Kindness

Kindness

Written by Dru Ahlborg, Co-Founder and Executive Director of BRRC

KINDNESS

Let it Become Your Superpower

 

Kindness is kind of a big deal around here at BRRC. Kindness makes the world a better place. Being kind helps everyone around feel safe, comfortable and understood.  A kind person thinks about the needs and concerns of others. Kind people volunteer, they help others, and they contemplate issues that impact their community. Individuals who exhibit compassionate thinking and generous acts will also demonstrate kindness. However, probably most important is that kindness is considered to be the psychological opposite to bullying and victimization.  

Teaching kindness in schools is crucial as it fosters empathy, compassion, and a sense of community among students.  Kindness can be both instinctual and can also be learned.  Stopbullying.gov tells us that there are key elements in teaching kindness in schools:

  • Include gratitude activities
  • Include volunteer activities or service learning
  • Include students to develop activities to help others
  • Facilitate respectful conversations
  • Generate open-ended discussion questions
  • Encourage working together
  • Teach and model naming and expressing emotions

The outcomes of teaching kindness with students are astounding. Stopbullying.gov states that when elementary students are taught kindness, they are more empathic, more socially aware and connected, and they receive higher grades too.  Young children tend to help each other and that desire to help seems innate.  They do so without an expectation of praise as the act itself has the built-in reward of feeling useful.  Children who engage in acts of kindness tend to be more connected, have higher levels of peer acceptance and are less likely to bully others.  Kindness helps children in particular see how they are similar rather than how they are different.

In Signe Whitson’s book 8 Keys to End Bullying, she advises “instead of the focus on all of the Thou Shalt Nots of bullying, student-led initiatives can promote building school cultures of respect by encouraging fun ways that kids can show kindness to each other.  The trick in these sorts of initiatives is making sure that the students who would benefit from kindness the most do not end up left out in the cold, while students who already enjoy high social status shower each other with adoration.  Adults play a key role in making sure that acts of kindness for some do not end up functioning as acts of exclusion for others.”
Kindness is deeply intertwined with physical and mental health.  The positive impacts of kindness include:

  • Pain – Endorphins are released in the brain which is a natural painkiller.
  • Stress – Kind people age slower and have lower stress.
  • Anxiety and Depression – Kindness will improve mood, depression and anxiety.  Kindness will stimulate the production of serotonin which will heal wounds and increase happiness.
  • Blood Pressure – Blood pressure can be reduced through acts of kindness.  The hormone oxytocin is released which causes another chemical, nitric oxide, to increase which will dilate blood vessels and reduce blood pressure.
  • Pleasure – Dopamine is released in elevated levels which causes the brain’s pleasure/reward centers to light up.  (This is sometimes referred to as a “helper’s high.”)
  • Self-Worth – Kindness will cause one to feel good about themselves and thus increase their self-worth.
  • Relationships – Kindness reduces the distance between individuals thus improving relationships of all types.

The benefits of kindness are endless.  Kindness can be taught and modeled to others.  It is contagious.  Experiencing an act of kindness can improve our mood and also increase the likelihood of spreading that kindness to others.  Individuals who perform acts of kindness are much less likely to bully others.  Kindness causes happiness and joy. The act of kindness not only positively impacts the giver and receiver, but anyone who witnesses it.  

“Kindness shouldn’t have to be earned. It should be given freely.” – Raven Kennedy

“The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the greatest intention.” – Kahlil Gibran

 

Become an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Champion

Become an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Champion

Written by Dru Ahlborg, Co-Founder and Executive Director of BRRC

The American Psychiatric Association defines Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as “a complex developmental condition involving persistent challenges with social communication, restricted interests and repetitive behavior. While autism is considered a lifelong disorder, the degree of impairment in functioning because of these challenges varies between individuals with autism.” Autismspeaks.org adds “because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges.”

*Nearly two-thirds (63%) of ASD youth have been bullied.
* Autism impacts all ethnic and socioeconomic groups.
*In 2023, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 1 in 36 children has been identified with ASD.

Why are ASD children targeted for bullying?

  • ASD children have difficulties reading social cues.
  • They struggle understanding common social conventions and have challenges with sarcasm.
  • Children with ASD may not notice or understand the intentions of their peers.
  • They can take things too literally.
  • They have trouble entering peer groups.

