Whenever Jessie hung out with her best friends Chloe and Meg, they gossiped about another seventh-grader named Kate. Jessie didn’t know Kate, but Chloe and Meg said she was clingy, told boring stories and smelled like acne wash.
When Jessie asked questions about this mystery girl, her friends giggled and exchanged knowing glances. This went on for weeks until a boy in her class told Jessie the truth: Kate was their code name for her.
Jessie looked to other friends for support, but they started dropping away. Chloe and Meg had all the social capital, and no one wanted to risk alienating them. Jessie cried every night. Her mother, my neighbor Naomi, called me for advice. “You’re a school counselor,” she said. “What should I do? She’s in so much pain.”
Naomi’s own experience with bullying intensified her anguish. In eighth grade, kids forged her signature on love letters and left them in a popular athlete’s locker. They tugged on her arm hair and called her “monkey.” Naomi suffered from depression after she was mistreated, and she wanted Jessie to have a better outcome.
Bullying strips kids of their dignity and leaves scars. Some children bounce back, while others struggle to rebound. There is no one-size-fits-all intervention, but here are nine ways parents can build a child’s resilience.
Change the narrative
Help kids understand that they are the main character of their story and that bullying is just one small part of it. Matt Langdon, a bullying expert and president of the Hero Construction Company, urges adults to use the hero’s journey model to put things in perspective.
“The hero starts knowing the rules of the place, is taken to a different world with new rules, then goes on a journey and changes,” he says.
He recommends using books such as the “Harry Potter” series to underscore that heroes learn, and emerge, from their struggles. Parents also can watch the latest superhero movie or young adult romance adventure with their kids and note any parallels or lessons.
“There’s a lot of focus on toughening up bullying targets, and it’s just so wrongheaded,” Langdon says.
Reframe weaknesses as hidden strengths
“I was bullied for so many things,” says Dave Rendall, author of “The Freak Factor.” “I was grotesquely skinny and called Twiggy after the model. No 13-year-old boy wants to have his body compared to that. But that’s why I can do Ironman triathlons. I was also told I talk too much, and I became a speaker.”
To disarm bullies, Rendall says, convince kids that their so-called weaknesses are strengths. “At what point does that nerdy kid become an inventor? When does the kid who dresses weird get praised because he’s a fashion designer?”
Parents can explain that being different will always draw attention, especially in middle school. Rendall suggests having kids list the things they dislike about themselves, then talk about the upside of each trait. And remind kids that when they stop trying to be something they’re not, they’re likely to attract a different kind of friend.
Parents also can foster resilience by modeling nonconformity, says parenting expert Annie Fox, author of the “Middle School Confidential” series, and by telling kids that “different doesn’t mean broken.”
Targets of bullying can also benefit from helping others in a similar position, says Michele Borba, author of “UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World.” Kids who have suffered often have higher levels of empathy.
She recalls a teen who emigrated from Haiti a few years ago. “No one would eat with him,” Borba says. “After he made the football team and gained acceptance, he mobilized other kids, including his entire football team, to sit with students who were eating alone.”
[Five ways to help your child survive the social turmoil of middle school]
Similarly, 16-year-old Natalie Hampton created the “Sit With Us” app to help kids find people to eat lunch with. After being ostracized the year before, she wanted to help others in the same situation.
“When kids find a way to make a difference, their confidence goes up,” Borba says.
Pick a mantra or song
Ruminating on pain can magnify it. “Eventually, you start agreeing with the kids who say you’re useless,” says Rosalind Wiseman, author of “Owning Up” and co-founder of Cultures of Dignity. She suggests mantras and music to help kids combat such intrusive thoughts.
“It’s powerful,” she says. “When something bad is happening, that mantra or song can pop into their head. I say, ‘Try it until it’s a habit.’ ” The mantra can be any statement that affirms their right to exist in the world, such as “I deserve better,” but Wiseman tells parents to let kids choose it to give them a sense of ownership.
