Tag Archives: bullying

Parenting, Helplessness, and a Brand New Adventure

Photo by Flickr user darkday

Photo by Flickr user darkday

Master Nine came home from school one day in February and burst into tears. “No one likes me,” he said. “Everyone’s mean to me.”

My heart froze. I would do anything to have my children avoid the type of bullying I went through as a child. And yet here he was, saying the exact words that I remember saying at his age. I wanted to scream and shout and wrap my arms around him and never let him go. But before I did anything, I took a deep breath. It was possible — only possible, mind you — that I was overreacting.

After all, he was eight. And it’s developmentally normal for children his age to go through a period where they feel like no one likes them; where they feel like they have no friends as they take place in normal social push-and-pull power plays.

So I listened to him, and I gave him a hug, and l I told him it would be all right.

I was wrong.

By the end of March, Master Nine no longer wanted to go to school.  He no longer wanted to go anywhere. He was scared. All the time. Of school, yes, but also of everything else. He was terrified of familiar stories; of movies he’d seen a hundred times; of the thoughts in his head; of new people and old friends and leaving the house. He couldn’t get to sleep. And when he finally did, collapsing from exhaustion, he’d be woken by nightmares once, twice, three times a night.

Every night.

By April, he was suffering panic attacks every night. He’d lie in bed thinking about having to go to school the next day, and then stagger out, hours later, whimpering and struggling to breathe. I’d put a hand on his chest and feel his heartbeat, like fluttering hummingbird wings inside his chest, then hold his ice-cold hands while I helped him calm down; breathing with him, in and out, and gently reassuring him that he was okay. Eventually, he’d collapse against me and sob himself into a restless sleep, and I’d carry him back to bed.

One day in mid-April, when I was encouraging Master Nine (yet again) to tell the teacher if someone made him feel upset or uncomfortable, he looked up at me with sad eyes and said, “It doesn’t matter. There’s nothing I can do to stop them. Not even the teachers can stop them. There’s no point trying.”

I cried.

I cried for his pain. I cried for my own. I cried for eight-year-old me who felt exactly like the same way, and desperately wanted an adult to step in and make everything better. I cried for current-day me, because now I was that adult. And I still didn’t know what to do.

I thought I’d felt helpless as a child. But being a parent, watching you child feeling helpless, and still being helpless yourself? Helplnessness to the power of infinity.

We need help, like quick, on the double

One morning in late April, Master Nine snuck into my bedroom and said, “Mummy, I think I need to go to the doctor.”

“Okay, Sweetheart. What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know. But everybody hates me, so something must be wrong with me. If we go to the doctor, she can give me some medicine to make me normal.”

Once upon a time, about six months ago, Master Nine was a confident young man who didn’t hesitate to talk to people — whether adults or children — and wouldn’t let me go with him into doctor’s offices. So on the day that we went to the doctor — after many hugs and reassurances from me that he is not only normal but perfect just the way he is — I realised just how much he’d changed.

He flat-out refused to talk tot he doctor without me, clinging to my arm like a tired two-year-old and not making eye contact with anyone else in the waiting room. When we went into the doctor’s office, he hunched his shoulders over and hid behind my back, then collapsed into a chair, pulled his knees up to his chest, and pulled the hood of his hoodie up over his head so he could hide in its shadows. Over the next ten minutes, Master Nine answered the doctor’s questions in whispered monosyllables . He said only one full sentence during that visit; one full sentence in response to a question about what makes him feel happy: “I don’t remember what it feels like to be happy.”

We didn’t get magic medicine. But we did get a referral to a child psychologist.

At his first appointment, I took Master Nine into the psychologist’s office and waited for him to be engrossed in an activity before quietly making my way back out to the waiting room. The psychologist talked to Master Nine for almost an hour, and then called me in. “He’s highly intelligent, isn’t he?” was the first thing she said to me. “Such a conceptual thinker.”

In the psychologist’s opinion, Master Nine had a healthy attachment to me and the rest of the family, felt completely secure and at ease at home, but was struggling to deal with the trauma of the bullying he’d endured. Her biggest concern was that he’d lost confidence in his own ability to tell friend from foe — he’d developed trust issues. She suggested he start a new social activity — one completely unrelated to his school or anyone he already knew — to get some social “wins” on the board, and taught me some relaxation exercises to use to help him with his sleeping.

