You pick your kid up after school, and you think to yourself, “something isn’t quite right.”
If she’s 8, she’s being more quiet than normal, or she’s been chewing on her shirt. If he’s 14, he’s even MORE sullen than normal, snippy, not wanting to talk or make eye contact with you.
These days, between 25% and 33% of kids report being bullied by the time they reach middle school.*
When children are bullied, it not only hurts them, causing them emotional pain, but it also causes intense anxiety day after day. In younger kids, you’ll often notice their anxiety show up physically – more bouncing, hair twirling, sucking or chewing on shirts, fidgeting (more than normal), having a hard time concentrating. In teens, you may notice avoidance type behaviors: not wanting to go to school, asking to get out of specific classes, oversleeping on school days, etc.
So… what in the world do you do? When your little pumpkin, the center of your universe, is hurting?
Ask them. Ask them often. In all different kinds of ways. For example:
“Honey, you seem upset about something.” or
“Hey bud, I noticed you seem kind of ‘off’. Is everything okay at school?”
“I know school can be really tough… anything new going on you want to talk about?”
Once you ask, honor the answer. Be patient. Be validating.
If they tell you someone is picking on them or bullying them, do everything you can not to be overly-reactive. When my 5-year-old told me that her friends laughed at her for eating red peppers at lunch, what I wanted to say was “well, they’re little jerk faces and you can tell them to shove it!” Instead, I helped her talk about how it feels yucky when people laugh at us. And then I reminded her that what’s most important is that she remembers she is strong, smart and kind.
Now, I know that’s really different than knowing that someone is harassing your son in the hallway for being skinny, or threatening to beat him up. It’s also really different than someone snapping your 13-year-old daughter’s bra strap in class, commenting on her body. Those are huge problems. And they should be addressed. However, the most important thing in the moment your child confides in you is to be calm, to be validating, and help them process. This way you are a safe person to share. If you fly off the handle, the chances are pretty slim that they’ll tell you next time.
I firmly believe that being a tween or a teen is probably one of the hardest times they’ll have in life. No joke.
To steal a line from Home Depot – “They can do it. You can help.”
Lifeologie Counseling Grand Rapids is located in Ada, MI with close proximity to Forest Hills, MI and Grand Rapids. We offer child therapy and parenting skills training, in addition to providing family counseling and individual counseling sessions.