Friday, June 24, 2016

When you get a phone call from the school regarding bullying, our usual parental response is concern that our child was bullied and hurt.  However, when you are the parent of the child who engaged in the bullying behavior, the emotional reaction can be denial, shock, despair, sadness, disappointment, embarrassment, shame, and self-blame.  Let’s start with a definition of bullying.  Bullying involves an unbalanced relationship between two people involving a pattern of intent to hurt through aggressive (physical and/or emotional) behavior.
Children are not small adults.  They are still in the process (as are some adults) of learning all the verbal and nonverbal subtleties of human communication.  Young children are not yet able to engage in abstract reasoning, meaning that their communication and understanding is still very concrete.  It is still challenging for them to put themselves in another’s place and truly feel empathy.  The first thing we need to do as the parent is to look at the history of our child.  Have they been on the receiving end of bullying behavior, possibly by an older child or even an older sibling?  Are they having trouble socially, making friends?  Do they feel like part of the group or do they feel isolated?  Has something happened in their life that confused them or lead to feelings of anger?  Are they imitating some behaviors they have observed in life or on TV or other social media?

            Whatever may be contributing to their behavior, remember that your child is not a small adult and they are learning to navigate the social world and will make mistakes.  That being said, you do need to talk to them about their behavior.  If your child totally denies their behavior, let your child know that you believe a lot of their version, but does the other child have some credibility in what they are saying.  If your child can acknowledge that the other child may also be telling the truth from their point of view, than accountability and compassion can be part of your conversation.  As your child tells their story, have them also tell the story through the other child’s perspective and see that child’s point of view.  If your child is in defensive mode, this may be a very hard step for them.  Help them put themselves in the other child’s place by asking them how they might feel or react if someone treated them the way they treated the other child.  If they have a younger sibling ask them how they would feel if someone mistreated their younger brother or sister.  Older siblings tend to be protective of younger siblings in situations outside the family.
            Help your child own their behavior and take responsibility for their actions.  Let them know that you love them and everyone makes mistakes.  Mistakes are how we learn.  However, teach them that it is important to not keep making the same mistakes over and over as that will develop into a pattern of behavior, which is much more difficult to control and change. 

            As we mentioned earlier, it is important to talk to your child about how they perceive themselves socially.  If they feel they need to bully in order to not be bullied, you may need to conference with their teacher and guidance counselor.  Help them build up their self-esteem so the words and actions of some of their peers are not so damaging.  If they are not already in an after school activity, that can often help as they feel they have a home base of friends.  Teach them how to make friends and if you feel they are not receptive or your interventions are not working, take them to a child psychologist for some professional intervention and social skills training.  

            Most importantly, if your child has bullied someone, it does not mean that you are a bad parent.  Children are brutal as they navigate the social waters of their age group.  Most children will grow out of this behavior and will look back on their bullying behavior with regret.  We want to make that experience is as short term as possible for them.  For those children that do not outgrow bullying, there are most likely other issues that need to be addressed and as a parent, you can only work with what you have.  Patience, love, support, structure and boundaries are typically the keys to successfully raising children, along with acceptance that our children are not perfect.
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Friday, June 3, 2016


There are two main topics I want to cover today.  First, when you may have been emotionally abused by a therapist and second, when you get healthy and the people around you do not. 
As in any field, not all therapists are good at what they do and not all therapists are nurturing and/or healthy.  It is not the therapist’s job to judge you, dismiss you, demean you, or manipulate you with guilt.  Follow your instincts and if you feel uncomfortable with the therapist, seek out someone else.  That being said, keep in mind that the therapy relationship may seem strange to you at first as you are disclosing personal and intimate information to a stranger in a timed and professional session.  Give yourself time to get used to the nature of the relationship and you will start to feel much more comfortable with what therapy has to offer.  When you leave a session, even if you feel emotionally stirred up, you should also leave feeling heard and optimistic regarding your mental health and well-being.
It is not the therapist’s job to tell you what to do, but to help you reach a level of self-confidence so that you are able to make your own decisions.  How the therapist helps you get to that place depends on the therapeutic orientation of the therapist and what you bring to the therapy in terms of your history and past experiences.  Much of therapy is based on the relationship that develops between you and the therapist.  

Without trust, you will not be able to disclose information you do not typically share with others and while a highly trained therapist may be able to read a lot between the lines, no therapist is a mind reader.  If you disclose to the therapist and they seem to dismiss you or judge you, first discuss it with them and make sure you are not misinterpreting what they are trying to share with you
There are different therapeutic orientations and you may want to do some research on this before selecting a therapist.  You may find a wonderful therapist but their orientation does not work for you.  For example, a cognitive-behavioral therapist may not spend a lot of time on your past but focus more on your current coping skills while a psychodynamic therapist will spend much of your therapy on your past.  Regardless of orientation, you should always feel heard and respected.

            The second point is when you get healthy and begin to recognize that some or many of the people in your life are not just dysfunctional, but toxic.  A toxic person behaves with a pattern of intent to hurt you and others.  As you get healthy, you will most likely start to eliminate some people from your life.  You will set healthier boundaries and you will experience less tolerance for bad behavior.  This may feel counterintuitive; to let go of people in your life, especially when it involves family members.   Some of the people you considered friends are really just relationships based on shared history and you may feel you are getting rid of everyone.  This might even scare you.  However, you will have emotional room to develop healthy relationships with others that will enhance your life and will allow you to enhance their life as well. 
            One of the hardest issues in therapy is when you realize you have a toxic relationship with a family member, such as a parent or child or sibling and you may need to disconnect from that person. 

 Other people in your personal community may disapprove of what you are doing because they do not really understand what is happening or they may not have all the information.  For example, you may have hidden abuse and someone outside of that relationship does not know what you went through and can only counsel you based on what they know and not what is real.  If disconnecting a relationship feels right to you and you and your therapist have worked on this issue, follow your instincts.  This is your chance for a happier, healthier, fuller life, but the path may seem lonely at first and may be one of the biggest fallouts of therapy.  We hope you enjoyed reading our blog.  Please like us on Facebook and share our blog with others.  We also would appreciate your comments and we are happy to consider your ideas for topics we can address in our blog.