Things started to improve a little. But only a little. The relaxation exercises helped him sleep, and nightmares became less frequent. But he still hated school. His reading ability was getting worse and worse, and he was too scared he’d get a question wrong to practice any maths. I started to get concerned not only about his emotional wellbeing, but also about how his emotional wellbeing was affecting his learning. And then, towards the end of May, he started telling me that he couldn’t remember whole chunks of time. A particular example that stayed with me was the time he remembered going into class, then the teacher raising her voice. The next thing he remembered, the teacher was crouched in front of him, gently suggesting he go out to lunch. That’s when he realised the class was over, and all the other kids had already gone outside.

Decision-making is hard

I started thinking about pulling Master Nine out of school back in March — back when his anxiety symptoms were starting to worry me. But I persevered, trying to make things work out. I probably did so for far too long, in retrospect; not trusting myself to make the right decision. I second, third, and fourth-guessed myself.

  • Was I projecting? Did I think things were worse than they really were because of what I’d been through as a child?
  • Was I being over-protective? Was this something he needed to experience to help him grow? Would removing him from the situation stunt his emotional growth?
  • Was this experience something that would pass? Was it a storm in a teacup?
  • Was this experience teaching him resilience and courage? If I removed him from the situation, would that just teach him to run away when things got hard?

I didn’t trust myself to make the decision. And so no decision was made. Right up until a day came when I tried to drop Master Nine off at school and he literally couldn’t get out of the car. Every time he put his feet on the ground, he started shaking and retching convulsively. His skin had turned a distressing shade of grey, and his hands were freezing cold. I closed the car door, got back in, and drove away.

We saw his psychologist later that day. She listened to me describe what had happened, talked to him for an hour, then told me exactly what I didn’t want (but needed) to hear: “He’s suffering from post-traumatic stress symptoms. You need to get him out of that environment. Now.”

I withdraw him that afternoon.

Playing the blame game…

The first instinct of people on hearing about something like this is to cast about for who to blame. Well, here’s what I think: Playing the blame game is counter-productive, unhelpful, and irrelevant. And I have no interest in doing it.

I don’t blame the children who bullied him. Firstly, because they’re good kids — I’ve known most of them since they were five years old. And while their behaviour led Master Nine to a place of trauma, it hasn’t (to my knowledge) had the same effect on the other children. Besides, children will inevitably push boundaries and see what happens. It’s how they learn about the world.  They need guidance to help them develop empathy and socially acceptable behaviour. If they don’t get that guidance… well, we’ve all read Lord of the Flies, haven’t we?

But I certainly don’t blame the parents. Again, I’ve known most of them for years. They’re all wonderful, loving, generous, kind people, doing everything they can to raise their children to be just as wonderful, loving, generous, and kind.

It would be easy to blame the school, but easy isn’t the same as right. I do believe there were some systemic issues that contributed to the situation, however as soon as I spoke to the staff about them, changes were made. The teachers and admin staff were responsive and open and caring. They did everything they could to change and manage and improve things for Master Nine. And I thank them for that.

If I was forced to lay the blame somewhere, however, I would lay it at the feet of our society as a whole, which simultaneously condemns and endorses bullying. But that’s a discussion for another day.

New Adventures, Dead Ahead!

Since the day I told Master Nine that he didn’t have to go back to that school, he’s been getting better. It’s a slow process, and sometimes it feels like two steps forward, seventeen steps back, but we’re getting there. We celebrate the little milestones along the way: A week without nightmares. Two weeks without a panic attack. Talking to a shopkeeper. Attending social activities by himself.

Our Homeschool Emblem

Our Homeschool Emblem

And on Monday we start our next grand adventure.

For the next six months (at least) I will be homeschooling him. It’s not something I expected to be doing, and I am heartbroken about the events that brought us to this point, but I’m excited for the future. And that, my friends, is the lesson I hope Master Nine takes away from this. Not that bullies can’t be beaten, or that running away is the solution, but that all hard times come to an end, and the future shines bright.

 

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Filed under Life With Kids

To This Day: A Video on Bullying

When I was in school, I was bullied.

I was taunted and teased and called names.

I was pushed and shoved.

They splashed water on my skirt and told everyone I peed myself.

They sat behind me and threw things at me in every. single. class.

For a year.

“Just ignore them and they’ll go away.”

But they didn’t.

Sometimes they’d pretend to be my friend. Just for a little while. They’d sit beside me, and laugh, and talk, and tell me they were sorry they’d been so mean. Sorry they’d call me names, it was just… They’d look me in the eye. It was just… I’d be much more popular if I’d only slit my wrists. Or stop breathing. Or just hurry up and die.

They’d laugh when they went back to their real friends. Laughter. A sound that could shatter my soul at a hundred paces. And I’d just sit there where they left me. Silently. Holding back the tears and wishing it didn’t hurt and I hadn’t believed just a little bit for just a second just believed that they really did want to be my friend. Wishing I didn’t feel betrayed all over again. Wishing. Wishing I couldn’t feel anything. And thinking that maybe just maybe they were right. Maybe just maybe I’d be better off dead.

“Sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you.”

Tell me again how words will never hurt me.

The words are still there. Way down beneath the surface of my smile. Mostly, they’re still. Silent. But sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they stab and poke at me from the inside of my heart. Nerd. Loser. Square. Ugly. Four eyes. Freak. Goat. Nobody will love you. You should just die. Don’t touch her, she’s disgusting.Ugly. Nerd. Wrong clothes. Wrong hair. Wrong words. Wrongwrongwrong. Hatehatehate.

But it’s not just me.

Shane Koyczan was also bullied when he was in school.

He made a video.

It’s like he put a stethoscope to my heart and made a movie of my pain. And then he added hope and a happy ending.

Watch this. Please.

Were you bullied at school?

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Filed under Opinion, Random Stuff

One Brick at a Time

One of the (many) great things about our local library is the children’s area. There’s a huge open area in the midst of displays of picture books, early readers, kids magazines, and middle-grade fiction. On the floor is a beautiful round rug with the alphabet displayed around the edges. There is a table with colouring pencils and paper, various wooden jigsaw puzzles for toddlers, and a selection of building blocks.

But something happened while I was there a couple of weeks ago. Something that left me feeling uncomfortable and awkward. Something that still has me thinking and wondering and questioning my feelings. Something that I haven’t blogged about until now for exactly that reason: I don’t know if my feelings were justified or if I’m too over-sensitive.

The fact is, I could be over-reacting to the words that were used. I’ve been accused of it before. So am I reading too much into this situation?

I don’t know.

So, after much internal debate, I’ve decided to lay out the situation and let you, my friends and colleagues, share your thoughts.

A couple of weeks ago, we arrived at the library just before lunch. Both boys were boys eager to explore.

Little Brother’s prime directive when we visit is to find the blocks, carry them two at a time to distant parts of the library, hide them in odd places, then grow bored and start pulling books off shelves and “stacking” them in the rubbish bin.

Big Brother’s prime directive is to find other children and join their families for conversations, games, story time, photos, and whatever else is going on.

On this particular day, there was one other family in the children’s area. The Mother was sitting on a couch reading a book and keeping a vague eye on the children. She had two daughters — one about 7 and the other about 3 — and they were playing quietly. Perfect. Big Brother immediately tried to befriend the 7-year-old. Their conversation went something like this:

BB: Hi! Are you colouring?
7yo:
BB: I like colouring. Do you like colouring?
7yo:
BB: My favourite colour is pink. What’s yours?
7yo:
BB: How about if we put these pencils in the middle of the table so we can all reach them?
7yo: …okay.

She was shy. That’s okay. Big Brother can talk enough for any seven people, so her shyness was no barrier to his friendship.

They spent some time colouring, then Miss Seven wandered off to build with the blocks. Big Brother tried to interact with her a few times, but she didn’t respond so he got bored and went away. Little Brother decided to throw blocks at anything that moved (including me). Normality reigned.

When it was almost time to go, I asked Big Brother to pick up some of the blocks Little Brother had left scattered around the place, and take them back to the play area. He did so. Then I heard a CRASH! and Big Brother exclaiming, “My bombs destroyed your building!”

Holy. Dooley.

I raced over, as you do when you’re pretty sure your child is being a menace. Yep, Big Brother was standing next to Miss Seven and the scattered remnants of her carefully constructed block tower, proudly surveying the damage he’d caused. Little Brother was watching. (Probably taking notes.) Miss Seven was devastated.

Devastated.

She looked up at the couch where her Mother was sitting, her lower lip trembling. And I felt terrible. Now, I know Big Brother and I can read him like an open magazine. He wasn’t trying to upset Miss Seven. He was being a five-year-old boy and trying to play with her. In his ideal little world, she would laugh and tell him to build something so she could knock it down. But one look at Miss Seven’s face told me that wasn’t about to happen.

“Big Brother!” I said. “Did you just knock down this girl’s tower?”

He looked over at me with big eyes as realisation dawned that maybe this idea wasn’t A Good Thing. “Ye-es?”

I was about to explain that it wasn’t the right thing to do. I was about to revisit our conversation about asking to play before diving excitedly into rough-housing. I was about to suggest he apologise. But I didn’t have time. Because Mother spoke up.

“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “It doesn’t matter.”

I looked at the Mother. Big Brother looked at the Mother. And, more importantly, Miss Seven looked at her Mother. I found my gaze trapped on this beautiful little girl’s face as her expression went from devastation, to hope, to resignation. Her shoulders slumped. Her gaze dropped to the floor. She didn’t say anything.