Create their own King Arthur’s Round Table
To combat isolation, Langdon says, children can create a group of real and pretend advisers, akin to King Arthur’s Round Table.
“People can play the role of sidekick, mentor or cheerleader,” he says. He encourages children to include fictional, famous and historical figures, along with friends and family. “They can choose people they clearly identify with, whether it’s Harry Potter, Martin Luther King Jr. or Harriet Tubman.”
Children can then mentally consult their advisory board about how to handle difficult situations.
Encourage a like-minded social network
Parents can steer kids toward activities where they’re likely to make friends, whether it’s a youth group, robotics club or volleyball team.
“Seek out sports where the kid has the highest chance of success, or art classes, or debate club,” Rendall says. “Look for that match, and talk to your kid about what he likes, what he’s good at and when he’s happiest.”
To build resilience, Borba says, “kids desperately need one true, loyal buddy,” so they see that they have what it takes to be a desired friend.
Choose your words carefully
Children need to feel that the adults in their life believe them and believe in them. Acknowledge that they have been wounded, but Wiseman cautions against interviewing for pain. “Don’t start off asking, ‘Were the kids mean to you at school today?’ If they say yes, they have to deal with your emotional response, but if they say no, they may have lost their opportunity to talk.”
Instead of focusing on the negative, instill hope. Borba suggests reading stories or watching uplifting videos about bullied children who are making a difference in the world. “Kids are comforted when they realize it isn’t just them,” she says.
Parents also can point out kids’ strengths and help them hone social skills. Brainstorm comeback lines, help them reflect on their actions and demonstrate how to use humor strategically. Show kids how to use eye contact, strong posture and firm language to establish boundaries.
Look for problematic patterns and people
Adults can help kids identify areas of vulnerability. “It could be a class with a teacher who doesn’t have control,” Wiseman says. Children may need to avoid certain hot spots, such as the back of the bus or the blacktop.
Sometimes, friends are doing the bullying, which can be especially hurtful. Parents need to allow their children time to realize that they’re sacrificing themselves, and initiate conversations about what constitutes a good friend.
Know when to shift gears
When there are safety concerns or a child is spiraling downward, parents may need to consider moving them to a new setting or seeking therapy.
“A girl from Texas wrote me a few years ago,” Fox says. “During swim class, someone stole her bra from her locker. She’s large-breasted and had to go to her next class without it.” Kids videotaped her walking through the halls, and she was humiliated. Her father set up a meeting with the school, his daughter and the parents of the girls who stole the bra.
When the girl shared how terrible it felt to be shamed, the other mothers laughed. “The principal said, ‘We can’t ensure your daughter’s safety,’ and he blew it off.” The girl switched to another school, where she thrived. Fox notes, “Adults need to show they’ve got your back.”
Borba underscores this point. “Your child needs to feel safe and cared about so he can be who he is and do what he’s supposed to do, which is learn.” If it gets too bad, she adds, parents must advocate for their child. “Don’t ever promise your kid you won’t tell.”
That said, Wiseman urges parents to give schools time so they don’t discipline the wrong child and reinforce the power of the perpetrator. “Parents tend to move really fast,” she says. “But if you’re in a self-righteous temper tantrum kind of place, the only thing that’s going to happen is you’re going to make the situation worse.”
Naomi enrolled Jessie in a creative-writing class, where she made friends. For one assignment, she wrote about a tormented heroine who dusts herself off and helps other hurting kids. In both her real and imaginary worlds, Jessie changed her narrative. She began to understand that bullying was just one chapter of her story, a lesson that resonated for Naomi, too.
By Phyllis L. Fagell June 20
Phyllis L. Fagell is the school counselor at Sheridan School in the District and a therapist at the Chrysalis Group in Bethesda. She tweets @Pfagell and blogs at phyllisfagell.com.
Admit it. You’ve watched and wondered: Is my kid a bully?
Not all the time. Not most of the time. But some of the time. The rough-handed grab, pushy attitude, resentful looks. Is it a bad day, a phase, or something more? Maybe no one has told you to your face you’re raising a bully, but sometimes you can’t help but wonder if other parents are talking about it behind your back.