There are strategies available to disrupt the bullying of ASD children. They can be addressed in three different areas: bullying prevention, teacher strategies, and parenting strategies.

Bullying Prevention:
To be effective at bullying prevention, two separate items need to be addressed. The first is to address the needs of the ASD community and the second is to address the attitude and environment that leads to bullying.

  • ASD children can be coached about different forms of bullying including unhealthy relationships and unhealthy romantic relationships. Strategies for children can be put in place which include speaking to a trusted teacher or adult at school about bullying incidents and learning self-advocacy skills and asking for intervention from adults in charge.
  • All school personnel should be educated about the characteristics of ASD and how to best interact with your child. Students should be taught about autism and be encouraged to create a culture of inclusion and kindness. A school that has a culture of kindness will reduce the incidents of bullying.
  • In schools, assigning proactive hallway monitors and adult buddies to autistic students will reduce opportunities for bullying during the most chaotic and least structured parts of the day.

Teacher Strategies:
Educators are the front-line of defense for children who are targeted for bullying. Below are some ideas teachers should employ to help protect children with ASD.

  • Teachers should know and follow the outlined procedures of the school or district about addressing bullying behavior.
  • Encourage a student who has been bullied to talk about what happened. If the student cannot verbalize it encourage the child to write about or draw the event.
  • When a teacher witnesses bullying they should immediately step up and step in between the parties. It is the adult’s responsibility to stop bullying.
  • Meet with the child who has been bullied in a safe place and provide support and talk about what happened. Speak to any other students who may be witnesses and ask them what happened.

Bullying Prevention for Parents:
It is vital that parents and caregivers of ASD children act at the first sign of their child being bullied. Many children, and especially autistic students may not readily speak up to their parents and let them know they have been targeted for harassment and bullying. Telling signs that a child may be a target of bullying can include an unwillingness to go to school, an abrupt change in routine, stress or anxiety, a decline in academic performance, an inability to maintain focus, torn clothes or damaged items or unexplained cuts and bruises. Parents can take measures listed below.

  • Visit the school often – primarily as an observer.
  • Have frequent conversations with your child and ask open-ended questions. Great examples include: “Who did you sit with at lunch? Which friends did you talk with today? What is your least favorite class and why?”
  • Develop open communication channels with your child’s teachers and ask them frequently about you child’s interactions during school.
  • Offer to teach school administrators and staff about the characteristics of autism.
  • Speak to teachers about your child’s specific strengths and challenges.
  • If you suspect your child may be bullied, report it to the school and follow-up.
  • Include bullying in your child’s IEP. Social skills and self-advocacy goals should be addressed in the IEP as well.
  • Ask the school to help find a buddy for your child. One kind friend to help an ASD child through the day will greatly help especially during less structured parts of the school day.
  • Mentor your child and highlight their strengths. Help build their self-esteem. Let them know they are not inferior to any other child.

Addressing the intersection of ASD and bullying is not just a matter of awareness; it’s a call to action for empathy, understanding, and proactive intervention. By fostering inclusive environments, educating communities, and empowering individuals with autism to embrace their unique strengths, we can create a world where differences are celebrated, not targeted. If you need additional help, have questions, or if your child is being bullied and the school isn’t responsive, please contact us.

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.” – Audre Lorde, advocate

“Autism is not a disability, it’s a different ability. That’s all.” – Stuart Duncan

Stories of Hope

Stories of Hope

Stories of Hope

Written by Dru Ahlborg, Co-Founder and Executive Director of BRRC

Our organization, Bullying Recovery Resource Center (BRRC) defends bullied children and helps rebuild lives. We stand shoulder to shoulder with families deeply impacted from bullying to work together to surround the bullied child and hold the school responsible to stop the bullying. We work with families across the state of Colorado to offer experience, expertise, education, advocacy and HOPE. We often attend to families who are traumatized, angry and confused.  What follows are a few brief stories of clients and the eventual hope they experienced. (The names of the children identified below have been changed to protect their identities.)

