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.
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.
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.
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 Psychiatry, 16(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
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.
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