Like a lot of people, Jennifer Calvert knows how it feels to be bullied. Stick-thin and studious in school, she was nicknamed "Boney" and got teased for being a nerd. "I was the straight-A student who took academics seriously," she recalls. "Not cool."
However painful her grade-school past, though, Jennifer has been able to spin it into a positive—or herself and others. And that's just one of the personal experiences and passions this 50-year-old Concord, N.C., mom uses to enrich the lives of the people around her. Now an elementary school counselor, Jennifer teaches kids how to stand up for themselves, both inside and outside the classroom. "Bullying is all about power," Jennifer says. She shows kids how to take that power back—with a well-timed comeback, random question, or simply a confident look. "I tell kids, 'It may be killing you inside, but you can't let them know how it hurts,'" Jennifer explains.
While she's helping kids build emotional strength at school, she uses her love of fitness to foster their physical strength through her volunteer pursuits. Her main passion? Running. While she failed at short sprints ("I was always last, and I hated it!"), a sharp-eyed college instructor talked her into distance running, which better suited her long legs and lanky frame. "I'll always be grateful to him," Jennifer says. "Running has been the love of my life."
She shares the love as co-chair of a local program to build biking and jogging trails and as the founder of Girl Power, a group that helps young girls form friendships and build skills in fitness, teamwork and self-confidence. A similar program for boys is in the works. And for 10 years she led a chapter of Girls on the Run (Girlsontherun.org), an international group that uses running to boost girls' self-esteem. "It's like a light bulb goes on," says Jennifer about the preteen program. "Girls see that if they can run a 5K, almost anything is possible."
Jennifer's influence doesn't stop there—even her family can't escape her infectious "try this" spirit. Her daughter, Cassie, 15, runs and swims, and her husband, Dave, recently shed 45 pounds—in part a result of seeing Jennifer always on the run (literally!). "I've learned you can't nag someone into caring for their health," Jennifer says. "All you can do is provide an example."
How to Beat a Bully
Missing school, feigning illness and withdrawing from friends can all be signs that your child is being bullied, says Jennifer Calvert, whose novel, BFF: Best Friends Forever, shares real-life strategies for dealing with bullies. Here are a few for your kids to try.
Ask a question.
Changing the subject with a question like "Hey, did you get the homework assignment?" can throw a bully off track.
Go along with the insult.
It's tough to do, but agreeing with a bully's taunts can totally deflate an attack. There's not much a tormentor can say to "You're right, my glasses do look kinda funny."
"It's the number-one defense," Jennifer says. It takes a quick wit to be funny on the spot, so help your child brainstorm a few clever comebacks ahead of time.
Practice the delivery.
Any effective response requires a strong voice and a steady gaze. Help your child role play until she gets it down pat.
Ask for help.
A school counselor can bring kids together for a safe mediation. Such a meeting gives the victim dignity, Jennifer says, "and it lets the bully know the school's got his number."