Listen With Love: How To Help a Child with Anxiety Prepare for the School Year

By Nora Hood   July 30, 2018

Reposted with permission from Bullying Recovery

“Life is ten percent what you experience and ninety percent how you respond to it.” ~Dorothy M. Neddermeyer

Sometimes, the hardest thing about being a parent is allowing your child to be him or herself. Children don’t always meet our expectations, but that doesn’t mean they should be forced to alter behavior they can’t help or be bullied into changing. That can be difficult for parents of kids who suffer from anxiety, especially when it comes to school.

School anxiety is a common phenomenon in the United States. According to a recent study, more than one in twenty school-age children and teens have anxiety or depression (“More than 1 in 20 US children and teens have anxiety or depression,” 2018). Unfortunately, working around such a problem when it’s time to go back to school in the fall can be a wrenching and heartbreaking ordeal. The problem is so widespread that schools nationwide have been forced to adapt to the situation. As a new school year approaches, here are a few points to consider in dealing with an anxious child.

No shaming

One of the worst things you can do is to shame your child for the way she feels (Åslund, C., et. al., 2007). Her nervousness is an honest and real reaction to a situation that frightens her – she can’t help it. Telling a child to get over it and forcing her into school in front of friends and teachers is far more likely to worsen a difficult situation than to solve anything. Instead, be supportive and try normalizing the way she feels. Assure her that she’s not alone, that many kids feel just like she does and that there’s nothing at all wrong with feeling nervous about going back to school. If your child continues to resist, try taking it one step at a time. Make arrangements for you, your child and a counselor to discuss any issues so that he or she feels more at ease.

Prepare early

If you’re concerned about your child’s return to school, start laying the groundwork during the summer (Csóti, 2003). Give yourself plenty of time to gradually get your child used to the idea, and allow him or her to share any fears and thoughts. Talk through them openly but patiently; don’t invalidate any feelings and make it clear you’ll be with your child every step of the way. A couple weeks before the first day of school, begin putting your child to bed as you would when she’s in school, and have her get up earlier in the morning so she grows re-accustomed to the rhythms and realities of the school year.

Talk about homework schedules for the coming year and begin to ease the transition by discussing how screens and handheld devices will be turned off during homework/study time and arrange a dedicated and organized study space, with all the necessary supplies near to hand. If your child’s school has a back-to-school event, be sure to attend with your child so she can meet her teacher, interact with classmates and get used to the feel of being in school again. Getting kids to do homework can be an ordeal. If you have a child who does better listening to music during homework, consider buying headphones. A good pair can be purchased for under $100.

Make it a positive event

Parents often dread the beginning of a new school year because it means overseeing homework, getting kids up early and preparing them for school, then rushing to get to work on time. Avoid airing these thoughts or acting negatively about school in front of your child. Try treating the first day of school as a time for celebrating an exciting new year (Csóti, 2003). Emphasize that your child will be reunited with old friends and can expect to meet new ones.

Talk about field trips and school fairs, sports and activities she enjoys. Plan a healthy, protein-rich breakfast for the first day so she’s energized and physically ready. Consider an after-school treat to celebrate that she made it through the first day and take the time to talk through the experience. What was she feeling? How did she cope with her fears?

Be open to your child’s fears and willing to discuss any concerns she has about going back to school. Sometimes, talking through issues can have a healing effect, so show that you’ll be supportive rather than demanding and let her know you’re a friend and ally.

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References

Åslund, C., Nilsson, K. W., Starrin, B., & Sjöberg, R. L. (2007). Shaming experiences and the association between adolescent depression and psychosocial risk factors. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry16(5), 298-304. doi:10.1007/s00787-006-0564-1

Csóti, M. (2003). School Phobia, Panic Attacks and Anxiety in Children. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

More than 1 in 20 US children and teens have anxiety or depression. (2018, April 29). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180424184119.htm

Listening and Connecting With Your Child

Your child tells you that he or she are being bullied. They are not alone. PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center (2016) reports that one out of every five students report being bullied during the school year. As a parent of a bullied child it is imperative to understand the importance of listening to your child during this time. Now more than ever it is essential that the adults in this young person’s life have his or her back and well-being in the forefront of their minds.