So how do you make sure you’re raising a kind child, and not a bully?
You’ve heard all the usual talk about what causes bullying – overly permissive parenting, violent video games, abuse. What might surprise you is how even the most well-intentioned parents – parents just like you – are unknowingly sabotaging their efforts to raise kind, caring kids.
Bullying starts and ends with an imbalance of power. Too much or too little, the results are often the same: bullying behavior is simply a means to gain more power.
Here are eight ways you may be unknowingly encouraging bullying.
Want to raise a mean girl? Act like one. If you wouldn’t include your child in a conversation, you shouldn’t have it within earshot of them. Kids hear everything. The first time my daughter got hold of my phone to mimic me was truly eye-opening. My little cutie-pie morphed into a gossip girl. Eyes wide, hands waving, hips sashaying, screeching, “Wow! No! Hahaha!” She wasn’t even 2 years old yet. It was sobering to see myself through her young eyes. Catty comments are no better than outright bullying. It’s indirect bullying, and many of us do it all the time. At some point in your life, someone probably decided you weren’t “cool,” and you didn’t get a say in the matter. Didn’t feel so good, did it? Remember that feeling. Then do your best to shut off your inner gossip, especially in front of your kids.
2. Being too busy to show you care
You love your family. But relationships have their ups and downs, with the direction often being down after children enter the picture. When was the last time you told your partner or family members that you loved them? In front of your kids? Not, “I love you, but…,” but just, “I love you.” Positive displays of intimacy in the home are the basis for our kids’ relationships. You’re busy, but a simple hug and kiss for each family member on the way out the door in the morning is a great start toward teaching healthy intimacy. Show them you care, so they can show others they care.
3. The “I hate mys”
You hate your job. Those last few pounds you struggle to lose, or dealing with that messy house, or frizzy hair – your attitude reflects how you view the world. And when we act like we can’t change the outcome, we act helpless. How you feel about life has a long-lasting impact on your kids. They hear their hero (you) act helpless and that will make them feel powerless too. If your kids feel powerless, they may act to reclaim that lost power through bullying behavior. Save the negative talk for after the kids go to bed (or better yet, channel your frustration into a hobby you love). Let your kids be kids.
4. Mini-me syndrome
Kids today are ever more mature at an ever younger age. Current culture encourages us to treat our kids like mini-adults. But we forget that we are adults (trying to be, anyway), and most of us took decades to be able to even partially manage all this stress. Fully disclosing financial burdens, family illnesses, and work issues all the time just adds additional layers to our kids’ stress.
And an outlet for stress? Bullying.
5. Over-scheduling your kids’ activities
We are scared our kids will be at a disadvantage if they don’t participate in everything. So we rush to register them for ballet, karate, soccer, and so much more. But the only thing they miss out on if they have a slower schedule is anxiety and depression. If your child has a passion, by all means allow them the opportunity to explore it in more depth. But kids need unstructured free time. Play time, creative time, quiet time. The damaging effects of full schedules are well documented. Over-scheduling quickly leads to stressed kids. Stress leads to anxiety, anger, and aggression, which paves the way for bullying behavior.
6. Inconsistent rule enforcement
The last thing I want to do after a long day of pickups, drop-offs, work, and errands is deal with rule breakers, time-outs, and temper tantrums. So we choose to enforce as few rules as possible. But we enforce those few rules all the time. Inside those boundaries lies freedom. Lay the ground rules, enforce them, and give your kids permission to be themselves within those boundaries. They’ll feel a healthy sense of power and independence, and they won’t feel the need to bully in an effort to regain lost power.
7. The triple-play: wincing, waiting, watching
Bullying happens at every age. Every time you watch someone or something happen that you could help prevent with word or action, you are a peer to bullying. You are allowing it to continue through inaction. I understand the appeal of the squirrel launching rocket videos on YouTube. Really, I do. But the more you watch, the less you care. Turn it off. The long-term effects of desensitization are very real. Watch and laugh if you must, but remember your child is learning how to react to life through your actions. Make what you do count.