  • One of the first families we helped had a middle-school student who was terrified to go to school. Belle is a highly intelligent child who was relentlessly verbally and physically bullied during passing periods and on her way home from school. She eventually developed mental health struggles and had great difficulties attending school. Even after we assisted obtaining a restraining order against the girl who bullied her, other children took up the charge and the bullying continued. Belle’s mother made the hard decision to remove her from the school and move to another community over an hour away. This August we received a picture and a thank you from the Belle’s mother. Belle was photographed smiling in her freshman dorm room and was eager to start her next adventure.
  • We assisted a family who had an 8th-grader, Jacob, with special needs who experienced extreme relational bullying. Students started rumors about him. Jacob was bullied online and was verbally abused. Students would pretend to become his friend only to turn on him. He was humiliated at a school dance. With our help and the tenacity of his parents, Jacob began to receive the services he needed to excel at school. About two years later BRRC received an email from his mother as she awaited outside as he was being interviewed for a job he was excited to be considered for. He ended up getting the job and became a valued employee of a speciality coffee shop.
  • Clair’s mom found BRRC online as she was desperate to help her daughter. Clair was a high school senior who had aspirations of attending an Ivy League college the following year. Clair was racially bullied for being bi-racial and was the topic of horrific rumors started by several students in her grade. The school was not willing to follow through on stopping the bullying and Clair was able to finish her senior year online. Clair was safe, and incredibly sad that the school had failed to adequately address the bullying. During the holiday break of the following year, Clair contacted BRRC to state that she was loving her freshman year of college at a prestigious university. Clair sent BRRC pictures with her new friends that she had learned to trust.

One of our key performance indicators is hope. Outcomes of our work range from the school addressing the bullying to the school attacking the family who is speaking up. Through the process of empowering parents of bullied children, we strongly emphasize that no child ever deserves to be bullied, and that they are worth advocating for. Even when the outcomes are not optimal, the bullied child learns that someone other than their family is taking up the fight. They are important, they feel less alone and ultimately at some point they have an opportunity to experience hope.

If you know a child who is being targeted for bullying, and the school isn’t addressing the problem appropriately or at all, please contact us. We are committed to building a community of support to help families rebuild and recover together.

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

Empathy and How it Relates to Bullying

Empathy and How it Relates to Bullying

Written by Dru Ahlborg, Co-Founder and Executive Director of BRRC

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. In the context of bullying, empathy plays a crucial role in both preventing and addressing instances of bullying. When individuals possess empathy, they are better able to recognize the emotions of others, including those who may be targeted for bullying. This heightened awareness can lead to increased compassion and a greater willingness to intervene or speak out against bullying behaviors. Teaching and promoting empathy can help create a more inclusive and empathetic school culture, ultimately reducing the prevalence of bullying. In this way, empathy is a key factor in fostering a safe and positive environment for all individuals.

Empathy helps create a sense of “we” through feelings that are common. It allows humans to anticipate what might make a person feel better. Research tells us that empathy is not a fixed trait and it can be fostered. It is a set of skills that are cultivated over time and the more we practice, the better we are. Empathy lies the foundation that we are all humans that share the same fears and concerns and deserve to be treated with dignity.

The beauty is that empathy can be taught. Studies show that children who are empathetic have better relationships and perform better in school and are less likely to harass and bully others. What follows are several ideas from “Very Well Family” of how to teach children to be empathetic.

  1. Meet your child’s emotional needs: Parents cannot expect their children to be loving and kind if the children are not being treated with love and kindness. As adults, we should celebrate children where they are. Take verbal and emotion notice of hard work, accomplishments and of setting and achieving goals.

  2. Help children identify and share their feelings: When kids understand how they feel and can name those feelings, they are better equipped to identify similar feelings in others. It is important to allow children to express their feelings including negative ones. The goal is to communicate feelings in a productive way without violence or bullying.
  3. Explore other perspectives: Teach children to look at situations and understand how it may be experienced from another person’s point of view. Children who are capable of viewing situations from a different perspective are more likely to understand how children who differ from them may feel in those situations.
  4. Model empathy: Have conversations with children about how another person may be feeling and why you responded the way that you did. Explain why you choose to be kind and helpful to others.
  5. Teach children to find common ground: Research shows that kids are more likely to feel empathetic toward someone if they can relate to how a person is feeling. If a child has had a similar situation happen to them, they are more likely to be empathetic and kind to that other child.
  6. Help them imagine how someone else feels: Look for opportunities to discuss with children how another person may be feeling. It is important to share your thoughts and very important to allow the child to speak freely too.
  7. Explain how their behavior impacts others: This is where the rubber meets the road. It is important to speak with children about the consequences impact another person. Coach children to consider others before making decisions and acting.