The following are ideas that are found in “8 Keys to End Bullying, Strategies for Parents and Schools.”

Make it Easy for Kids to Talk About Bullying:

It is important to understand how being bullied can make a young person feel. Bullying victims feel isolated and alone. They experience self-doubt, feel humiliated and ashamed and fear being labeled as tattletales if they speak about their experiences. It is our responsibility as adults to help the child feel safe.

Listening is a skill that requires intention. When a child comes forward and tells you about bullying, listening can form the strong link where you can comfort and aid your child. Good listening involves:
Complete attention and focus, (computers, phones and other distractions are put aside)
Good eye-contact. As the listener, it is our jobs as the supportive adults to maintain eye-contact, not our children.
Open-mindedness. Effective listening involves clearing one’s mind of already drawn conclusions, thoughts and feelings about the event.
Open-ended questions: This can help the child sort through their thoughts and feelings without the listener already drawing their own conclusions.
Support and empathy. I cannot stress this enough. It takes tremendous courage for an adolescent to come forward and talk about their experiences of bullying. Chances are they are in a very painful place by the time they talk with you about it. Listening involves you as the caring adult affirming that the they are strong for reaching out. Making a child feel understood and loved will go a long way in establishing a connection with them.

Listening and solving are different. As adults, we may have a strong urge to immediately solve the problem and become highly emotional. Effective listening is a process in which the adult guides the child to think through the steps needed to improve the situation.

How to Respond to a Child Who Talks About Bullying:

Listening to our child recall incidents of being bullied can be downright agonizing for parents and caregivers. Our minds may race from anger to fear, to legal responsibility, to frustration, to confusion and so on. There are strategies that adults can employ when listening to a bullied child that will be incredibly beneficial.

Remain calm. Remember that this young person has taken a leap of faith to speak to you about what happened to him or her. Stay calm and don’t freak out. This calmness will aid in moving forward and move toward solutions.
Express empathy. Simple, honest and effective responses can let a child know they are being heard and that you understand the pain they are enduring. Something as simple as “I am sorry this is happening to you” lets a child know that being bullied is not a normal part of growing up and that you feel bad they have experienced such cruelty.
Thank the Child. Thanking a child for finding the strength and coming forward about their incidents allows them to feel acknowledged and safe. It takes a tremendous amount of trust for a child to share their burden and thanking them will further build a bond for moving forward.
Encourage Problem Solving. This is when you and the child work together to come up with reasonable strategies and ideas for moving forward. The adult’s job is to continue to support the child, listen to their ongoing thoughts and feelings, and assure them that you will both work together to come up with constructive solutions. A child that has been bullied is apt to feel helpless. The adult’s role is to assist the child in reclaiming feelings of power and control through the process of listening, supporting, affirming and thinking through solutions together.
Follow-up. Follow-up after a conversation about bullying is crucial. A concerned adult needs to check in with the child consistently after the initial conversation to check on their physical and emotional well-being as well as to see how strategies and ideas are working.

A child who has been bullied who knows they have adult support has a better opportunity to move on and heal from their experience. Care, calmness, rational behavior, support and empathy are key elements which can help a child feel cared for and not have them carry their burden by themselves.

How Strong Is the Link Between Bullying and Suicide

How Strong Is the Link Between Bullying and Suicide

The subject of teen suicide can bring up a litany of uncomfortable feelings. For me I feel incredible fear, dismay, and overwhelming sadness. My stomach tightens and tears come to my eyes. I have a child who contemplated suicide. I have a child who came up with a plan. I have a child who attempted to take their life. I have friends and acquaintances whose children have committed suicide. Teen suicide is on the rise, and we know that there is a link between bullying and suicide and suicide ideation.

Suicidal ideation, also known as suicidal thoughts, is thinking about or an unusual preoccupation with suicide. The range of suicidal ideation varies greatly from fleeting thoughts, to extensive thoughts, to detailed planning, role playing (e.g., standing on a chair with a noose), and incomplete attempts, which may be deliberately constructed to not complete or to be discovered, or may be fully intended to result in death, but the individual survives (e.g., in the case of a hanging in which the cord breaks).

