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Solving anxiety and bullying for our students

anxious childIt makes sense that if our child is experiencing aggressive behavior at school that they would also experience more anxiety than others might be experiencing.  If our child starts behaving anxiously, we will want to determine if there is bullying taking place somewhere in there life.  Bullying is not the only reason for anxiety, but certainly it can affect our children.  In fact some say that that if a child is dealing with anxiety they are at greater risk of becoming a target of bullying.

There have been studies that have shown that those who have been bullied, both overtly and relationally, have shown higher levels of anxiety.  This would be those who are threatened with or experienced physical harm or those that have experienced threats regarding peer relationships.  In both male and female students – both have heightened anxiety levels.

Of all of the different ways that students victimize or target others the one behavior – name calling – that has the strongest affect on young men (teens) is being called “gay”.  The use of this term – continually, with intent to harm, and with a difference in power – has the most dramatic affect on young men in creating anxiety for them in life.

On the other side of this, those that receive moderate support from their peers also seem to fair better when it comes to anxiety and dealing with aggression.  My take on this is the need we have as a society – a culture – is to make it not acceptable to call names, not acceptable to act aggressively towards others, to be KIND.   What if when someone in a school called a classmate a name, others stood up for them saying, “in our school – we do not treat others like that”.

Balanced Life Skills is working at creating a culture of peace for our students, families, schools and community.  Join us if you believe in the practice of respect for each other.

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Will you know if your child is being picked on?

How would you know if your child is the target of bullying?  Most of the time your child will not announce it to you, out of fear of embarrassment, belief that they can or must take of the situation or out of fear of retaliation.  Parents and teachers  need to be aware of changes in the attitude or conduct of a child so we can take action.

DistressIf we see a pattern develop with a child of being more anxious, especially about particular situations, there may be something happening that is not comfortable for them.  If they become anxious about going to school, scouts, a sport activity or any place where there are others around – they may be experiencing some aggression.  Please remember it need not be from just other young people.  There may be an adult that makes them uncomfortable.  I have seen this happen with adults (teachers / coaches) where a child was being treated with sarcasm that caused anxiety and academic issues.

Other ways of telling a child may be a target of aggression, include depression, sadness, or safety concerns.  Anytime there is a change in the personality, just be aware and take extra time with your child to talk.  What should you ask?  How do you approach this conversation?

Most of the time asking if they are getting picked on in school is not going to get a response that helps you understand what is happening.  Neither is asking how it is going in school today.  You most likely will get the “fine” answer or the “good” comment.  Our conversation must be ongoing, general  giving them the opportunity to feel safe telling us / without telling us.  Here is what I mean.

Children are not going to be in a rush to embarrass themselves by telling us that they are having relationship issues in school.  On a daily basis – know your child and who their friends are.  Do not interrogate, but ask questions that you can put the pieces together.  If you know that a child typically plays with Sally and then all of a sudden Sally is no longer in the picture – then that is a warning sign that there may be some relationship issues.
jw4Without becoming Jack Webb (do you remember that show?)  we can learn what is on their mind.  What to do at that point is the subject of a seminar I do for parents titled “What to do if your child is being bullied?”  This includes how to deal with your child, the school system (public or private) and with the parents of the aggressor.

If you have a specific issue I am available as an advocate or consultant in this subject.

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We are aware – Now we need to change

In NJ there has been an incident of hazing that has rocked the community.  There are still some on both sides of the story, some accepting it as a part of ‘team’, and some still afraid to speak out openly.  Here is our take on this situation.

Hazing is bullying.  Bullying is abuse and while it is good to hear that it is being recognized as such, the idea that the students in this latest incident “tolerated and in general accepted” this culture and behaviors – it tells us that is was also tolerated and accepted by the adults in the school.

At this point those who have been targeted with the hazing are still afraid to voice their grievances out loud.  On Sunday night this particular community is gathering for an anti-bullying community event to raise awareness in the community and “to help in the healing process”.   Here is my take on this:

We are already aware.

We are aware that bullying in not acceptable.  No one thinks it is an acceptable behavior, especially when it is happening to them or to their child.  Generally very few people have stepped up to change anything until there is a major incident like this one that has affected them personally.

