I’ll never forget the exact turning point—that moment when my very young son went from a downward spiral of sadness and hurt brought on by bullying, to a sense of hope and confidence. It felt like coming out of a cave.
At first, I didn’t really understand the pain he was going through those early years. I remembered being bullied as a child, pushed around, but this was something more. He was being dehumanized.
We spent a long time trying to change the attitudes of other people’s children, those “bullies” that plagued his every day. But we soon realized the futility of that. You can’t change other people’s behavior. You can only choose how to respond to it, and how you respond reveals your character—and carves your path.
It was only when we focused on building the confidence and self-esteem of our own son that we began to see the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. It was a process. Some messages have to be repeated over and over, consistently, in order to sink in.
We started by focusing on his most incredible dream life—made his world as big as possible and then helped him recognize that those dreams could become his reality. But that took more than just one conversation. That’s why I created my books. I wanted other parents to have a way to emphasize those lessons consistently, for as long as it took to get their kids back on track. And I wanted educators to have a useful tool that could remind kids of their potential—way after my workshop had ended.
Around this time of year, I often get overwhelmed and those workshops tend to slow down. But after just a few minutes on the phone with Lucia Panzarella, from the SMART Girls Committee from The Junior League—Westchester On the Sound, I found myself clearing my schedule and making room to speak at an inspiring event led by Panzarella and Ellen Lukens, along with Gwen Clayton, the director of SMART Girls/Boys and Girls Club of New Rochelle.
After just one conversation with Panzarella, I remember thinking how lucky those girls must be. And after meeting the rest of the volunteers there, I was sure of it.
Standing in front of the “Smart Girls” was an opportunity to remind this young group that the future was theirs to take—that every choice they made brought them one step closer to their most incredible dream life or one step farther away.
There are always a few “hold outs”—a couple of kids who are still under the impression that enthusiasm isn’t cool. But soon even those few began to show some interest. And by the end of the workshop, I stood next to one young girl who held my “I’ve Got Plans” book tightly in her hand and said, “I learned that if you don’t have an idea of where you’re going, you’re going nowhere.”
But one of my biggest concerns when I leave a group of children after one of my workshops is the follow through. What happens after I’m gone?
It was then that I saw these incredible volunteers lead the girls into smaller groups, so they could chat about what they learned. Then they signed the “Contract with Myself” in my book and made a promise to treat themselves and others with respect while beginning their journey.
As I watched those girls begin to imagine their future, I remembered that turning point moment when my son set his computer screen saver as the campus of Princeton. His path had become clearer, and his world bigger, while the barbs of others became less relevant. He even commented on feeling sorry for “kids who bully” because he knew their lives wouldn’t turn out as good.
I watched the Smart Girls for a little while longer and then headed home. Clearly, I was leaving them in very good hands and all I could do was feel thankful that during this overwhelming time of year, I was once again reminded of the importance of planting small seeds of hope and appreciating the hands that continued to nurture them.
Thank you, Junior League—Westchester On the Sound.
Taryn Grimes-Herbert is the author of the I’ve Got character-building book series for children, and was 2010’s Woman of Achievement in the Arts Honoree for Orange County, NY. Calling upon her professional acting experience on Broadway, film and television, she speaks out and takes her books into classrooms hoping to help kids build character, develop empathy and learn to create a positive future through creative dramatics activities.