*Untreated mental health conditions are among the leading causes of suicide.
*According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates for adolescent boys and girls have steadily risen since 2007.
*The suicide rate for girls ages 15-19 has doubled from 2007 to 2015.
*The suicide rate for boys ages 15-19 has increased by 30% over the same time period.

The following article from verywellfamily.com discusses the link between suicide and bullying, and what parents should be on the lookout for in relation to both of these topics.

How Strong is the Link Between Bullying and Suicide

By Sherri Gordon

Updated January 10, 2018

“There are countless stories about bullied teens taking their own lives. Clearly, there is a link between bullying and suicide. But is it as simple as — bullying causes kids to commit suicide?

Most mental health experts would argue that claiming bullying is the only cause of suicide is much too simplistic. Bullying aggravates depression and increases suicide risk and the seriousness of the issue shouldn’t be minimized.

But, failing to look at the other contributing factors related to suicide is a mistake. Suicide is a complex issue that also is impacted by depression, feelings of hopelessness, lack of self-esteem, family-life issues and more.

Still, because bullying can be a catalyst for suicide, its significance should not be overlooked. When kids who are already at risk for suicide due to depression or other mental health issues are bullied, the results can be disastrous. Even relatively well-adjusted kids that are bullied can become depressed and contemplate suicide. So the possibility of suicide must be considered when a child is bullied.

What Do the Statistics Say?

  • Nearly one-quarter of tenth graders who reported being bullied also reported having made a suicide attempt in the past 12 months, according to a Washington State Healthy Youth Survey.
  • Half of the 12th graders who reported being bullied also reported feeling sad and hopeless almost every day for two weeks in a row, according to the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey.
  • Among 15- to 24-year-olds, suicide is one of the leading causes of death, according to Suicide Awareness Voices for Education. Additionally, 16 percent of students consider suicide; 13 percent create a plan; and 8 percent have made a serious attempt.
  • Cyberbullying caused kids to consider suicide more than traditional bullying according to a study in JAMA Pediatrics.

What Can Parents Do?

Know the signs of bullying. One of the best ways to spot bullying in your children’s lives is watch their moods. If they are suddenly anxious, stressed or indicating that they hate school, take notice. Also pay attention if they say that there’s a lot of drama at school or that they have no friends. Other signs of bullying include complaining of headaches and stomachaches, skipping school, losing possessions and slipping grades.

Know the signs of depression. Symptoms like dropping grades, losing interest in favorite activities, withdrawing socially and sleeping more or less than normal are all signs that a person may be depressed. Unexplained excessive crying also indicates that depression may be a problem. Being excessively angry also can be a sign of depression.

Know the signs of suicide. People who are contemplating suicide may become moody, appear hopeless and experience changes in personality. Sometimes suicidal people will cut off contact with other people and lose interest in activities. Or, they may start to clean out things, throwing or giving away once treasured items. They also might visit old friends and make the rounds to family members. If you notice any signs of suicidal thoughts, you need to question what is going on.

Don’t delay in taking action.

Help your child overcome bullying. One of the best ways to help your child overcome bullying is to make sure your child is comfortable talking with you. You also should make a commitment to help them resolve the issue. Follow up with the school until the issue is addressed. The process of overcoming bullying is long. So you need to be committed to the process. There will be good days and bad days. But make sure your child has access to the resources he needs to talk about his feelings and cope with what is happening. Also, be sure to stay in close contact with school personnel.

Bullying often escalates over time and often doesn’t disappear without consistent intervention.

Have your child assessed and treated for depression. Anytime you suspect that your child is depressed or considering suicide, it is best to have him assessed by his doctor or a mental health professional. Getting treatment for depression is the best option for recovery. Even if you do not think your child is depressed, you may want to talk to healthcare professional. Bullying has significant consequences and if it is ongoing can have a lasting impact.

Don’t ignore threats of suicide. Although not every child will threaten suicide before actually doing it, some do. So take notice anytime someone mentions taking his or her own life. Even if the person threatening suicidehas no intention of following through, this is a very real cry for help and should never be ignored. Allow your child the opportunity to talk with a counselor and avoid leaving him alone for long periods of time.”