We are awareWe are aware.
There are enough posters.  
There are enough sayings.
There are enough laws and rules.  

What we have not done is change culture.  Until we change the culture in our schools, with everyone – parents, administrators, teachers, students – we will continue to have these kind of incidents.  All of us determined to create a culture of peace in our schools and  communities can be very powerful

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What do you have the courage to do when you see bullying?

This week in our self defense class we are working on the question,

“What would you do if… You see someone being bullied?

There are many ways that you could react – but the real question is what do you have the courage to do?

  • Do you have the courage to avoid joining in with the name calling or laughing at the target of the aggressive behavior?  Or is it easier and feel safer to be a part of the crowd?
  • Do you have the courage to report to an adult?  Or are you afraid of being called a snitch?
  • Do you have the courage to tell the bully to STOP!  Or are you afraid of being turned on and becoming the target?
  • Do you have the courage to request your friends to stand up to the aggressor?  Or are you afraid of being made fun of not going along with the group?
  • Do you have the courage to support and befriend the target or victim of the bullying? Or are you afraid of losing other friends?friendship

All of these actions require different levels of courage.  All of the parent’s or teacher’s we must remember that, all of these actions are doable if there is a culture in the classroom and school or in the family and community that requires kindness be shown to each other.

Balanced Life Skills  is teaching our students to say:

“STOP! In our school we do not treat each other like that!”

We could also say, “In our family” or “in our community”, or “on our team we do not……”

The practice of kindness, the recognition of the value of each other is what respect is built on.  Respect is the ability to see and celebrate the VALUE in ourselves and others and behave accordingly.  We should not be demanding “behaviors” if we are not also helping all in our community and families to see and celebrate the value of all people.

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Bully prevention: First step for – What if my child is the bully?

One of the hardest phone calls or face to face conversations a parent can have is the one from a teacher or a friend that accuses a child of being the aggressor (bully).  Just for the record, it is never a good idea for a parent of the targeted child to try to have that conversation with the parent of the aggressor.  One reason is that as soon as it begins, in the majority of cases, the defenses go up, the denials begin and the disbelief sets in.  Once those things happen, it is not likely that anything will happen besides hurt feelings at best.

At times though as a parent we recognize that our child is aggressive and may even have certain friends that have decided not to establish play dates for a while.  We may have recognized that they seem to pick another child out – even a sibling – and you may see the fear in the targets actions.  What should you do?

There is actually a lot that you can do, but the first step is take a deep breath.  You are not a bad parent and social skills come at different rates.  Some children take a little longer to develop appropriate behaviors. With careful consideration though, your child can develop the social and friendship skills required to overcome any past actions.

parenting confidenceHere is just one of many steps we can take as a parent.  No matter the age, have honest and serious conversations with your child.  If they are very young 6 and under the conversations will be about friendship. If they are 7 and above help them to understand just what bullying is and that it is not OK.   Many children may not fully understand that what they are doing is bullying.  

They have watched different sources of media that displays behavior that are aggressive.  They most likely have even seen us as their parents displaying aggressive, bullying behaviors and have learned that this is the way you react to situations.  They may be the target of bullying by others in the classroom or at home.  So many times we see children who are the target of sibling bullying or abuse – who become the aggressor (bully) at school or in other areas of their life.

If the child is older we may even be able to discuss with them that those who repeatedly are aggressive towards others grow up to having increased depression, anger and conflict with other adults including being far more likely to be convicted of crimes on one or more occasions.

Having this firm conversation with them is one of the first steps.  Included in the first steps though is not just this conversation – but must also include our love and caring for them to get them back on track.  Remember it is the behavior that we dislike – not the child.  As you talk and listen to them, listen for what needs they have that are not being filled and how they might be suffering also.  When a child or anyone demonstrates anger or aggression, generally we are reacting to our own fear of being hurt or not getting something that we desire or need.

Finding the answer to that question is part of helping our child grow into a peaceful person, both with themselves and others.

Mr. Joe Van Deuren is a recognized bully prevention expert that offers classes and private help for students, parents, teachers and schools who would like to create a culture of peace in their family, school or community.
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