Archive for October, 2020

What Parents Can Do When Bullying is Downplayed by School

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October is National Bullying Prevention Month. In hopes for more civility and decency nationwide, among people of ALL ages, I’ll be sharing some key articles, strategies and insights. Please read and share with those who work and live with school-aged kids!

What Parents Can Do When Bullying is Downplayed by School

Your child is being bullied at school. He or she has mustered the courage to tell you about it—no small feat, considering how humiliating it can be for kids to tell their parents about maltreatment by their peers—and together, you have tried everything you can think of to manage the problem on your own.

Your child has practiced ignoring the bully, avoiding his tormentors, standing up to mean kids in assertive ways, trying to enlist his teacher’s support, and using humor to deflect the bully’s taunting. He has shut down his Facebook page and stopped texting entirely, hoping that taking himself out of the technology loop might give him some respite from the cruelty. Yet, the bullying persists … and is getting worse.

You make a decision to call your child’s teacher and report what has been going on—the name-calling, the cruel texts, the exclusion at lunch, the snickering in the halls, the shoves on the bus, and the threats of physical harm (yesterday’s warning: “I am going to f’ing end you if you come to school tomorrow”). Reaching out and asking for help was hard for you; as a parent, you desperately hoped to be able to protect your child on your own. Confident, however, that you have taken all of the right steps to manage the problem independently and knowing that the bullying (and your child’s desperation) are only getting worse, you reluctantly place a call to school. A part of you is relieved that your burden can now be shared and professionals can help with the job of keeping your child safe at school.

Your relief is short-lived.

Despite the “Bully-Free Zone” posters that line the school cafeteria walls and the Zero-Tolerance Policy that was boasted about during last September’s back-to-school night, your experience is that the school would rather not address the problem at all. The responses you get from your child’s teacher include bland lip service such as:

• I didn’t see it happening and I can’t just take your child’s word that it did.
• Kids will be kids, you know.
• This stuff just happens. It’ll all blow over soon.
• Your child just needs to have a thicker skin.
• The child you are accusing of bullying is an honor student and vice president of the student council. I just can’t believe he would do such a thing. Are you sure your child isn’t exaggerating?

More and more, as I talk with parents whose children have experienced bullying, they share this common experience of having their concerns downplayed by the very adults who are charged with keeping schoolchildren safe.

Now, before I go any further, I want to state my unequivocal support for most educators and school personnel. I have had the distinct honor and pleasure of working with hundreds of them in a professional capacity, and dozens of them through my own children’s schooling, and I recognize their role as monumental. It is my belief that most adults who dedicate their professional lives to education are heroes and I thank them endlessly for their service.

With that said, there are also adults who fail children and I don’t know any more eloquent or sophisticated way to describe my feelings about it other than to tell you that it burns me. While I understand that kids are often mean to each other—and sometimes unspeakably cruel—what I cannot wrap my mind around is when adults knowingly allow it to happen. Parents ask me: What should I do when I report bullying to school and the school downplays my concerns? This is the conversation we usually have.

First, we usually talk a bit about why some school personnel downplay reports of bullying from concerned parents.

 

Lack of Awareness
One recent study reports that in school settings, bullying is missed by adults 96% of the time. “How can this be?” many parents ask. Easier than it seems, I am afraid. While most teachers are very focused on what goes on in their classrooms, the majority of bullying occurs in locations like the lunchroom, the locker room, the playground, the bathroom, the hallways, the bus, and perhaps most infamously, online. When classroom teachers tell concerned parents that they are not aware of bullying incidents taking place in their classroom, they are usually quite accurate. (Why more cafeteria aides and bus drivers aren’t trained and made responsible for recognizing and responding to bullying is a whole different article.)

The flip side of adult awareness is that the thrice-failed-third-grade neighborhood meanie named Spike who jumps out in the schoolyard and demands little kids’ lunch money is a bully of yesteryear. Today’s bullies—particularly those who use relational aggression to hurt and humiliate—are often brilliant social diagnosticians who know how to manipulate their teachers just as effectively as they know how to torture their peers. Yes, the straight-“A” student council president may well be the bully that “rules the school” safely below the radar of his unsuspecting teachers.

The remainder of this post is available on Psychology Today.  Click below for the direct link or cut and paste the following one in your browser: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/passive-aggressive-diaries/201203/what-parents-can-do-when-bullying-is-downplayed-school

What Parents Can Do when Bullying is Downplayed at School

Teaching Assertive Anger Expression Skills to Kids

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This past week, I had the sincere joy of Zooming with a Girl Scout troop from Orange County, CA.  For just under an hour, we chatted and played games from my book, How to Be Angry, with the goal of helping the girls learn important concepts about anger such as:

  1.  Anger is a normal emotion–a natural way of feeling in response to frustrating life events
  2. There’s nothing wrong with feeling angry at times.  It’s how we express our anger that counts!
  3. Three Anger Expression Styles: Passive, Aggressive & Assertive…made MUCH more fun and relatable by teaching kids to identify styles according to their Spirit Animals, the turtle, the tiger, and the giraffe.
  4. How facial expressions and tone of voice impact the words we choose
  5. How to use I-Messages to express anger in honest, direct, straight-up ways without hurting or harming anyone else–just like a giraffe!