Hiring a Psychotherapist

Hiring a Psychotherapist

As a parent of a child who has suffered dramatically from bullying I knew that he would need help outside of my wheelhouse for him to recover. I loved him and encouraged him and I felt helpless. He had changed dramatically. Our family dynamics changed. Everything was turned upside down. My happy-go-lucky child became morose, introverted and lacked any joy. My husband and I knew he needed to see a therapist.

Therapy can bring up a mixture of feelings for any of us. It can be terrifying for us as parents to admit that something is seriously wrong. We were lucky as we knew of a counselor that we felt would fit the bill for our son’s needs. Indeed she has. Almost two years later after starting therapy our son is recovering. His keen sense of humor is back, he is talkative and finds interest and joy in the world again. This comes from sometimes difficult work with a therapist, a loving home, and an encouraging and supportive new school.

The following are some ideas on how to find and select a therapist from Mary’s Hope Workshops. If you are on the same path as my family has been on and feel that your child would benefit from the help of a trusted counselor, I trust you may glean some valuable ideas from this article.

Dru Ahlborg, Executive Director, BRRC

HIRING A PSYCHOTHERAPIST

Selecting a therapist who will be an effective guide as your child learns and integrates new life skills is important. The relationship between a therapist and client is crucial to the successful navigation of the critical and difficult work. Taking time interviewing several therapists will inform you as to the nature of your therapeutic relationship, taking into consideration combined personalities, preferences, experiences, and core beliefs. As a consumer it is your right and responsibility to be informed of your choices and rights. Evaluating prospective therapist credentials, personal style, values, procedures, and fees will help you to make a wise and informed choice.

Talking with several therapists may help you to pursue counseling for your child and with which counselor. Personal feelings of distrust, negativity, or the sense of being told what to do are signs of an improper counselor/client relationships. Simply do not contact or see that therapist again. Explaining to the counselor or a trusted friend reasons for your decision may give you a sense of closure. Feeling as if you have to rationalize your decision is unhealthy. If you or your child is hesitant about a therapist for any reason, you may want to talk with him or her again to clarify some points, or talk about your uncertainty with a trusted friend, or consult with another counselor before deciding. Once your questions are answered satisfactory and you feel comfortable with the information you’ve gathered, it is time to begin the therapeutic process.

When interviewing a prospective therapist, consider the following questions:

  • My child has experienced profound childhood abuse and trauma, what is your experience working with survivors?
  • What are your credentials? What do the acronyms mean?
  • Are you licensed? By whom? If not, what are the circumstances?
  • Are there particular techniques that you use? What are their advantages and disadvantages?
  • Will you discuss the treatment plan with me and my child? What happens if we disagree about our goals?
  • If necessary, will you create a suicide plan if my child has suicidal ideations?
  • Do you adhere to a professional code of ethics? Which one(s)?
  • Have you ever had a charge of unethical conduct brought against you? Under what circumstances?
  • What is your best estimate to treat my child’s particular situation?
  • Do you have continuing professional training and/or supervision?
  • Do you have physical contact with clients? Under what circumstance(s)?
  • Do you think that you might be able to work with my child? If not, who would you recommend?
  • What are your fees for an initial consultation? For phone consultations? Counseling sessions?
  • Do you process insurance? If not, ask what their rationale is for that choice?
  • Consider asking questions that will inform you of their personal values that might coincide or clash with your beliefs. (What is you attitude towards abortion, gays and lesbians, religion and spirituality, non-traditional living arrangements, etc.)

Considerations is evaluating a therapist after initial contact and all sessions:

  • Notice if you feel comfortable while talking to the therapist. Ask you child if he or she feels comfortable talking with the therapist. It is natural to feel anxious when meeting or speaking with a therapist. Despite this normal anxiety you will want to notice if the counselor helps you feel at ease despite the difficulty of talking about deep issues.
  • Do they listen without interrupting? Is your child being heard and understood?
  • What do you and your child’s intuition indicate regarding this person? Do they feel safe or do you feel an underlying judgement or unease?
  • Look for a therapist who is willing to listen and explore issues rather than offering a quick solution. (Avoid those who say “you should,” or “you must.”)
  • Do you and your child feel respected and safe?
  • Are you comfortable with the personality of your child’s therapist?
  • Is the office space comfortable and safe?
  • Did the therapist answer your questions directly or evasively?
  • Did the therapist inspire hope and offer a collaborative treatment plan for your child?
  • Even after several sessions, you may sense that the relationship is not helpful. A competent and professional therapist will understand and be able to help you find another counselor with whom you may be more suited.
  • Remember, counselors are human and imperfect, yet there are some who are more effective than others. Trust you instincts as you go through the counseling.
  • Reciprocal trust, courtesy and respect are characteristic of the therapist/client relationship. Within that relationship the client looks to the therapist for expertise, education, sound judgement, and advocacy. These expectations are achieved by the following clients’s rights and responsibilities:

Client’s Rights include:

  • Having confidentiality within the limits of the law.
  • Being respected throughout the counseling process.
  • Having the freedom to refuse treatment or strategy.
  • Asking questions at any time.
  • Receiving complete information regarding he therapist’s technique and theoretical orientation.
  • Choosing you own lifestyle and having it respected by the counselor.
  • Having appointments on time, taking into account emergencies.
  • Information and collaboration about diagnosis.
  • Consultation/interviewing as many counselors as you choose in order to find a reasonable and helpful therapeutic relationship.
  • Experiencing a safe and comfortable office location that is free from physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
  • Agreement to a written contract of goals and treatment plan.
  • Ability to talk to others about your counseling experience, including other therapists.
  • Periodic and collaborative evaluation of the counseling process.
  • Ending therapy at any time.
  • Ability to disclose or not disclose personal information.
  • Request written reports regarding therapy with your written authorization. (There may be an additional charge.)
  • Accessing documentation within the limits of the law.

Client’s Responsibilities:

  • Honor appointment times by being prompt.
  • If cancellation or rescheduling is necessary, give the therapist a 24 hour notice.
  • Treat the therapist and staff with courtesy and consideration,
  • Treatment is only effective as the client makes it, taking responsibility for completing homework and other assignments.
  • Self-care including adequate rest, nutrition, physical exercise and collaboration and medical personnel.
  • Be truthful regarding current situation.
  • Honor fee and payment arrangements with timely payment.
  • Notify therapist of change of telephone numbers and address.
  • Respect the limitations (legal, professional, and ethical) of the therapist.
  • Understand and appreciate counselor’s legal responsibilities.

David Johns, M. LPC/National Certified Counselor

Mary’s Hope Workshops 2008

What is Bullying?  Why do we Care?

What is Bullying? Why do we Care?

So why did we choose to start a charity to help bullied children and their families? Given time, can’t these children recover? Isn’t bullying a rite of passage, a “boys will be boys” or “mean girls” phenomenon? Can’t children just get over being picked-on? Can’t they come back with snappy statements to a bully’s name calling or simply punch that bully back squarely in the nose? Can’t children who are assaulted simply walk away for their tormentors? Parents who have children that have been bullied, (and statistics say that is the majority of parents), know that these questions can be ludicrous and hurtful. It’s not that easy. If it was, the problem of bullying would be extinguished.

First and foremost, bullying is never an acceptable behavior. Dan Olweus, a pioneer in the area of bullying defines it as this: “A person is being bullied when he/she is exposed, repeatedly and over time to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons. Negative action is when a person intentionally inflicts injury or discomfort upon another person through physical contact, through words or in other ways. Bullying is both overt and covert behaviors. Bullying is a pattern of behavior that is repeated over time against the same person(s) with a noted power differential.” Barbara Coloroso, a noted bullying expert and author also adds that one act can constitute bullying.

Furthermore, Dan Olweus provides us with a list of examples of bullying behaviors:

Saying hurtful and unpleasant things

Making fun of others

Using mean and hurtful nicknames

Completely overlooking someone

Deliberately excluding someone from a group of friends

Hitting, kicking, pulling hair, pushing or shutting a person inside, slamming a child into a locker, taking or breaking someone’s possesions

Telling lies

Spreading false rumors

Sending mean notes

Trying to get other students to dislike another person

So, to answer my first question; why did we choose to start a charity to help bullied children and their families? We want to help children and families who feel so lost, hurt and dismayed by the bullying that has happened to their family. We want to make an impact on the problem of bullying. We want to be crusaders and to stand with those who have been harmed. We want to let others know they are not alone and that things can and will get better.

