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standing up to bullies

Teaching Your Child How to Stand Up to Bullies

A friend recently came to me and told me that her son had come home from school and told her about a child at lunch who had spit on his sandwich. My friend, his parent, was hurt and shaken by this news. She wanted to help her child but didn’t know exactly how to approach the situation. Helping a child to deal with a bully can be difficult. You want your child to stand up for themselves but not respond in a way that will make things worse. 

Her situation made me think about the things we can teach our children when it comes to bullies, here are some tips:

1.) Keep Other Relationships Strong — Bullies gain power when their victims feel alone and powerless. Make sure your child maintains strong connections with others — this can be friends, family members, coaches, people they can go to when they feel bullied. 

2.) Re-Define Tattling — We are always telling our children to not be tattlers. We don’t want them to tell on little things or be the kid who is always running to an adult when they can handle the problem on their own. When my friend asked her son if he told an adult at the lunchroom about the spitting, he said: “no, I didn’t want to tattle.” My friend then explained to her son that this was a serious thing and it needed to be recognized. Children don’t always know what is serious and what is not and bullies gain power by having their victims stay quiet. Tell your child it is ok, and encouraged, to reach out to an adult when there is a problem with another child. 

3.) Act Quickly — Don’t sit on this information for days or weeks pondering how to handle it. Make sure your child knows they can come to you and seek out an adult at school as soon as the bullying happens. The longer things drag out, the more damage can be done. 

4.)Teach Assertiveness— Passive responses like moving to another part of the room, or walking away just encourage a bully more. Assertive responses like a strong comeback or a non-emotional stare are much more powerful. They teach a bully not to mess with your kid. Set your child up with a few verbal responses they can give when someone says something mean to them. 

5.) Use Body Language — Verbal responses only go so far if your child is hiding behind their coat or hair when saying it, or crying through their words. This stuff is hard but your child needs to try to fake it for a few minutes. Showing emotion tells the bully they are getting to your child, which only encourages them. Body language needs to be strong to accompany the response, things like making eye contact, keeping calm, staying at an appropriate distance, and using the bully’s name, can all have a powerful impact. 

It is hard to teach your child that they have to put on a strong face when all they want to do is tear up and run to the bathroom, but these skills will help them in life as they continue to face difficult situations. Let them know it is ok to cry and express that emotion to a trusted friend or adult after they leave the bully. Seeking help from a licensed counselor can also help with coping and managing situations. 

child bully

What to do if your child is being bullied?

Bullying has always been a very real problem for children, and with the advent of social media, the internet, and smartphones it is even more prevalent and hard to escape. Knowing your child is a victim of bullying is hard to swallow. You feel helpless as a parent. You want to listen, you want to teach them, you want to go to school yourself and pull that other kid by the hair and tell them to “LEAVE (your kid) ALONE!” But, unfortunately, that type of behavior will only end badly for you and your child. 

So what do you do if your child is being bullied?

1.) Don’t assume — It can be easy as a parent to jump to conclusions. After all, you know your child, and you know he/she/they can sometimes be an instigator. They might have done something that has brought it on themselves. But, they could also just be the victim of some mean kids. We all know kids who are struggling with other issues but express those feelings in the form of bullying. Regardless, the most important thing you can do for your child is to LISTEN. Listen wholly, intently, to what they are saying. 

2.) Pay attention to nonverbal cues — Your child might be the victim of bullying but they may not be telling you the whole story. Watch them carefully. If you see a change in their behavior, ask them about it. Open the door for conversation. For example, if your child is suddenly more withdrawn, doesn’t want to go to school, doesn’t want to ride the bus, isn’t eating lunch, etc. Ask them about it. You can’t help them if you don’t know they are hurting.

3.) Don’t go to the other kid — You are your child’s protector, so you want to go straight to the source and end the issues. But that is not usually what happens. Parents who go straight to the other child to confront them often make things more awkward and uncomfortable, increasing bullying, upsetting the other child’s parents. It also can lead to trust issues between you and your child. 

4.) Involve the teacher — Your child’s teacher is your eyes when you aren’t around. They are also a neutral party. Tell the teacher what is going on and have them interject on their end. Sometimes the teacher can involve a social worker or peer-to-peer workshops to solve these issues. 

5.) Problem-solve with your child — Come up with a solution that works for your child. Maybe it involves sitting with another group of kids at lunch. Maybe it is switching seats on the bus. Talk to them (and check out tomorrow’s blog post for tips on how to help your child).