In conclusion, nurturing empathy in children is essential in addressing and preventing bullying. By teaching children to understand and share the feelings of others, we can instill a sense of compassion and kindness that will guide their interactions with their peers. Through education, modeling empathy in our own behavior, and providing opportunities for children to practice empathy, we can help create a more empathetic and inclusive society. It is through fostering empathy that we can empower children to stand up against bullying and create a more caring and understanding community for all.

“Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself.”  —Mohsin Hamid

Words Matter

Words Matter

Written by Dru Ahlborg, Co-Founder and Executive Director of BRRC

Bullying is a pervasive issue that affects individuals of all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life. It leaves both emotional and physical scars, and its impact can be long-lasting. In order to address this problem effectively, it is essential that we use the right words when discussing or speaking about bullying. Our choice of language not only reflects our understanding of the issue but also shapes the way it is perceived and dealt with by others. It is crucial that we are thoughtful and intentional in our communication surrounding bullying, ensuring that our words empower and support those who have been impacted by it.

Included below are words that are often used in conjunction when speaking about bullying. Choosing our words and phrases wisely ultimately increases understanding about bullying and will help those who are impacted by bullying.

 

Bullying vs. conflict

At BRRC, we are deliberate about how we talk about bullying. One of the things we discuss with our parents is properly labeling an event bullying or conflict. Quite often school officials label events as conflict when it is indeed bullying.

Stopbullying.gov states “bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” The markers of bullying include:

  1. Imbalance of power
  2. Intent to harm
  3. Threat of further aggression

Conflict, on the other hand is a disagreement or argument in which both parties express their views. There is equal power between the children involved and it generally stops when one child realizes they are hurting the other person.

Bullying and conflict need to be dealt with differently. If bullying is happening at school, the adults in charge are responsible to stop the bullying. Conflict however can sometimes be solved by the children themselves, or by some coaching from adults. Conflict can be “solved” whereas bullying must be “stopped.”

 

Victim vs. target

At BRRC, we are very intentional about referring to a child who has been bullied as a “target” rather than a “victim”. Instead of labeling individuals as “bullying victims,” it is more empowering and respectful to use the term “bullying targets.” This shift in language recognizes that individuals who have experienced bullying are not defined solely by their victimhood but deserve to be seen as individuals who have been targeted unfairly. By using the term “bullying targets,” we not only avoid further stigmatizing or marginalizing those who have endured bullying but also encourage a more compassionate and supportive approach to addressing this issue.

 

Taunting vs teasing

The words taunting and teasing are very different from one another. Taunting is the verbal action that involves humiliating, cruel and demeaning comments that are often referred to as “jokes.” When taunting occurs, laughter is directed at the target and is meant to diminish the self-worth of the person being laughed at. Teasing is verbal, playful interactions done among friends. It is not laughing at someone but is intended for both parties to laugh together.

Teasing can cross a line and become hurtful. When there is an objection, the person doing the teasing will stop. With taunting however, when someone gets upset, the behavior will continue. We often hear schools refer to verbal bullying behavior as “teasing” when it should be labeled as “taunting.” Taunting is hurtful and oftentimes can lead to additional bullying behaviors.

 

Flirting vs verbal sexual bullying

There are rather large differences between flirting and verbal sexual bullying. Schools sometimes downplay this form of verbal bullying and it is important to know the differences. Like teasing, flirting has a playfulness that sexual bullying does not. Flirting is an invitation for two people to get to know each other better. Flirting stops when one party declines the invitation. This banter is not intended to harm another and includes flattery, compliments and intended to make the other person feel attractive and in control.

