Until Grade three, Jacqueline Kendal, who grew up in Thornhill, was a confident, bubbly child. A happy kid in a loving family, the youngest of three. The adored granddaughter of artist Shirl Cohen who has been featured in CIJnews. But then bullies seized on her learning disability and made her a target. She was excluded, ostracized and told she was “dumb” and “different”. The bullying became so severe she changed schools three times.
In her own words: “When I was being bullied I always wondered why this was happening to me and why I had to be the one who was different.. Not only did I feel upset, angry and lonely but I blamed myself for how I as treated.”
“There were days when she was so miserable she would hide under the covers and wouldn’t go to school,” said Susan Kendal, her mother. “And I let her. The teachers were cooperative, but it was too late. The kids already had the behaviour patterns.”
Appeals to the parents didn’t help. “They thought it was just kids being kids, it was natural. They didn’t realize the extent of it,” she said.
Bullying is a specific type of aggressive behaviour that is intended to cause distress and occurs repeatedly over time. It varies from direct and face- to- face, to indirect in the form of gossip. Cyber bullying is a new and more insidious form of bullying. It takes place on the internet and other social media. Some examples are; posting classmates’ photographs online and asking other students to rate them; doctoring and broadcasting pornographic photos with images of a classmates’ face; using Email to send vicious or embarrassing material.
Many children, particularly boys and older children and youth, do not tell their parents or adults at schools about the bullying because they are embarrassed, ashamed or frightened of retaliation. Boys are more physical in their attacks; girls more verbal and more likely to be bullied by social isolation – “I won’t be your friend”.
Bullying has always existed. Today, most schools have zero tolerance policies for bullying and special programs for the students. But it still continues outside the classroom.
Jacqueline believes awareness must start earlier, when the children are still more influenced by their teachers and parents than by their peers. Now 24, she decided a year and a half ago to give anti bullying workshops geared to this age group.
Her brother Jason, seven years older, frustrated and wanting desperately to help his sister and other victims of cruel behaviour, wrote a book for children 3 to 7, called My Friend Clyde. Charmingly illustrated by his wife Mariam, it tells the story of a little boy, like his sister happy and friendly, until kids began bullying him.
The book has become a springboard for Jacqueline’s workshops and for telling them about the pain of her experiences when she was bullied. “It means telling the world something I kept a secret and I was really scared”, she said. “I felt so bad about myself.” She pauses as she speaks about the past – the hurt resurfaces. So far she has reached over 2000 students and received glowing feedback from educators and parents.
Carol Todd is the mother of Amanda Todd, the 15 year old girl who committed suicide in l996 as the result of cyber bullying. She is also a special needs teacher. She has this to say: “I hope that every child and parent will read My Friend Clyde together and learn that kindness pays, while being cruel and excluding others destroys.”
Jacqueline’s workshops are available for SK and primary level students, grades 1-3. They are also available to adults – teachers, parent groups, organizations… Bullying continues with life-long effects, across North America. Everyone can benefit from listening to Jacqueline.