6.) Identify a safety zone — Your child spends a lot of time at school. They need a safety zone if they feel hurt, scared, sad, unsafe, etc. This can be a school social worker, school nurse, administrator, a trusted teacher, an older sibling, etc. Get the other party on board so they know what to do if your child comes to them and gives them an outlet to find help when they need it. 

Bullying can have long-term effects on a child, but as a parent being there and problem-solving together can teach them valuable lessons. Involving a licensed counselor can also help a child (and parent) to develop healthy coping skills and solutions. 

after baby

How To Keep Your Marriage Healthy After Baby

Adjusting to parenthood is hard work and it can put a lot of strain on a marriage. We all have ideas of what it will be like to have a child, to add an infant to our lives, but nobody truly knows what they are in for until they experience being new parents themselves. Not to mention every baby is different and every relationship has its strong and weak points. 

In the first few months after having a child, it is important to let go of any expectations. Right now is about survival. It is about keeping your child (and yourself) healthy and adjusting to your new life as parents. Give each other some grace. You are both going through a lot of changes right now, and you are likely dealing with them in different ways. 

Time To Connect

Allow yourself, and your spouse, time for yourself to connect with your new title as a parent and to rest. Breaks are important for both of you. Take turns. 

It is also important that you make time to be together, just the two of you. That is difficult after having a child because that child relies on you for everything but it is also important that you recognize it is important to keep your marriage healthy. And, alone time is key to keeping your relationship strong. Leave baby with a grandparent or a trusted friend, even if only for an hour, and take a walk with your spouse or grab a coffee or a meal. Whatever your heart desires. 

So often I hear new moms making the excuse that they just can’t leave their baby. Not even for an hour but the truth is even a short time alone with your spouse can do wonders for rekindling the spark. 

Talk It Out

Communicate with your family, your friends. Lean on others. This adjustment is going to be hard for everyone in your household. You will have to figure out a new normal. Talk to each other. Figure out what struggles others are having and brainstorm what might work best.

Share the load. You likely have heard the phrase before “it takes a village.” There is a reason that is so popular. It is true. We all have babies and think we can do it all alone. And yes, I am sure you could do it all alone but would you be happy and healthy? Let others step in and help you out. Let your mother clean your house or hold your baby while you take a much-needed shower. Let your husband do the grocery shopping so you can take a nap. Let a friend fold your laundry if he/she/they desire.

The more you and your spouse can work together during this time of adjustment, the stronger you will be in the end. It can be so easy to get angry and frustrated with each other during this time of change. Understandably so, you are both exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed. Allow each of you to make mistakes, to learn, grow, and to adjust as a team. 

It Is All About Perspective

Parenting is one of the hardest things a person can do in a lifetime, but it can also be one of the most rewarding. All will come with time. For now, snuggle that baby (or babies) and do your best to keep things in perspective. 

If you find you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or adjusting, in general, it can help to seek the help of a licensed mental health professional. They can help to provide you with healthy coping mechanisms and support during this transition.

Ask Mabel: I am torn between an important work training and a request from my child, what do I do?

Dear Mabel, 

I am having a mom/work dilemma and I am so very torn. Tomorrow is my daughter’s last day of kindergarten. We recently moved out of the area to a new school district, but we were able to allow my daughter to finish the year at her old school. She is struggling because tomorrow will be her last day at her current school and she will have to say goodbye to all her friends. Normally it wouldn’t be a problem for me to be there with her for this, but tomorrow I am signed up for a special training. This free training workshop is something I have waited for years to take, it is usually very expensive. 

My daughter is normally a very happy, easy-going kid, but tonight she was a wreck. She was so emotional about her last day tomorrow. I told her that her grandparents will be picking her up from school and taking her out for a celebratory lunch and that I will be home as soon as I can. She just cried and cried and asked if there was some way I could be with her. She is so sad.

I am so torn! If it were anything else, I would move mountains to be there for her. But, this opportunity is truly rare, one I have inquired and waited for years. I am so sad about the timing of everything. What should I do? How do I handle this? 

Sincerely, Jenny from Alabama

Mabel: Thank you for reaching out. I am sorry that you feel torn between your daughter needing you and participating in training you’ve waited years for due to cost. I have a few questions:  1) What’s the most difficult thing about this?   2) Is this training offered every year or regularly?  3) Assuming it is offered every year or regularly, would you be able to put some money away each month to save for it? How much will you need to save per month?  4) Is the answer to question three do-able? 5) If it is not do-able within a year, can you spread it out? How long will you need to save monthly to attend the training? 

I am asking these questions about the training and money because training workshops and money are objects. They don’t have feelings. They don’t care if we move them around or tend to them later. I don’t know your daughter, so I don’t want to assume or say that she will be ok without you being there. But, I am 100% sure that training and money are ok with whatever you decide. 

