‘I was 9 when my brain started believing my worth was truly nothing. Girls at school kept saying I’d break the mirrors with my ‘ugly dog face.’’: Mom shares how to tell if your child is being bullied 

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“According to Wikipedia the bullying definition is: ‘use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.’ According to someone who is being bullied, the definition is: ‘you’re worth NOTHING and NO ONE wants you.’

The first time I was bullied, teased, made fun of, whatever you call it, was the first time I questioned my worth. The key word in there was ‘questioned.’ I didn’t believe it… YET. But I did question it. Being bullied brought up anxiety in me, but as a child, and back in the 90s, I had no idea that’s what it was.

I can still hear the voices in the back of my head the first time I heard ‘she’s untouchable.’ I remember exactly what I was wearing, what the spring breeze felt like on my arms, the squeak of the swing sets behind me. After hearing ‘untouchable,’ and especially being called ‘dog face’ so many times, that is when I started believing it. In middle school is when I knew what my worth was… not much.

Young girl who is bullied at school smiling in kitchen
Courtesy of Goldie Merrell

I was only 9 when my innocent brain started believing my worth was truly nothing, even though I was on and off different medications that would clear my face (as long as I was on them). When I look back at how old I was, I realize my son is now 9. That is so little! Some people question whether my parents knew I was being bullied, and here’s the answer: YES. They were fully aware of what was going on, and it’s to them I owe my positivity too.

Teen who is bullied at school sits in kitchen beside her mother
Courtesy of Goldie Merrell

Later on, my body developed a bacterium that caused breakouts of cystic acne, cysts, boils, and small lipomas (benign tumors). Starting at the age of 8, these ‘breakouts’ just became part of my life. In middle school, my breakouts were happening on my face, arms, back, and chest. There were times where I still heard ‘untouchable,’ but now I was hearing more nicknames like ‘dog face, boiler maker, pizza face, and straw head.’

Close up of teens face who has cystic acne and is bullied at school
Courtesy of Goldie Merrell

If your child is being bullied but you’re not quite sure, there are ways to tell if they’re scared to talk about it. There is a difference between meanness and bullying. I know from my own experience being bullied. I see what the signs are in my own boys if they’re struggling in school with a bully or a mean kid. Here are some ways you can tell if your child is being truly bullied…

Your child has lost or destroyed personal items. There are frequent complaints of stomachaches or headaches to get out of school. Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch. Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares, declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or asking not to go to school. Sudden loss of friends or avoiding of social situations, feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem. Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, bullying younger siblings, or heaven forbid, talking about suicide.

People often ask me if I ever contemplated suicide… NO, I never did. My uncle committed suicide at a young age, and it ripped my dad’s family apart. Since then, I witnessed cousins, aunts, and very close friend commit suicide. Suicide is a very permanent solution to a temporary problem.

I remember one day, coming home from a very hard day of school in 5th grade. I had accidentally wet my pants because girls at school kept blocking me from the bathroom, saying I wasn’t allowed in because I would break the mirrors with my ‘ugly dog face.’ Did you know 43% of children fear harassment in the bathroom at school?

But, when I would go home, I knew my home was a very safe place. I knew I was loved! My mom would listen when I would tell her about hard days (I didn’t always tell her everything). She would let me cry and process my emotions. She would often remind me the difference between tattling and telling, because as mothers, we often hear one side of the story and get defensive over that one side.

One of the best things she did for me was encourage me to see beyond school and what I wanted to do with my life once I was done with grade school. She would encourage me to see beyond the event of being bullied. Often times when someone is getting bullied, all they can see in front of them is who they are at that moment. They believe what the bullies are telling them and can’t see past that particular time in their life.

Little girls sits in grass holding a baby duck
Courtesy of Goldie Merrell

There were certain classes that were held in the library after school, and do you know what those classes were? They were for kids who had learning disabilities or were ‘slow.’ I was in those classes. I remember being so embarrassed when the cool kids who were staying after school for sports saw me in the library. Like they needed one more thing to use against me. When some boys in my grade saw me in there, they popped their heads in and said, ‘Well, we figured you’d be in here with your crowd.’

Teen who gets bullied at school smiles while sitting down
Courtesy of Goldie Merrell

The most frequent question people ask me is, ‘How do you teach your boys to be strong, accepting, and positive’? My boys are not immune to mean kids or bullies; they’ve dealt with mean kids (boys and girls) at their school. After enduring what I did as a child, I’ve learned a lot. Here is how I help my kids deal with mean kids and bullies…

First off, I get all the facts I can, and I’m in touch with the teacher straight away. I know that doesn’t always work for everyone, but it can be a start to hear both sides of the story. Like I said earlier, my mom would remind me there are always two sides to the story, and now as a mom myself, I try to remember that.