“Big Brother,” I said. “That wasn’t a very nice thing to do. How do you feel when Little Brother destroys a tower you’ve spent ages building?”

“Not very good,” he said quietly.

Mother stood up and turned her back on the scene, as though it was all too much for her. As she was leaving she looked over at me and said, “It’s not important. They’re just kids.”

A red rage washed over me with her words. It’s not important? Your little girl just spent half an hour building something amazing and a strange boy destroyed it on a whim. How is that “not important”? Yes, they’re just kids, but you’ve just turned your back on a little girl who was looking to you for validation that she was in the right. And you say it’s “not important”?

Don’t get me wrong — I would have been furious if Mother had started yelling at Big Brother. But to dismiss Miss Seven’s feelings like that? That’s not cool. But I fought down my anger and put an arm around Big Brother. “Do you think you should say sorry for knocking down her tower?” I asked.

Big Brother shook his head. “No,” he said. “Her Mum said it’s not important.”

And that, my friends, is my issue. In that one statement, that one tiny sentence, Mother sent a huge message to both her daughter and her daughter’s accidental tormentor. With her dismissal, Mother made it clear that Big Brother’s behaviour, which, while innocent in intention, was only a stone’s throw from bullying, was okay. Miss Seven’s hurt feelings weren’t important.

So I took a couple of deep breaths and said, “It’s never okay to destroy something someone else has created. How about you go and ask her if she’d like help rebuilding it?”

And that’s what he did. Miss Seven was already moving away from the blocks, but Big Brother raced over and said, “Can I help you rebuild your tower? We can make it even bigger and better if we work together as a team?”

She looked at him a moment, and then nodded. They got to work. Within a few minutes, they were laughing together and bickering over which block should go where.

I went and rescued the library from Little Brother, then watched and waited and thought…

Everything we do and everything we say impacts our children. When we tell them it doesn’t matter if someone upsets them, we’re telling them they don’t matter. When we tell them to turn the other cheek in the face of bullying, we’re telling them their feelings don’t matter. 

I don’t think that woman was a bad mother. She might have had a bad day, or a bad week, or had bigger worries on her plate at that moment. Her reaction may have been a one-off. She might have sat up all night thinking about it. I’m not judging her.

I’m judging myself.

Every day, in every way, we build our child’s self-worth and self-love. One brick at a time. Sometimes we use the wrong colour, or the wrong shape. Sometimes we miss a brick, or we try so hard to make it perfect that we destroy the natural spontenaity. And sometimes, sometimes, we get it just right.

The trick isn’t to be perfect all the time. The trick is to be able to look our kids in the face, and know that we’ve done the best we can and that overall, we’ve added more good bricks than bad ones.

What do you think? Were my thoughts justified, or was I being over-sensitive? What would you have done?

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Filed under Life With Kids, Opinion

Monday’s Top 5 (Better Late than Never)

Yes, I’m a day late. But in all fairness, it’s still Monday somewhere. Probably.

To start us off today, I’d like to once again mention Dan of Making it Up As I Go… He has a very well written and considered article this week about why he is Choosing to Self-Publish. As I’ve mentioned before, I intend to pursue traditional publishing for myself. However, I’m all for self-publishing when it’s done for valid reasons (as opposed to the old “traditional publishers are just trying to rip us off, man!” or “gatekeepers are evil!”). Dan’s post is full of great reasons that he’s taking the self-publishing route, but more importantly (in my opinion) he addresses a question that too many writers completely ignore: Why do you want to be published?

The Surfing Pizza this week brings us a great story about listening to music on vinyl, Living in the Analog World, and finding a rare gem in an unlikely place.

Before even walking in, you can tell this is the perfect kind of bookstore, the kind roughly the size of a closet. At least a master bedroom closet. Old light bulbs with metal filaments give off an apricot glow. Musty wooden shelves press to the ceiling and loom over—or perhaps more accurately, hunch over, like old giants. And if you are quiet, and if you listen carefully, you’ll swear you hear those shelves breathing, the sounds of giants harrumphing over us mere mortals below.

Are you sick of reading New Year’s Resolutions posts yet? I have to admit that I’m not. I love reading about the goals people have for their life and their year. And amongst the resolution-overload, there are always some shiny gems waiting to be discovered. This post from Mommy Rotten (“I’m the mom who makes you feel better about your own mothering. By comparison.”) isn’t really about resolutions, but her Guilty Pleasures make for great January reading. In her own words:

Everybody has them.  Every January I kind of take stock of my guilty pleasures to see if I should or would give any of them up in the interests of making myself a better person.  I usually don’t.  But I thought it might be fun to take you all on this futile journey of self un-improvement with me.