I hold no judgment over your decision. This is my personal opinion. If I may, I would advocate for your daughter because she asked you to be there. I know her grandparents will be there to give her lots of love but she wants you. This is not her asking for a toy where you are saying “no.” This is her asking for emotional comfort during a very difficult time (in her six-year-old mind). She is young, so her mood may also change when tomorrow rolls around. I would say play it by ear and listen to your gut. 

What to do when your daughter says she’s fat

We frequently think of teenagers as being the ones struggling with image issues, calling themselves “fat,” and starving themselves. But, body image issues can start much earlier. 

Recently the mother of one of my daughter’s six-year-old classmates told me her daughter had stopped eating ice cream because she thinks she is the “fattest in the class.” Last year, my daughter had the same issue. She wouldn’t eat because she also believed she was the “fattest in the class” and kept repeating how she thought she was “fat.”

I approached the situation by reminding her that only a doctor can diagnose weight issues. We talked about the meaning of “diagnose” and I asked her to stop diagnosing herself. I also talked to her about science and data, showing her her growth chart. I showed her where she was at and what is considered overweight. The data showed that she was not overweight, confirming that she had no reason to think otherwise. In the end, I told her to stop comparing herself with other kids because we all come in different shapes, colors, and sizes. I encouraged her to let the growth chart speak for itself. Since that conversation, my daughter no longer calls herself “fat” and has resumed eating normally. 

Whether you have a young child or a teen, it is important to deliver a similar message when talking to them about weight. You need to halt these thoughts before they lead to a lifelong self-image issue. As parents, we have the ability to correct these unhealthy thoughts. Rather than brushing them off and insisting that our children eat even when they are refusing for these reasons, present them with the data. Teach them how to think about things logically as a child and you will be setting them up to be a happier adult. 

When your child is sexually assaulted

I am a survivor of sexual assault and a certified assault counselor who has worked with thousands of survivors. The single most important thing you can do if you find out your child has experienced sexual assault is to protect—and believe— them. Not believing them is the first form of harm in their recovery. 

Child must come first

This undoubtedly is an extremely terrible thing for your child to experience and as much as you want to get revenge on the person who caused them harm—you must put that attention on your child and what they are experiencing. It is less about justice—while still important and shouldn’t be ignored—and more about your child’s recovery. Make sure your child is surrounded by adults who are emotionally there for them. There will be many people who don’t believe them. They need adults around them that can reassure them that they are believed and say to them: “whatever the outcome is, I am always with you.” Get your child help from a certified counselor. Listen to them. Talk to them. Don’t get caught up your own anger. Get yourself help. Find a licensed counselor that you can turn to for support so you can better help your child.

Your actions as an adult are extremely important to your child’s recovery. Negative or inappropriate responses by family members to a survivor of sexual assault can have profound effects on the child’s ability to recover. Things such as pressure to press charges when he/she/they are embarrassed and want to keep it quite, pressure to remain silent to others or deny that it happened when they feel ready to share, disbelief or distrust in the action itself, etc. can lead to shattering of family relationships and more incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to research by Dr. Sarah E. Ullman published in the Psychology of Women Quarterly.

There are many resources out there for victims and their families— use them. Make sure you take the time to care for yourself so you can be there for your child. Don’t pressure them to “get over it,” and don’t give them a time limit — every victim is different and recovers at their own rate in their own time. Keep hope. Remember your child can recover with the right support. 

References:

https://aifs.gov.au/publications/ripple-effects-sexual-assault/secondary-victims-sexual-assault

How Simple Stuffed Animals Affect Your Child’s Emotional Health

The other day my daughter’s stuffed animal got “hurt” and she brought it to me to comfort. I did what I always do and cuddled it, rubbed its head, told it everything would be ok, and gave it back to my daughter. Why would I do this with a stuffed animal? Isn’t it just a stuffed toy, a transitional object? 

The truth is to my child it is so much more than that. This stuffed toy gives my child comfort, it is an extension of her. By showing that I also love and care for this object that means so much to her, I am showing her that she can trust me with what is important to her. It is a parents way of showing their child they can trust us with their vulnerability. They don’t need to worry about us disregarding the things that are important to them. We love the things that are important to them, because we love them. 

Showing our children that we care for their favorite stuffed animal, blanket, car, whatever it is that they carry around with them for comfort and security is a way of getting down on their level to show our love. Children don’t always understand and look at things the same way as we do, by showing we love the things that give them comfort we are in turn showing our utmost respect and care.

What was your object of comfort as a child? 

