How can you prevent the lasting scars of bullying?

The first week of school is over. Students and teachers are learning routines, getting to know each other and figuring out what has been retained over the summer break.

Jan Kwiatkowski, LMFT, is a psychotherapist and mental health consultant for Aurora Family Service in Milwaukee, WI.

Teachers and students spend a fair amount of time trying to get on the “same page”. Within each class and school, students of all ages are also engaged in making new friends, establishing groups and deciding who’s in and who’s out.

Most of the time, this is just part of the normal of adjusting and for most students and teens this process is uneventful. For some though, it is anything but, uneventful. For some, this is because of bullying…a very real problem, even in schools and classrooms with young children.

I want to share with you a short exercise I came across this summer. I don’t know who the author is. The following words were written on a crumpled piece of loose leaf paper to help illustrate the point.

A teacher was teaching her class about bullying and gave them an exercise to perform. She had the children take a piece of paper and told them to crumple it up, stomp on it, and really mess it up but be careful not to rip it.

Then, she had them unfold the paper, smooth it out as best they could, and look at how scarred and dirty the paper was. She told them to tell the piece of paper they were sorry. Now, even though they said they were sorry and tried to fix the paper, she pointed out all the scars that were left behind. And that these scars will never go away no matter how hard they tried to fix the paper.

That is what happens when a child bully’s another child. You may say you are sorry, but the scars are there forever. The looks on the faces of the children in the classroom told her that the message sunk in.

The scars are real. Children and teens can indeed suffer anxiety, depression and PTSD from bullying received at the hands (or keyboard and cell phone) of another.

Pay attention to signs that your child is being bullied. They may be too embarrassed to talk about it. They may have been threatened with harm if they do say something. Signs include:

1. Using bullying euphemisms (drama at school, messing around with
themselves or someone else, talking trash about someone)

2. Consistently coming home hungry (maybe your child is being
ridiculed about their weight, or giving away food as a way to appease the bully)

3. Coming home late, taking a different walking route, asking to
change busses or if you could take/pick them up from school

4. Frequently losing or damaging things…especially when this is not
usual for your child

5. Becoming upset after a text or being online

6. Wearing long sleeves or covering up in a way that would seem usual for them or the weather

7. Disappearing friends—sometimes children stop hanging out with friends because their friends have been threatened or perhaps the child’s friends are afraid of hanging out with the bullied child thinking the same could happen to them.

8. Claiming afterschool activities are cancelled, or ended early or
that they just don’t like _________________, anymore.

Bullying is about power and power over another. It is not “boys will be boys” or “it’s just a kid thing” or “girls are like that and hold a grudge forever”.

If you notice any of the signs above, or even get the phone call that wants you to come in because your child is the one who did the bullying, take it seriously. Children and teens who bully are hurting in their own way, too. What happens to our children affects that whole family.

If your child or family is struggling with the bullying either as the one being bullied or a doing the bullying, it is more than appropriate to ask for some outside assistance to work through whatever is going on. You are always invited to call us at Aurora Family Service (414-342-4560).

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