Second, my boys know their worth. They know they are loved and loved quite fiercely! They know home is a very safe place to be, where they are accepted and know they are needed to make our family complete. They know they are on earth for a big and great purpose!

Young boys stand smiling in front of their parents
Courtesy of Goldie Merrell

We go through positive affirmations every morning. The list is similar but different for each of my boys. For example, my oldest is dyslexic, so one thing we say in the mirror is ‘I AM SMART! I comprehend and understand the subjects I am learning in school. I am smart.’ We keep our lines of communication very open so they know they can come to us when there is a problem.

My second oldest is very smart, but he is very shy, so what he says is ‘I AM A GOOD FRIEND! I can help people feel wanted and accepted. I am a good friend.’ He is also very anxious, and going through that myself, I know the signs. One way to help with an anxious child is to teach them to ‘ground’ themselves. ‘Grounding’ yourself is finding 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. It helps your mind gain back control during an anxious event or anxiety attack.

Young boys hugging in front of train whose mother was bullied in school
Courtesy of Goldie Merrell

I have an adorable 2-year-old girl. We’ve already been doing some positive affirmations about being positive about our bodies. Her positive affirmations are going to be similar but very different from her brothers just because, well, she’s a girl and I want her to be confident with who she is.

I remember when I started binge eating because that was the only way to deal with my emotions and, let’s be honest, food was always there for me. It was between my freshman and sophomore year of high school. I went home my freshman year a scrawny little thing, then when the puberty fairy decided to pay me a visit, I gained my ‘lady’ body. I ended up gaining about 40 pounds in a summer and, believe me, people noticed.

If your child is binge eating, please talk with them about it. They might get defensive about it at first, but I wish I had more intervention with this problem when I was a teenager. It can trickle into adulthood and cause major problems.

Teen who was bullied in high school stands with hand on her hip
Courtesy of Goldie Merrell

The night of my senior year prom, I went to our local grocery store and got a ‘birthday’ cake, a liter of Dr. Pepper and, I’ll be honest, there weren’t any leftovers. I wanted so badly to go to at least one dance in high school! I would keep my room and car clean in case someone asked me in a fun and cute way, needing to sneak into them to decorate for the ‘promposal,’ like I had seen with all the popular kids. Well, a few days before my senior prom, I was asked. My heart fluttered when I saw my car had been decorated.

But, when I looked closer and got into my car, it was full of paper, trash, and trash bags. When I found the note, my heart stopped fluttering and started pounding. My eyes welled up with tears as I read what the note said. ‘Who would want to go with trash like you?’ So, my dear friends, that is why there weren’t any leftovers with binge eating an entire birthday cake.

Teen who was bullied at school poses with mouth open holding Nutella as she spreads it on her face
Courtesy of Goldie Merrell

Third, be your child’s best advocate! I can’t tell you how many people have told me their parents never believed they were being bullied. Their parents would say, ‘Oh, you’ve always been one for all the attention.’ That is why I said get all the facts! Chat with teachers, chat with friends in the neighborhood, chat with other parents. Do what you need to get the facts and to fight for your child. And when all else fails, you tell your child you love them fiercely and they are always safe at home. You tell them their worth, and you tell them they were made for something great.

My sweet boys know my stories. It breaks their hearts, and yet, sometimes they can be the mean kid! That is part of life; that is why we are here. We will make mistakes! BUT, once they realize what they’ve done and that they took things too far, they always apologize. There are times when they come home and they’re devastated with themselves. It’s because they realized they were the ones being mean. Here is the beautiful thing about life… We get second chances! I tell my boys when they’ve been the mean kid, they have the chance to make it right. They have the chance to stand up for the under dog at school. When they see someone being teased, it is their responsibility to step in and defend and befriend. Not all the kids were mean at school. I had a few good examples given to me.

One girl befriended me and would always help me find the good in my situations. There was one boy (and he was one of the most popular boys) who asked special needs girls to the dances. There were a couple of friends who I had all growing up, who told me they loved me on a daily basis.

Encourage your child to look for the good and to have a gratitude attitude. There are times where my boys are feeling down or in a mean mood and I ask them to tell me 10 things they are grateful for. When they leave for school in the morning, I tell them these two things: ‘LOOK FOR THE GOOD’ and ‘SEE A NEED, FILL A NEED.’ Because here’s the thing, when you look for the good, you will ALWAYS FIND IT.”

Mother who was bullied in school smiles in selfie with two young sons
Courtesy of Goldie Merrell

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Goldie Merrell, 32, of Boise, Idaho. Did you have a similar bullying experience? We’d like to hear your journey. Submit your story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

Read more of Goldie’s horrific bullying story here:

‘I remember hearing my name. I was caught off guard because it was one the coolest boys in my grade. They came up to me and gave me a hug. The last one handed me a paper bag and said, ‘Man, you smell awful.’’

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