Ask Mabel: ‘I feel guilty for leaving home’

Letter from concerned client: I decided to leave my hometown and move to accomplish my career goals, and now I really miss my family. My parents are getting old and they don’t understand why I decided to leave and not stay with them. My mom has always told me to ‘live simple’ and despite not agreeing with my decision to move she still supports me. It makes me feel even more guilty, like I am letting them down.

Mabel: I understand your desire to make your parents proud. You said your mom wanted you to ‘live simple’ but still supports you in your goal, however hard it may be to attain that goal. It is a little like how I wanted my kids to enjoy playing music but instead, their interests are art and tennis. Even though art and tennis are not my desires, at the end of the day seeing my children enjoying and working towards their own goals makes me profoundly happy. For them, learning to master these things frustrates them a lot of the time but that is part of life and reaching a goal. You decided to move because it is important to you in the reaching of your goals, and it isn’t always easy. The process of living in a new place and working can be very frustrating. Your mother has a desire for you to live a simple and happy life because that is what she knows of happiness. Most of us mothers have our own desires, however, supporting our children in their own dream is a lesson in parenting. A lesson that it’s not about us but about the child. It is about learning how to love someone, and how to see the world beyond us. It is an important lesson for all us parents. My dream is for my children to soar in whatever they choose to do, even if I have little understanding of it. If guilt is something that weighs them down, like most mothers, I would love to take that weight off their shoulders so they can fly more freely. I am not sure if this is how your mother feels, but my hypothesis is that most mothers share these similar sentiments.  

What is the hurry? It is ok to let your kids be bored over the summer

Summer is here. The kids are out of school. The other parents are talking about the programs they have their kids signed up for, the reading lists they are going to follow, and all the ways they are going to add structure back into their kids lives. It might feel like the pressure is on as a parent, but what is the hurry? 

Your kids will only be kids for so long. Soon enough they will have pressure-filled summers with little or no break. They will feel the stress of trying to be successful in life. They will feel overworked, overstimulated, overbooked…eventually. We don’t have to make them feel this pressure as little kids. Instead, let them be little.

Let them be bored. 

Being bored for a kid is a time to let their imagination grow. It is a time to relax. It gives kids time to be kids. They can climb the tree in the backyard, or build a fort in the living room. They can stay up late to watch a movie (which to them will seem super fun, when to us it feels necessary). Boredom teaches our kids how to entertain themselves. If they always have structure, always have a place to be, then they won’t know what to do with that “off” time. 

It gives you time to have more family experiences. You can randomly decide to check out the farm down the street, or a playground further away because you will have the time to do these things. You can decide to spend the day having a water balloon war, or read a book in the backyard. You can go on a picnic. 

Remember the days when our parents could say “go outside and don’t come back until dinner.” We might not be able to do exactly that, but we can teach our kids to fend for themselves. To come up with their own ideas. Downtime can help children to learn who they are and what they really love to do. When they have the choice to do whatever they want for a day—what will they choose? 

It also takes the pressure off you. You don’t need to plan the whole day, or week or month. You can take a breather. School time is structured and full of activities and obligations, summer doesn’t have to be. Summer can be free time. Teach your kids to slow down, take a breath, and enjoy being a kid. 

‘Just one child’

The other day I overheard someone asking a mom “Do you have just one child?” and it stopped me in my tracks — “JUST?” as if one child is not enough. As if your legitimacy as a mother is measured in how many children you have. That is just absurd.  

This post is for you moms— all of you. Whether you have one child or ten, whether you carried your children in your womb or you adopted them, whether you are a step-mom, whatever your status is you are still a mom. You are still in the business of raising child, you still understand the worry, the struggle, the loneliness, the unconditional love, the passion, the devotion, the satisfaction, and pure joy you get from seeing your children happy. 

No measure of motherhood

There is no measure that determines “how mom you are.” Having a child is a huge life change, it turns life as you have previously known it upside down. Whether you have chosen to stop at one or are unable for other reasons, you do you. You need to do what is best for your family, for yourself, for your sanity, and forget what the social pressure around you is saying. You need to take care of you, and you don’t need to explain your reasoning to anyone. 

As mother’s day approaches and puts into perspective just how hard our moms work, and how much we should honor and respect them, hold your head high — feel proud no matter what being a mom looks like to you. You deserve a pat on the back. You are the cook, teacher, maid, nurse, therapist, coach, and leader your kids need. They would not be who they are today without you. Relish in that accomplishment for a while. Take a deep breath, treat yourself to a massage, and count your blessings. Being a mom is hard work and it is also so incredibly beautiful.