"At times my dreams felt like they’d never come true," says Hough
“I was bullied as a kid. I was told that who I was wasn’t good enough,” Hough, 31, wrote in an Instagram caption on Dec. 3. “At times my dreams felt like they’d never come true.”
Raised in a Mormon household by his parents in Salt Lake City, Hough and his sister Julianne, 28, performed at school and state fairs.
When Hough was 13, his parents, who were divorcing, made the tough decision to send the two ballroom-dance prodigies to the prestigious London dance school Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, forcing them to leave their three older sisters and sheltered Utah life behind.
“It was a very difficult time for our family,” Hough’s father, Bruce told PEOPLE in 2014. “We didn’t want them to have to choose between their parents, and they had a great opportunity in England.”
They moved in with family friend Shirley Ballas, a ballroom dancer and teacher. Shirley’s son Mark attended school with them, and eventually joined them on DWTS.
The trio endured a grueling schedule that had them leaving the house every morning at 6:45, taking the subway by themselves and heading to school. After a long day of dance and academics, they would eat dinner and then go back into the studio until 11 p.m.
“It was hard,” Hough has admitted. “There were moments when I just wanted to go and have fun.”
While his childhood may have been a one-in-a-million experience, Hough says he knows his history with bullying “is not unique.”
To help others, Hough has designed a “Treasure Box” for Tia Girl Club, a monthly subscription service designed to inspire tweens to express their true inner voice and authentic self during a critical time of development.
“I have long been a firm believer in the power of positivity, that believing is empowering. I am honored to be able to team up with the Tia Girl Club to curate a very special box and to work with them to develop their very first TIA Box for Boys,” Hough says in a statement released to PEOPLE.
“‘Today I am’ is one of the most powerful phrases that we can teach young boys and girls,” he continues. “We can, through example, show them that there are no limits on their dreams, their aspirations or their perceptions of themselves.”
For more information about Tia Girl Club, visit tiagirlclub.com.