I had lice. It was embarrassing and it was gross but it was my third grade reality.

Before I continue, however, I want to acknowledge the severity of my bullying history vs. the experiences of others. My situation passed fairly quickly and because of my tough personality, I was able to heal from it with less damage than others. I never forgot it (hence this article) but it didn’t scar me in a way that endangered my health or well-being for the long term. I know that my situation is not the case for far too many people in the world and I want to be sensitive to that. I wrote this article with hopes of bringing awareness and progress to at least one person, and also with tons of love in my heart for those who suffer now or who have in the past.

Back to third grade; word spread quickly that my long brown hair was a breeding ground (I mean really, it’s gross, but it happens), and I was sent home to take care of the issue. Important note: The nurse and the staff running the ‘sting’ made it very public knowledge that I had lice. The few students who had it were told to sit in the same small room that ALL of the rest of the students in the school were walking in to get their head checked. I’m highlighting this for one important reason; the adults and professionals in the lives of our children absolutely hold the power to create an emotionally safe learning and social environment. Simultaneously, they have the power to facilitate an environment where children are not treated with the compassion and professionalism that they deserve. I encourage you to not only get involved in your kids’ social life, but to inquire about the adults and administration in their lives who should absolutely be creating and maintaining an emotionally and physically safe environment for students. Needless to say, the entire school knew I had lice, as I was one of the first classes to get checked, and they did not call my parents until they were finished with the checks. I felt displayed and targeted by all of the students who walked into the room. Not cool staff, not cool.

Upon my return to school, lice free and feeling great, I was greeted by a small group of classmates who found it amusing to torture me quite extravagantly about my lice baggage. Their taunts and remarks were prompted any time I did anything including the common task of raising my hand to answer a question. I recall one incident specifically where I asked a fellow student for an eraser and she stood up in front of the class and yelled “Why would I give you my eraser? You have LICE!” I was teased and prodded and ostracized and it was painful. I felt so uncomfortable in my own skin during these heightened times of embarrassment that breathing was a chore. As someone who had stood up to bullies in the past, I was shocked at how incredibly easy it was to act so cruel.

The taunting was short lived, partly due to the fact that other students became targets for various ridiculous third grade things and my lice fiasco was soon forgotten. I can vividly recall dreading school and how seriously it affected my self-esteem. I was constantly aware that anything I wore or said could possibly trigger those series of events again and it constantly lived at the front of my mind.

Regardless of the level of bullying, the effects it has on youth (and anyone for that matter) can be serious and long lasting. Looking back now, I was far too aware of these highly unimportant materials things at such a youthful time of my life.

Even as a young child, I can clearly recall my mother actively instilling in me that all people needed to be treated with love and respect. Making fun of those who are poor, look different, have different names or even pick their noses was simply unacceptable and I was to understand that this type of behavior would not only hurt other people, but also bring my level of love and self-respect down. She made it a point to show me love and kindness, and to explain how peer pressure works and that no matter what, I needed to stand up for what’s right. Deep stuff, right? Not really. It started from day one and it made perfect sense to me. Not complicated, just a matter of beginning early and leading by example.

I’m not a counselor, a mental health professional or even a parent (yet). What I am however, is a crusader for love and active teaching through example about these issues that unfortunately exist in the lives of our children and loved ones. What I am, is an activist for those who were like me in the third grade, who weren’t brave enough to stand up for themselves and who feared the disapproval of other people. I will continue to forgive those who treated me poorly (I still know each of them personally) and understand that they were not as fortunate as I was to have such a solid example about how unacceptable that behavior was and is. I will continue to lead by example in the best way I can by expressing compassion, understanding and love to those who may be different from me.

I hope that others who read this and possibly even reflect on their own personal experiences move forward in a progressive way that sets a positive example for others. I invite you to actively teach your children, siblings, nieces whomever that bullying happens and more importantly, that it is our job to stand up and show love to those who are being bullied as well as those doing the bullying. Bullying ends when we step forward and hold our social circles responsible for their words and actions and how those affect people around us. It also ends when we stop being passive about this awful social behavior, step up and unite. To love, peace and happy confident children!

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post