Many kids, despite what they say, really enjoy school. They like seeing their friends, their teacher and learning. However, some kids are not as excited and even worried about going to school. Many of these kids were bullied last year and they are afraid of being bullied again this year.
Often when a child is being bullied they do not say anything to their parents until the bullying is really bad. They are afraid, especially boys, that you will see them as weak. They are also afraid that you will be disappointed in them for not defending themselves. Parents you have not said anything or done anything to create this feeling in your child. It is how our society is today. Children, especially boys, receive messages from television, music, video games about being strong and defending yourself. This is what the documentary “The Mask You Live In”, is trying to address, but that is a different topic.
It is very important to take bullying very seriously these days. It is no longer just one kid calling another kid names. The bullying today occurs at school and may include threats of being killed and it goes beyond school. Now bullies can continue their bullying via text messages, emails, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. So the bullying becomes non-stop. It can really make someone feel worthless and that they be better off dead. We have an example of this from a 13 year old boy, on the east coast, who committed suicide because he could not tolerate the bullying. He is not the first child to commit suicide due to bullying. Other kids are turning to drugs and alcohol and we are seeing a number of accidental overdosages resulting in death. We assume they were accidents, they could be suicides staged to look like accidents.
Bullying is not just an elementary school issue. It occurs in High School and College too. Remember a few years back a college student committed suicide because his roommate secretly filmed him in his dorm room with another guy having sex. When the tape was posted, the boy was so ashamed because he had not made it publicly known that he was gay. He did not know what to do and ended up committing suicide.
As the rates for bullying, suicide and drug use increase with kids in middle school and now beginning in Elementary school, we must take this issue seriously. I assume it has entered Elementary schools because the third leading cause of death for 10 year old children is suicide according to the CDC statistics.
Also a common problem I see elementary children for in psychotherapy is bullying. Many of these children are embarrassed because they feel they should be able to stop the bullying. They are also embarrassed and often don’t want me to tell their parents because they believe they must of done something to deserve being bullied. I explain to them they do not deserve it and they should not have to stop it on their own.
What should a parent do? One thing is parents should watch for the following warning signs that your child is a victim of a bully:
Avoiding activities they used to enjoy
Loss of friends or avoiding social situations
Complaining of stomachaches or headaches
Loss of appetite
Missing or damaged clothing or belongings
Self-destructive behaviors like running away from home
If you notice any of these or just have a sense something is wrong then talk to your child. However, when you talk to your child reassure them they did nothing wrong, there is nothing wrong with them and you are not upset or disappointed with them. Try to develop a game plan of how you are going to deal with it together and ask how you can be supportive. Also ask your child to promise you if they feel really sad like they want to hurt themselves that they will talk to you before they do anything. You may think this is ridiculous, but I use a no suicide contract with many children that I work with and they honor it. The contract lets them you know that you care about them.
The other thing you can do as a parent is go to your child’s school and ask what is the school’s policy on bullying. You can also ask how the school watches for bullying, how is the policy enforced and what is being done to prevent bullying. You may ask the school or volunteer to contact a group such as Challenge Day. This is an international organization that addresses bullying and they are located in Concord. I have seen their work and it is fantastic and kids love it.
Another thing you can do as a parent is start talking to your child about bullying on an occasional basis. This gives you a chance to let them know it’s not their fault and to develop a plan of action if it does occur. You should also discuss drugs and alcohol at the same time. I work with kids all day long and at times I am still shocked at how young kids are when they are starting to get involved with drugs and alcohol.
Keeping an open line of communication with your child is very important if you want them to come to you. Research still indicates that children are more likely to turn to their friends when they have a problem. This is good that they have this emotional support, but their friends don’t have the answers or solutions that they need. Remember it is best to speak to your child when you are in a calm environment and no one else, such as brothers or sisters, are around. Also remember the word HALT. It stands for:
If you sense your child is experiencing any of these feelings it is not a good time to talk. When you talk with your child you want it to be productive and for your child to feel like they are not being judged. Therefore, sometimes it is better to put off a conversation so you don’t end up in an argument. This is more likely to close the line of communication with your child.
I have mentioned several times that being bullied is not their fault. What I have seen from working with children who are bullies, abusive men and reviewing the research is that bullies really have very low self-esteem. In fact many times they lack a sense of themselves. The only way the feel important or alive is by putting someone else down. They do this because they are afraid the other kids might be able to figure out how lousy they feel about themselves. It is often said the best defense is a good offense. By acting like the big guy on campus that other people will see them as the big guy and they are able to keep their secret. Kids usually do this because it was done to them too.
Therefore, we need to remember the bully is usually a kid who has been abused too and is crying out for help. If we are going to stop the problem of bullying we need programs to help the bullies too. They are only repeating what they have been taught.
Dr. Michael Rubino specializes in working with children and teenagers. He has over 20 years experience working with children and teens especially those who are victims of trauma. For more information about Dr. Rubino’s work or private practice visit his website at www.rubinocounseling.com or his Facebook page at Facebook.com/drrubino3.