8. Forcing your kids to share
Sharing is a learned skill that takes time, maturity, and encouragement to develop fully. Ripping a toy out of your kid’s hand to give it to another kid? Bad idea. Talk about sharing, encourage sharing, but most importantly – teach sharing. Offer to loan your child something he’s been wanting to explore. Offer a bite of your dessert. Offer to help with a difficult chore. Forced sharing only results in a feeling of powerlessness. (Taking turns is something different. Don’t confuse the two.) Don’t make your child search for ways to regain their power.
Because who’s the most powerful kid in class? The bully.
As parents, we want our kids to grow up happy and successful. But putting happiness and success before caring is raising a generation of bullies. A recent Harvard study discovered that our kids are on to us. The majority of 10,000 kids surveyed believed that achievement and success were their parents’ main priorities, rather than caring for others. We need to change that. You know your child’s true personality. Deep down, you know if they’re a bully or testing boundaries. Be the person your kid wants you to be, so your kid can be the person you want them to be.
By Ashley Trexler March 10, 2015
Ashley Trexler is dedicated to debunking parenting myths and helping parents raise kind, caring kids. She can found at LiesAboutParenting.com.
Does your child know how to handle a bully
The recent media attention on the epidemic of youth bullying in the United States brings to public awareness what most parents and school professionals know and live on a daily basis: kids can be brutal. Celebrities and professionals have boldly weighed in, in front of the cameras, saying, "This has to end!" And they are right. The question is, how will we end it?
While school policies focus on zero-tolerance and criminal penalties are wielded for some of the most egregious bullies, others know what coaches have been saying for years: the best offense is a good defense.
Am I advocating revenge? Do I think the world is going to be changed by bullied kids uniting in retaliation against their tormenters? By no means! Rather, I take that old sports-ism to encourage parents to fortify their kids with specific skills that help young people stand-up for themselves and stop bullies in their tracks. In other words, I sadly don't hold out hope that the world is going to change for our kids. I optimistically do believe, however, that our kids can change their own world by developing a set of skills that makes bullying unrewarding.
Skill 1: Stay Connected
Bullies operate by making their victims feel alone and powerless. Children reclaim their power when they make and maintain connections with faithful friends and supportive adults.
Skill 2: Create Awareness
Sometimes kids feel like adults never do anything--so why even bother to tell them about incidence of bullying? While there are cases when adults fail to acknowledge the seriousness of a situation, it is more often the case that grown-ups are not aware of what is going on. Bullies use relational aggression to inflict their violence in subtle, socially acceptable ways that tend not to register on an adult's radar. Teach your child that it is her job to create awareness. Be clear in teaching kids that telling an adult about bullying is not a mark of cowardice, but rather a bold, powerful move.
Skill 3: Re-define Tattling
My daughter came to me yesterday, worried that if she told the bus driver about a boy who was spitting on her, then she would be labeled as a "tattletale." I told her that this is exactly what the bully wanted her to think! Isolation is a bully's method of intimidation. In fact, it is only by telling an adult that kids can begin to re-balance the power dynamic. When a bully realizes that he will not be able to keep a victim isolated, he immediately begins to lose power.
Skill 4: Act Quickly
The longer a bully has power over a victim, the stronger the hold becomes. Oftentimes, bullying begins in a relatively mild form--name calling, teasing, or minor physical aggression. After the bully has tested the waters and confirmed that a victim is not going to tell and adult and stand up for his rights, the aggression worsens. Teach your child that taking action against the bully--and taking it sooner rather than later--is the best way to gain and retain power.
Skill 5: Respond Assertively
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The more a bully thinks he can pick on a victim without a response, the more he will do it. That's why an assertive response is so effective in countering bullying. Kids who master the skills of assertiveness are comfortable in the middle ground between aggressive comebacks that up the ante for the next go-round, and passive responses that invite further abuse.