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The workshop encouraged parents and kids to work together to learn and practice assertive expression styles.  Here’s what some of the attendees had to say:

 

PARENT:
Signe led a workshop for our Brownie troop of 3rd graders and their parents.  She delivered the material in an engaging, fun and age-appropriate way for the kids, including activities for the kids to practice individually and with their parents.  My daughter was very excited to tell my husband all about what she learned after the workshop and we were able to use the language Signe taught us already today in our communication with each other.  Last night during our drive to dance class, my daughter and another one of the participants sat in the backseat practicing and talking through their experiences using each of the animal expressions in real life as well as being on the receiving end of the animal expressions.   At her suggestion, we’ve put the “I message” script on the fridge as a reference so we can all practice and improve.
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GIRL SCOUT:
Signe’s class was really fun.  I liked learning about the tiger, turtle and giraffe voice.  I want to be a giraffe and I think I’m usually a tiger or a turtle.  It was fun to practice the animal expressions with my friends. 
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Click here for more information on How to Be Angry workshops.
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Click here to buy the book for your child, student, troop or group.

 

 

Is it Rude, is it Mean, or is it Bullying?

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October is National Bullying Prevention Month. In hopes for more civility and decency nationwide, among people of ALL ages, I’ll be sharing some key articles, strategies and insights. Please read and share with those who work and live with school-aged kids!

Is it Rude, is it Mean, or is it Bullying?

A few weeks ago, I had the terrific fortune of getting to present some of the bullying prevention work that I do to a group of children at a local bookstore. As if interacting with smiling, exuberant young people was not gift enough, a reporter also attended the event a wrote a lovely article about my book and the work I do with kids, parents, educators, and youth care professionals. All in all, it was dream publicity and since then, has sparked many conversations with people in my town who saw my photo in the newspaper and immediately related to the examples of bullying that were discussed.

I have been brought to tears more than once since the article ran, while listening to parents share their feelings of outrage and helplessness over their kids’ experiences with bullying in school. One gifted but socially awkward middle school student blew me away with his articulate, poised, yet searingly painful accounts of relentless physical and verbal bullying on his school bus. An elementary school-aged girl described how she had to learn to shed her Australian accent within a month of entering U.S. schools because of how she was shunned by her classmates. The commonness of it all routinely astounds me with every new account; the pervasive cruelty makes my jaw drop every time.

It is important for me to begin this article by establishing that without doubt, many of the stories of bullying that are shared with me are horrifying and some are unspeakably cruel. But now, I also want to be honest and share that some of the stories are…well…really not so bad.

Take this story recently shared with me by an acquaintance who read about my professional work:

“Signe, I saw your picture in the paper last week. Congratulations! I didn’t know you worked with bullied students. It’s so important that you dothings have gotten so bad! Last week, my daughter was bullied really badly after school! She was getting off of her bus when this kid from our neighborhood threw a fist-full of leaves right in her face! When she got home, she still had leaves in the hood of her coat. It’s just awful! I don’t know what to do about these bullies.”

“Was she very upset when she got home?” I empathized.

“No. She just brushed the leaves off and told me they were having fun together,” she said.

“Oh,” I answered knowingly, aware that oftentimes kids try to downplay victimization by bullies from their parents, due to the embarrassment and shame they feel. “Did you get the sense she was covering for the boy?”

“No, no. She really seemed to think it was fun. She said that she threw leaves back at him, which I told her never to do again! The nerve of those kids.”

“Those ‘kids,’” I clarified. “Was it just the one boy throwing leaves or were there a bunch of kids all ganging up on her?”

“No, it was just this one boy that lives about a block from us,” she assured me.

“Is he usually mean to her? Has he bothered her after school before?” I asked, eager at this point to figure out what the bullying issue was.

“No. I don’t think so at least. That was the first time she ever said anything about him. It was definitely the first time that I noticed the leaves all over her coat. But it better be the last time! I won’t stand for her being bullied by that kid. Next time, I am going to make sure the Principal knows what is going on after school lets out!”

While I always want to be careful not to minimize anyone’s experience (it’s the social worker in me!) and a part of me suspects that the sharing of this particular story may have been simply this parent’s spontaneous way of making conversation with me in a store aisle, I hear these “alarming” (read: benign) stories often enough to conclude that there is a real need to draw a distinction between behavior that is rude, behavior that is mean, and behavior that is characteristic of bullying. I first heard bestselling children’s author, Trudy Ludwig, talk about these distinguishing terms and, finding them so helpful, have gone on to use them as follows.

Rude = Inadvertently saying or doing something that hurts someone else.