My son, and our entire family have been subject to the majority of the listed bullying behaviors Dan Olweus identifies. I can attest that walking through and living with the aftermath of bullying has been the most challenging feat of my adult life. Wrestling with anger, disillusionment and fear became common bedfellows. It took time and a great amount of perseverance to once again see joy in everyday life and know that we as a family would grow stronger. We desire to share our experience and hope with you as you walk your arduous path. Hand in hand, we can heal and make a difference.

Dru E Ahlborg, Executive Director, Bullying Recovery Resource Center

How We Got Here

How We Got Here

About Us, Slightly Less Abridged

We are a family of four living the city life in the heart of Denver. My husband and I have always been in agreement that education for our children is a priority. We decided early on that a smaller house and a modest lifestyle were fine as long as our children were getting a good education where they were well cared for. We chose a private school for our son when he was three that felt like a perfect fit.

Within the first few months of our son’s schooling I was volunteering for everything I could. I worked in the classroom, did work outside around campus and helped on any committee that would have me. I lugged our 6 month old daughter in her car seat as I cheerfully did my volunteer work on campus. Our son was doing well. He made friends. My husband joined the Board of Directors and I volunteered to be on the Parent’s Association and even agreed to chair their school auction. When our daughter turned of school age, she attended our little gem of a school as well. Our children thrived for many years at this school.

Things changed when my son entered the middle school. My son is small for his age and struggles with a learning difference. At the end of his first year I was inadvertently informed of an event where my son was physically bullied. My husband and I discussed this incident with the school administration and we mistakenly believed they were addressing the incident. This event happened less than a month before the school year ended.

Our son’s next school year started with conversations with the teachers and school administrators asking that our son and his classmates be closely monitored. When the second semester started after the holiday break things were changing. Our son was being bullied, not by one, but by several middle school students. The bullying consisted of verbal, emotional, physical and relational bullying. He was targeted and bullied on a daily basis. As a result, our son started doing poorly at school. He did not tell his father and I of the bullying for five to six weeks later because he was afraid and ashamed.

We spoke with his teachers and the administration of the school on multiple occasions. We received very little support for our son and we painstakingly pulled him from the school to finish his year at home.

This is not a unique story. We have since talked with many parents who have had similar incidents happen to a child of theirs. Bullying happens everywhere. It happens in small private schools, large public schools, religious schools, schools that have a stellar reputation and everything in between. Since going through our experience with bullying my husband and I have learned that bullying is not to be negotiated with or solved with a peace conference. It needs to be acknowledged abruptly and stopped effectively and in a timely manner. Consequences need to exist and be administered. Acknowledgement appears to be a major hurdle for many schools. By not accepting that bullying happens, it cannot be addressed and stopped effectively. It leaves the door open for the next child who is bullied to continue suffering from those torments as the school attempts to negotiate matters rather than stop the bullying. This mindset can lead to tragic results.

Our son suffered greatly as a result of the relentless bullying that happened to him. He has questioned everything. He struggles with trusting educators and adults who care for children. He has been diagnosed with depression, PTSD and anxiety. He has worked with therapists in an attempt to move on and grow stronger as a result of what he endured.

Both of our children are attending a new school. Our son has worked diligently to learn to trust again. His grades are high, and he is once again participating in life. Our daughter, who witnessed some of the bullying and the struggles of her brother is also healing. Our whole family who is traumatized by the bullying is on the road to recovery.

Tom and I decided to start The Bullying Recovery Resource Center after becoming self-educated experts on bullying and talking to other parents about the bullying that has happened to their children. Our goal is to offer support and help to families that have suffered from bullying. I can tell you that our family of four has changed dramatically from the bullying that happened to our son. The phone calls, texts and emails we received from friends, family and strangers enabled us to move our mission forward and start healing.

There is much work to be done. The culture in some schools needs to change. Bullying happens and it occurs far too often due to the mindset that it will go away or can be dealt with as a conflict. Our hope is to help those afflicted with the tortures of bullying to begin the healing process and possibly in turn help others.

Dru Ahlborg, Executive Director, The Bullying Recovery Resource Center