As I’ve mentioned before, I spent my entire school life being bullied. I promised myself back then that I wouldn’t let the same thing happen to my own children. As my eldest son gets ready to start school (two weeks to go!), the subject of bullying and how to empower my children to deal with it, is often on my mind. There are many strategies to ensuring your child doesn’t have a “victim” mentality, including fostering a healthy self-esteem, but what to do when that isn’t enough? Enter the wisdom of Wendy Thomas.  Her post this week details the conversation she had with her daughters about what to do if they are bullied.

“No one has the right to say or do anything that makes you or anyone else feel bad. In the future, if someone says something to you in order to bully you, or if you hear someone say something to someone else specifically to make them feel bad, I want you to let that bully know that his behavior makes you angry. Very angry. I want you to look that person right in the eye and at the top of your lungs I want you to shout – continue reading

And to finish on a lighter note this week, I’d like to draw your attention to Peas and Cougars, where Rae shares her “love” for Captcha verification. Check out her cartoon: Captcha Bitch.

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A Quick Thank You to the People that made me Great

In reading an article by Kristen Lamb this morning, the following paragraph stood out:

“Yes, the view from the mountain’s summit is breathtaking, but nothing grows there. The most growth happens in the valleys. Film is developed in the dark and so is character. When hurt, pain, loss, disappointment, frustration come our way we have a choice in how we view the situation. All of us have rough spots, and those setbacks, hurts and trials are the spiritual sandpaper that will shape us into a more excellent version of ourselves.”

This resonated with me strongly, and is reminiscent of my own (much shorter) life motto:

The strongest sword is forged in fire.

There are many people in my life who have been helpful, supportive, encouraging and friendly. I appreciate each and every one of them, and do my best to show my appreciation on a regular basis. Those supportive people (headed by my wonderful Husband) have helped me work out who I want to be, and what I want to do with my life. They’ve given me joy and laughter and a sense of belonging.

But the people who forced me to be Great — the ones who have forged me into a strong-willed, tough, self-confident person — are the ones who taunted, tormented, and bullied me. This post is dedicated to them.

 

Thank you to:

  • the kids who teased and ostracised me for having an Australian accent.
  • the kids who teased and ostracised me for having an American accent.
  • the kids who called me four-eyes, metal-mouth, and mountain-goat (because I was tall).
  • the teenage girls who ostracised me for wearing the wrong shoes and talking to the wrong boys.
  • the teenagers who sat behind me in every class for two years and threw pieces of paper and erasers at me for six hours a day.
  • the girls who played “Jo is icky” by pushing each other into me and then screeching about how they’d been tainted.
  • the teachers who refused to take any action against bullies without any “verified proof”.
  • the teenage boys who laughed at the idea of anyone dating me, and threw water over me whenever they saw me.
  • the boyfriend who spent all his Centrelink (welfare) money on computer games while I worked three jobs to support us.
  • the boyfriend who claimed to love me while emotionally and physically abusing me.

There’s no bitterness or sarcasm in this message of thanks. Once, I would have said I hated you. Later, I would have said I disliked you. Now, I find that (in most cases) I can look back without any feeling toward you at all.

You were the hardships that I faced and overcame.

You were the challenges that I triumphed over.

You were the fire that made me strong.

For that, I thank you.

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Filed under Opinion, The Inner Geek

Monday’s Top 5

K. Marie Criddle is back this week with an awesome drawg about an early piece of epic experimental writing from her youth: “Blah blah blah,” drawgged moi.

Speaking of awesomely funny cartoons, check out Rae from Peas and Cougars with her post Hugs Bite.

Speaker7 is once again hilariously amazing this week. I actually had trouble choosing which of her posts to include in my Top 5. (I swear she gets funnier and funnier just to make my life difficult!) In the end, I had to go with The Sexiest Blog Alive!

On more serious topics, the famous (infamous?) Kim Pugliano from The G is Silent blogged about her reaction to witnessing her son being bullied. In her post, Mother Bear or Over-Stepping?, she ponders whether her actions were helpful, harmful or none of the above.

And rounding out an all-female Top 5 this week, I bring you an emotionally-charged post from Bridget at Twinisms. My heart goes out to her and her family as they prepare for her husband’s year-long deployment in a few weeks. If you’ve wondered what it feels like to be the brave woman waving goodbye to her soldier and hoping he comes back with his shield (and not on it), please click through and read about how Bridget is Running Out Of Time.

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