Skill 6: Use Simple, Unemotional Language
Assertive kids use simple, unemotional, direct language to let bullies know that they do not intend to be victimized. Why should you teach your child to use responses that are "unemotional?" Indications that a person can be emotionally impacted signal a bully that he will be able to wield power easily. By encouraging your child to respond without angeror fear, you teach her how to portray confidence. The bully, in turn, detects less potential for wielding control.
Skill 7: Use Body Language to Reinforce Words
When coaching your child in the skills of assertive communication, it is helpful to practice using body language to reinforce words. Teach your child to employ these simple, non-verbal assertive strategies that indicate to a bully that your child means what she says:
• Maintain eye contact
• Keep your voice calm and even
• Stand an appropriate distance from the bully
• Use the bully's name when speaking to him
Teach your child that emotional non-verbals, such as looking away, raising her voice, or shrinking back are all dead giveaways that the bully has gotten to her.
(Article author Signe Whitson
Sugne is a Certified School Social Work Specialist, national educator on Bullying Prevention, and author of six books, including The 8 Keys to End Bullying Activity Program, How to Be Angry: An Assertive Anger Expression Group Guide for Kids and Teens, and The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools, and Workplaces)
Dehydration and Heat Illness
With the hot days of summer come summer sports -- baseball, tennis, football practice -- both in the neighborhood and at camp. Before you send the kids out to practice -- or just for a long day of play in the sun -- learn to protect your child against the dangers of dehydration and heat illness. WebMD turned to Albert C. Hergenroeder, professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of the sports medicine clinic at Texas Children's Hospital, for answers to parents' common questions.
1. What puts my child at risk for dehydration?
The same things that put you at risk for dehydration: prolonged exposure to high temperatures, direct sun, and high humidity, without sufficient rest and fluids. The difference is that a child's body surface area makes up a much greater proportion of his overall weight than an adult's, which means children face a much greater risk of dehydration and heat-related illness
2. What signs of dehydration should we watch for?
Early signs of dehydration include fatigue, thirst, dry lips and tongue, lack of energy, and feeling overheated. But if kids wait to drink until they feel thirsty, they're already dehydrated. Thirst doesn't really kick in until a child has lost 2% of his or her body weight as sweat.
3. What can I do to prevent dehydration in my child?
Make sure they drink cool water early and often. Send your child out to practice or play fully hydrated. Then, during play, make sure your child takes regular breaks to drink fluid, even if your child isn't thirsty. A good size drink for a child, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, is 5 ounces of cold tap water for a child weighing 88 pounds, and nine ounces for a teen weighing 132 pounds. One ounce is about two kid-size gulps.
Know that dehydration is cumulative. If your child is 1% or 2% dehydrated on Monday and doesn't drink enough fluids that night, then gets 1% or 2% dehydrated again on Tuesday, that means your child is 3% or 4% dehydrated at the end of the day. "They may be gradually developing a problem, but it won't show up for several days," says Hergenroeder. "You should always monitor your child's hydration." One way to do this: weigh your child before and after practice. If his weight drops, he's not drinking enough during his workout.
A simple rule of thumb: if your child's urine is dark in color, rather than clear or light yellow, he or she may be becoming dehydrated.
4. If my child develops heat illness, what can I do to treat it?
The first thing you should do with any heat illness is get the child out of the sun into a cool, comfortable place. Have the child start drinking plenty of cool fluids. The child should also take off any excess layers of clothing or bulky equipment. You can put cool, wet cloths on overheated skin. In cases of heat cramps, gentle stretches to the affected muscle should relieve the pain.
5. Is it ever too hot for my child to practice or play sports?
A growing number of athletic programs suggest that it is sometimes too hot to practice. In fact, many are restricting outdoor practice when the National Weather Service's heat index rises above a certain temperature. The heat index, measured in degrees Fahrenheit, is an accurate measure of how hot it really feels when the relative humidity is added to the actual temperature.
You may consider martial arts in an air-conditioned center during the hot days of summer. Contact us for a free beginners workshop.