a great reminder if you tape it to your mirror. Then you see it every day!
We have several other self-esteem building exercises at the back of the book for parents and teachers to do with children. I believe these exercises can help children to be kinder to themselves and change the inner bully into an inner friend.
The Epoch Times: What can parents do to model positive self-esteem for their kids?
Ms. Laundry: Children learn from what we as parents do more than what we tell them to do. Our children need to see us talking to ourselves positively. They need to see us being kind to ourselves and not being judgmental. They need to see us being kind to others in what we say to others when they’re around and when they’re not. They need to see us looking in the mirror and smiling instead of criticizing our bodies. They need to see us going for our goals and failing, too. They need to see how we learn from our mistakes.
It’s important that we model these things because, although we think they don’t notice, they notice everything and then emulate it.
The Epoch Times: What can teachers do to help their students overcome self-esteem issues in their classrooms?
Mr. Canfield: There’s so much teachers can do to help their students increase their self-esteem. The first thing I would teach them is to do the Mirror Exercise.
The second activity I would suggest teachers do with their students is something called a “Heart Talk.” The idea behind a Heart Talk is that students share their feelings and that they feel heard.
Have students sit in groups (max. 8). Pass around an object, and whoever is holding the object is allowed to speak. No one can interrupt and all must listen. Give them a topic and ask them to speak about how they feel about that topic. When they are finished, they pass the object to the person to their left.
Topics can be:
- The thing I am most concerned about is …
- My biggest fear is …
- What I want in my life is …
- What I have trouble asking for is …
- I am proud of …
- A success I have had is …
I would suggest doing this at least once a week. Most children don’t talk about their feelings and they feel alone in the world. They think no one else is going through what they’re going through. Kids have a lot of feelings with regards to so many things, and they never talk about them. Maybe a classmate moved away, maybe they lost a sports game that is upsetting them, maybe a pet or loved one died. Children go through a lot; this exercise will allow many feelings to come out. It also makes them feel like their feelings and emotions matter.
A third exercise I would suggest is getting everyone in the classroom to write one good quality they see in every student. Compile all these answers from everyone in the class and put it together on one sheet for each student. Then give this to all the students. That is sure to make everyone feel great!
The Epoch Times: What do you most hope readers understand after reading, “The Big, Bad Bully?”
Ms. Laundry: We hope “The Big, Bad Bully” is a conversation starter for many people. Negative self-talk is happening whether we’re aware of it or not, and it’s happening young. We need to have awareness so we can make changes.
We believe that once self-bullying stops, we’ll see less cases of outside bullying also.
We need to love ourselves first so that we can then love others.