I’m a Guest at S-O-S Research

I hope you will stop by to read, share, and comment on my post, When an Advantage Becomes a Disadvantage. Mahalo Danette and Tiffani for allowing me to continue to be a part of your wonderful group of bloggers!

Addendum with update: The post is now on Special-Ism and I have corrected the link. This is a site dedicated to reaching your child’s potential with professional insights.

What Parents Need to Know to Protect Their Kids From Bullying 16

Overcoming bullying is a process and for kids with long memories, who experience longterm bullying, the process is far from simple. I advise you to seek medical help to overcome more severe bullying or for any bullying that causes personality changes, such as profound anger or sadness. Make sure the school protects your child from further bullying too.

Today, I am happy to have Signe Whitson back for a second guest post with more information to help parents.

According to the American Justice Department, one out of every four children is bullied. Studies show that those statistics leap for homosexual youth, who are bullied at an alarming four times the rate of heterosexual youth. What’s more, 85% of children with disabilities are regular victims of social exclusion and verbal and physical abuse by their peers. It doesn’t take a statistician or a news reporter to make clear that bullying is an epidemic among today’s children and youth.

What is it that affords resilience to some young people while others are driven to self-destruction? It is an important question for parents to ask, since understanding the answer provides clues on how to protect their own children from the life-threatening impact of bullying.

How to Help the Bullied Child

Resilience literature talks about the importance of things like intelligence and creativity in strengthening a child, and champions the role of at least one consistent, loving caregiver in each child’s life. These factors cannot be understated. Another protective factor seems to be instilling a positive future orientation in each child.

What is a positive future orientation? When a child is in the heat of the moment—facing intensely cruel physical and/or mental cruelty at the hands of his peers that makes school attendance unfathomable and daily life unbearable—is that child able to see beyond their current situation and believe that things will get better? The ability to “take a long view” is difficult for young people who, by their very nature, live in the here and now. Teaching kids to think about how things will be in the future is a critical factor in helping them move past the torturous moments of the present.

Instilling a “this too shall pass” mindset is critical in strengthening our kids to endure and persevere through difficult times. Make it a habit to help your kids think about their future. Ask them questions like:

  • What do you look forward to being able to do when you become a teenager?
    • When you turn 16?
    • When you go to college?
  • What do you want to be when you grow up?
    • What do you need to do to get there?
  • Where do you think you might want to live?
    • Who would live with you?

The precise questions are not as important as the fact that you are helping your kids develop a view of their future and to stay focused on how life can be, as opposed to the realities of how it might feel in the present.

Protecting children from bullying is a complicated, multi-layered task. Parents must fortify their children with coping skills and internal strengths to stand up to the bullying their will see, hear, observe, and receive. Knowing how to take the long view and live with the faith that things can be better is a critical factor in helping kids withstand the here-and-now realities of their world.

For more information on teaching your child skills for coping with bullying behavior, check out Signe’s latest book, Friendship & Other Weapons: Group Activities to Help Young Girls Aged 5-11 to Cope with Bullying. Please visit www.signewhitson.com for information on her workshops and trainings for parents, professionals, and kids.  “Like” Signe on Facebook, or Follow her on Twitter @SigneWhitson.

Sticks and Stones 10

Today I am sharing the first guest post of 2012. I hope you will join me in welcoming Signe Whitson to my blog as she shares a lesson learned from:

A Little Girl’s First Experience with Bullying

My daughter had her first heartbreak at the tender age of four.  During the first week of her preschool class, she met a little girl named Nikki and, as so charmingly happens at that age, the two became best friends within an instant. The girls bonded over their love of Disney’s High School Musical and anything to do with singing and dancing.  They quickly became a package deal inside and out of the classroom, arranging lunchdates afterschool and playdates when school was not in session.

For a few weeks, all I heard was, “Nikki says this” and “Nikki likes that” and “Nikki told me I should do such and such.”  I must admit I was a bit swept up in Nikki-fever as well, enjoying how much pleasure my daughter was taking from the friendship.  Until the day it all ended.

On a brisk October day, my daughter experienced the cold, harshness of relational aggression—better known as bullying.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bullying occurs when a person or group repeatedly tries to harm someone who is weaker.   Bully behavior takes many forms, from hitting, name calling, and teasing to social exclusion and rumor-spreading.  These latter forms are termed relational aggression because of the way interpersonal relationships, most often among girls, are manipulated to settle grudges.

In my daughter’s case, relational aggression felt like a break-up…or more like getting dumped.  The first incident I noticed, from my vantage point in the school hallway where parents wait to pick kids up from class, was Nikki shoving my daughter off of a chair.  Heart in my throat and claws ready to scratch, I calmed as I watched their teacher walk over quickly.  I could hear Nikki explain, “We were just playing,” which seemed to satisfy the teacher, especially at the end of the school day.

When I asked my daughter about what I saw, she seemed unhurt by the fall, but deeply pained by Nikki’s reported words from earlier in class that same day: “You’re not my best friend anymore.”  Sting.  The look in my daughter’s eyes hurt me more than I ever remember being hurt by any mean girl bully from my own youth.  “What did your teacher say?” I asked.  “She didn’t hear Nikki say it,” my daughter explained.  For those keeping score, that’s Nikki 2, Teacher 0.

Relational aggression tends to occur under the radar of adult awareness.  As a form of passive aggressive behavior, the kids who behave this way know how to mask their inner hostility with an outward smile.  If questioned by an authority figure, they create plausible excuses for their behavior (e.g. “It was just a game,” or “I was just kidding.  Can’t you take a joke?”)  Relational aggression is carried out by kids who are cunning enough to behave in ways that are socially appropriate on the surface but searingly painful behind the scenes.

In older kids, social networking sites are a prime arena for relational aggression.   24/7 access to MySpace, Twitter, texting, and instant messaging gives bullies constant access and widespread audiences for spreading rumors, causing humiliation and, when necessary, innocently denying that they ever meant any harm.

In younger children, excluding phrases like, “You’re not my best friend anymore,” and “Only girls with long hair can sit here” are spoken quietly, with an angry smile, right under a teacher’s watchful nose.

The night after “the Nikki incidents,” I heard my daughter crying in her room.  When I went to ask her what was wrong, she asked me in return, “Mama, how can I change to make Nikki like me again?”  This occurred years ago now, and I tell you I still get tears in my eyes recalling the night.  For anyone who says the problems of kids are insignificant, I assure you that the pain caused by bullying at any age is soul-crushing.

The good news is that children are resilient and can move on.  The valuable thing my daughter took from having her heart-broken by a “friend” so early on is that now, she is really good about picking genuinely nice kids to hang around with and she’s the first one at a friend’s side when they are being picked on or feeling down.  I heard her explain to a peer the other day, “Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can really hurt too, so be careful about what you say.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself.

 

Signe Whitson, LSW is the mother of two elementary school-aged daughters, and the author of, Friendship & Other Weapons: Group Activities to Help Young Girls Aged 5-11 Cope with Bullying.  Please visit www.signewhitson.com for information on her workshops and trainings for parents, professionals, and kids.  “Like” Signe on Facebook, or Follow her on Twitter @SigneWhitson.