The nature of verbal sexual bullying can be different for the genders. Words used to verbally assault boys in a derogatory manner are terms that define them less than being a male or a boy (sissy, pussy, wuss) or homophobic terms (gay, fag, queer). With females and girls, the verbal assaults will often objectify their body or demean their sexuality (fat, dog, cunt, slut, whore, easy). Many times, the child who is engaging in bullying will state they are just “teasing.”

 

Retaliation vs Defending Yourself

Schools quite often talk about a bullying target “retaliating” in physical incident and therefore inciting equal consequences for both the aggressor and the target. Defending oneself involves taking reasonable and appropriate actions to protect oneself from further harm. The focus is asserting their rights and prioritizing personal safety. Children who are the target of physical bullying behavior will sometimes strike back. It is imperative to investigate bullying incidents and determine if a child was attempting to protect themselves. Retaliation is the action of harming someone because they themselves have been harmed. It is an act of revenge. When a child takes measures during a physical altercation to protect themselves, it should be labeled as defending oneself. If a bullying target plans harmful actions against their aggressor to “get back” at them, then that would be labeled as retaliation.

Using appropriate language about bullying is incredibly important. The correct use of terms and words will better defend a bullying target and opens an opportunity to educate others about the differences in behaviors. We are here to assist in defending bullied children through advocacy, education and proper language.

“Words are containers for power, you choose what kind of power they carry.”  ~ Joyce Meyer

Expansion and Purpose: The Need for our Work is Greater Than Ever

Expansion and Purpose: The Need for our Work is Greater Than Ever

Expansion and Purpose:
The Need for our Work is Greater Than Ever

Written by Dru Ahlborg, Co-Founder and Executive Director of BRRC

As we close out 2023, we want to share our extreme gratitude for the brave families we get to serve, the growing amount of supporters we have in Colorado and beyond, our generous sponsors, the fantastic resources we get to recommend to our clients, our amazing volunteers, and our passionate board of directors. It takes all of us to “defend bullied children and help rebuild lives” and we appreciate each and every one of you.

Our guiding word for 2023 was “expansion.” This simple word was threaded into everything that BRRC was able to accomplish this year. Some highlights include:

  • We served over 100 new families in 2023.
  • With the help of volunteers, BRRC expanded our community outreach to over 30 new pediatric offices, mental health offices and crisis centers in Colorado.
  • BRRC partnered with the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation program Impact Denver on a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) project. The professionals on the BRRC Impact Denver team successfully identified 35 organizations that serve Coloradans in the refugee/immigrant, disabled, BIPOC, LGBTQ+, low-income and rural communities. It is our hope to partner with these organizations to better serve those in underserved communities.
  • A database was created and launched to assist our advocates with in-taking our clients and collecting all pertinent information to better serve our families.
  • BRRC trained three new volunteer advocates this past year including our first bi-lingual advocate.
  • BRRC collaborated with organizations serving the neurodiverse, mental health and parent communities to provide education and resources for parents and professionals.

BRRC is looking forward to 2024 and the continued need for expansion and solidifying our purpose of serving families impacted by bullying. Children who are deeply impacted by bullying need caregivers who can offer the support, guidance and stamina to walk through the trauma that bullying can create. BRRC offers the support, advocacy and education to the caregivers which in turn greatly helps the child feel cared for and not alone. Our most important marker is to reduce the amount suicides of youth in Colorado.

Our 2024 goals are lofty. Here are a few of them:

  • BRRC will bring on one to two interns to research current state bullying laws across the US to determine if they have had an impact on reducing bullying. Our goal is to eventually help create effective state legislation that will make it beneficial for schools and districts to identify and stop bullying.
  • BRRC plans to partner with the identified DEI organizations from the Impact Denver team to better serve underserved Coloradans.
  • We will be creating education for parents of students K-8 to understand and stop bullying. We know knowledge is key and we feel that providing caretakers with support and education will help as a prevention tool.
  • BRRC will continue to onboard new advocates and continue with our statewide outreach program to grow community partners and better serve families.

The road forward for us is rutted and rocky and needs to be traveled. We are dedicated to reducing the trauma bullying can create and we couldn’t do it without the support, generosity and kindness of so many people. Thank you for being part of the BRRC tribe. On behalf of all of our families and team BRRC, we wish you a wonderful, safe and peaceful 2024.