A particular relative of mine (whose name it would be rude of me to mention) often looks my curly red hair up and down before inquiring in a sweet tone, “Have you ever thought about coloring your hair?” or, “I think you look so much more sophisticated when you straighten your hair, Signe.” This doting family member thinks she is helping me. The rest of the people in the room cringe at her boldness and I am left to wonder if being a brunette would suit me. Her comments can sting, but remembering that they come from a place of love—in her mind—helps me to remember what to do with the advice.

From kids, rudeness might look more like burping in someone’s face, jumping ahead in line, bragging about achieving the highest grade, or even throwing a crushed up pile of leaves in someone’s face. On their own, any of these behaviors could appear as elements of bullying, but when looked at in context, incidents of rudeness are usually spontaneous, unplanned inconsideration, based on thoughtlessness, poor manners, or narcissism, but not meant to actually hurt someone.

The remainder of this post is available on Psychology Today.  Click below for the direct link or cut and paste the following one in your browser: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/passive-aggressive-diaries/201211/is-it-rude-is-it-mean-or-is-it-bullying

Is it Rude, Is it Mean or Is it Bullying?

Help Your Daughter Cope with Bullying

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October is National Bullying Prevention Month. In hopes for more civility and decency nationwide, among people of ALL ages, I’ll be sharing some key articles, strategies and insights. Please read and share with those who work and live with school-aged kids!

 

Helping Girls Cope with Bullying & Frenemies

The world of little girls begins as such a lovely place. Heart and rainbow doodles adorn notebook covers, best friendships are formed within seconds, and bold, exuberant voices carry squeals of carefree laughter and brazen delight. Happiness is worn on a sleeve, and anger is voiced with authentic candor.

Length-of-stay in this accepting, kindly world is time-limited for many girls, however. Seemingly overnight, sweet sentiments like, “I love your dress,” turn into thinly-veiled criticisms such as, “Why are you wearing that dress?” Yesterday’s celebratory birthday party becomes today’s tool of exclusion, as guest lists are used to enforce social hierarchies. Long before most school programs begin anti-bullying campaigns, young girls get a full education in social aggression.

What can adults do to help kids cope with inevitable experiences of friendship conflict and bullying?

To Intervene or Not to Intervene?

Adults often struggle with the question of, “Should I intervene in a child’s friendship problems?” The line between helicopter and hands-off can get confusing, as adults waver between wanting to protect young people from the pain of broken friendships and believing that bullying is an inevitable rite of passage. The bottom line is this; no child should have to find her way through painful conflict alone. Kids need adult support and insights when it comes to navigating the choppy waters of friendship, disguised as a weapon. Here are some fundamental ways parents can help:

Teach Her to Know It When She Experiences It

One of the things that makes relational bullying so insidious is its under-the-radar nature. It is things left unsaid and invitations not given. It is unexplained cut-offs in friendship. It is silence. This type of bullying is marked by crimes of omission that make it very hard for girls to put their finger on what they are experiencing in their friendships—yet the pain, humiliation, and isolation are unmistakable.

Adults play a critical role in keeping an open dialogue with young people and making them aware of the typical behaviors that mark this cruel form of social aggression. Knowledge is power; when girls know what relational bullying looks and feels like, they are better able to make a conscious choice to move away from friends who use these behaviors.

The remainder of this post is available on Psychology Today.  Click below for the direct link or cut and paste the following one in your browser: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/passive-aggressive-diaries/201501/helping-girls-cope-bullying-and-frenemies

Helping Girls Cope with Bullying & Frenemies

Why October is the Busy Season for Bullying in Schools

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October is National Bullying Prevention Month. In hopes for more civility and decency nationwide, among people of ALL ages, I’ll be sharing some key articles, strategies and insights. Please read and share with those who work and live with school-aged kids!

 

Late August and September are the honeymoon season in many schools across the United States; the time of year when students are exploring new friendships, feeling out the shifting social hierarchies of their grade, and determining where they fit in. As a school counselor, I have learned to anticipate that there will be a few rough patches in the early weeks of school as relationships re-shuffle from the previous year, but for the most part, the friendship waters will be steady. Then, there’s October.

It’s no coincidence that National Bullying Prevention month falls at that time of year when select school-aged kids have sized each other up, calculated their relative social power, and begun to stake out their new place in the peer pecking order. In this game of social whack-a-mole where young people put each other down in order to boost themselves up, bullying is often the strategy of choice to “win” the popularity wars. Teaching young people how to recognize bullying in all of its shapes, forms, practices, and methods is the necessary first step to equipping them to manage the highs and lows of their school social scene.

These four categories are a helpful framework to teach young people about purposeful and patterned abuses of social power that tend to peak in schools in the autumn months:

Physical bullying: The traditional “sticks and stones” of aggression, this kind of bullying includes a range of antagonistic behaviors in which one person aims to cause bodily harm to another person.

 

The remainder of this post is available on Psychology Today.  Click below for the direct link or cut and paste the following one in your browser: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/passive-aggressive-diaries/201710/why-october-is-the-busy-season-bullying#_=_

 

Why October is the Busy Season for Bullying Prevention
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