Posted tagged ‘school bullies’

Back To School Anxiety

August 17, 2010

Summer was CRAZY busy… its good to be back.  Didja miss me?  😉

August is winding down, and school is about to start.  Although most kids will miss summer, on some level they’re also looking forward to going back to school:  catching up with their friends, making new ones, doing activities like sports or band, etc.

But for some children, the thought of a new school semester triggers a gnawing sensation in the pit of their belly. Every kid has the pressure of “doing well” and “fitting in”… and depending on their temperament, any change in routine can be stressful. As a parent, you need to be able to discern between normal separation anxiety and  special circumstances.

If your son or daughter was bullied last year, they likely dealt with: Name calling. Physical intimidation. Vicious gossip. Social exclusion.  Anyone would dig in their heels at the prospect of facing that!

Some ways kids manifest this anxiety include complaining of headaches or stomach aches, being abnormally cranky, depression, outright refusal to attend, and full on explosive tantrums and emotional meltdowns. Without proper intervention, children who manifest high anxiety as early as kindergarten continue to suffer for years! (Duchesne, S., Vitaro, F., Larose, S., & Tremblay, R. E. (2008). Trajectories of anxiety during elementary-school years. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 37, 1134-1146.)

What To Do

  • Find the Right Setting To Talk.  You wont get a meaningful conversation in the middle of their favorite TV show, in front of siblings, or in a crowd.
  • Reveal the Actual Problem.  Physical symptoms and emotional outbursts are the symptoms-you must discover the cause.  Some parents prefer to ‘cut through the bull-sh*t’ with direct questions, others slowly uncover the truth, like peeling layers away from an onion.  Avoid giving cues about what you expect to hear.
  • Listen.  While its okay to prompt your child to stay on track, do NOT interrupt, jump in with advice, or dismiss their concerns.
  • Ask Questions.  You need to know the extent of the problem. (What, exactly, are you afraid of? Who’s involved, who’s been a witness? Where did the problems happen- face to face or online? Why do you think this is happening- if I asked the other kid(s), what reason do you think they’d give? How have you handled it in the past?).  Remember- this is a conversation, not an interrogation.
  • Validate.  “That must be very difficult for you” “Of course you’re upset, anyone would be” “Now I understand”
  • Make Sure Your Child Isn’t Playing “Pass It Down”.  There’s always someone lower on the pecking order (another kid, a younger sibling, or family pet) –  its a natural human tendency to vent frustration and rage by passing it down the line.  Be clear that this is totally unacceptable.
  • Keep Yourself In Check.  Stay cool and be empathetic (sensitive and appreciative of another’s situation/feelings), not sympathetic (taking another’s sorrows and burdens as your own).
  • Take Some Time to Reflect. Following your first instinct might not be the best thing to do.
  • Plan A Course of Action.
  • Teach Your Child Self-Control.  This takes practice, but the pay-off is amazing. Staying calm under pressure is a vital life skill.
  • Role-Play.  Go over some likely scenarios and rehearse some very simple responses until your kid can execute them smoothly.
  • Notify School Officials of your concerns.  And send a followup letter or email. There are gazillions of laws and policies that educators need to comply with.  It might help. It might not.  But its worth the effort, if only do document the communication.
  • Teach Your Child Self-Defense.  I  realize this is heresy,  but I’m not a big fan of “tiny tot tiger karate” programs.  A TKD kata will not make one iota of difference if a bully grabs your kid by the hair and slams their face into a wall.  The best self-defense for children consists of basic techniques, drilled over and over, with spirit.

Now the hard part.  Once you’ve prepared you child, take a step back, and let them handle it. (Research clearly shows that kids with over-protective parents are targeted more than their peers.)

I bid you peace, health, love and joy in abundance. ~Adam

*As always, if you have any questions, please leave a comment, and I’ll do my best to help you.

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Bullying and the Bystander Effect

February 22, 2010

Never A Hero Around When You Need One

There are a huge number of anti-bullying programs being instituted in our schools based on very flawed theories.

Central  to these programs is the magical thinking that clever slogans featured on posters and wrist-bands and entertaining assemblies with plays and puppet shows actually do any good at all.  Another laughable core idea these programs share is the idea that teachers have the ability to play “case investigator” or discern which interactions constitute bullying – and then have inclination to stop everything they’re doing to write a report on each incident.

Another common thread is the idea that peer-abuse can be stopped by ‘deputizing’ witnesses to stand up and intervene. This idea is so defective that only the intellectual elite (or the government) could support it. Here’s why:

Diffusion Of Responsibility or “The Bystander Effect” – One person is likely to assist someone who clearly needs help.  In a group, (3 or more) no one person feels it’s their job to take action (Darley & Latane did the first lab experiments on this in 1968).  In groups, our individual judgment is subsumed; we monitor others for their reaction, and figure that if they deem the situation is serious,some one else will step forward.  If no one takes initiative, that’s enough social proof to justify our inaction.

Schadenfreude –  Defined as “taking pleasure from the misfortune of another”. Yes, its unattractive.  Yes, we’ve all been guilty at some time or another.  A witness to a bullying spectacle has to come to terms with what they’re seeing.  If they see an innocent or helpless person being tormented, then they have to accept that by doing nothing, they’re cowards at least, or even complicate. If they see the victim as somehow ‘deserving’ or ‘asking for’ bad treatment, then their self-concept as a good person is preserved.  Either way, an observer thinks, “better him than me”.

Fear – The intense emotional state brought on by danger.

  • Fear of Embarrassment from saying or doing the wrong thing
  • Fear of Injury- if they come to the target’s defense, they might incur the aggressors wrath for meddling.
  • Fear of Rejection – their peers might turn on them.  Social stigma, like cooties and viruses are contagious.

In the heat of the moment, when a child is being made fun of, threatened or shunned, its wonderful when a brave soul defies inertia and calls a stop to the abuse. But let’s face it – being courageous isn’t easy. Considering the obstacles and risks, its completely understandable why more children don’t come to the rescue of a classmate who’s being ganged up on.

And while a guardian angel may save a peer from a particular incident of abuse, it doesn’t help the targeted child to develop the tactics and techniques to handle or prevent the next incident.
Hoping that a bystander will become a hero isn’t a success strategy for a kid who’s being bullied.  “Hope” is not a strategy.

For school officials make bystander interventions the foundation of their anti-bullying programs is deplorable.