Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bullying the bully

Its the start of school season and going back to school is probably peppered with a little trepidation for some of our little ones. Trepidation at the impending prospect of dealing with the officially designated bully in school. I know. My son has had a bitter experience with a friend turned bully last week, which has terrorised him so intensely that he is now refusing to go to school. (Details on my blog) Its been over a week now and thankfully, the rains have been bad enough to keep him at home. But it is scaring me. How do I bolster my child's selfconfidence enough to enable him to deal with bullying and teasing on his own, without me being around to defend him or give him security? I am sure many of us parents grapple with these questions everyday.
According to recent studies,about 50 percent of children and adolescents are the victims of some form of bullying during some point in their educational life. According to statistic, one of five children is being bullied regularly by either a single other child or a group of other children who gang up on the victim. Bullying takes various forms from the mild form of teasing, jibes, derogatory comments, threats, to physical aggresion and intimidation. And research does show that contrary to our expectations, bullying does exist in preschool and day care facilities, populated primarily by children under the age of five.
What are the signs by which you know your child is being a victim of bullying in school? A child who earlier loved to go to school but now refuses to go to school is one clear indication that something is drastically wrong at school. A child who clams up when you ask him what happened at school is another indication. A child who pulls out all stops at pretending to be ill with a tummy ache or another excuse to continuously avoid going to school is another. My son has all these. I am terrified because more than the physical scars of bullying, I hate seeing my happy go lucky cheerful son being morose and terrified of going into school. What sort of emotional scars has he received already before I have even become aware of it?
For my son, the bullying has progressed from verbal teasing and physical intimidation to actual pushing and shoving. Pushing down a flight of stairs is terrifying for anyone, adult or child. Not to mention the grave physical danger it presents to the child. It scares me as a mother. No, it terrifies me. Not only is this physically dangerous to my child. It is also affecting him emotionally and psychologically. And short of keeping him at home, there seems to be at the outset, little I can do to protect him.
Over the past week I have been thinking a lot about how I can help my child deal with bullying appropriately, without it progressing to physical harassment and pushing, shoving and such violent behavior. Can I try to keep my child safe from a distance? Short of actually morphing into a fly on the wall ready to grow a sting and bite the child harassing my child? I can only try from the outside to make a difference and this is what I have been doing:

Encourage my child to talk about the bullying experience with me. And getting him to understand why it is happening, and that it is not his fault. In my son's case, it is because he is tinier and quite clueless about what is going on in class thanks to his hyperactivity and attention issues that makes him a soft target for some other children to pick on.

Insist that my son immediately bring instances of bullying to the notice of the classteacher who will deal with it appropriately.

Remove himself from the situation immediately if the bully gets aggressive or call for help loudly.

On no account is he to hit back, or get aggressive with the aggressor.That would be just the trigger needed to put the aggressor on overdrive.

He is to stay out of the path of the bully, and as far as possible remain within sight of an authority figure in class.

He is not to go to the toilet alone. He is to ask to be accompanied by an ayah or an assistant teacher.

Develop a friendship and bonding with other children in the class to enable him to have a support group should he be picked on. This I will encourage and nurture by organising playdates with some other children in the class with whom he gets along well.

Another important thing I have started with him is practicing possible situations with the bully and getting him trained in possible responses. While he is not to fight back or be his "mard ka bachcha' self, he is to make sure the bully knows that the behaviour will be reported to the authorities (aka the classteacher and me) and that the bully can get duly punished for the same. I am trying to build up his self confidence so he can intimidate the bully without getting into the vicious cycle of rewarding aggression with aggression.

If the bully's parents are reasonable people, you could meet up with them to explain your concerns and ask them to speak to their child to desist from such behaviour. In my case, the mother is in complete denial that her son could cause another child any harm deliberately, and so I have not pursued the matter further.

Talk to the classteacher as well as the school coordinator about the issue and your fears. Sometimes, since bullying happens away from the gaze of the teacher, the teacher might not even be aware that this is happening.

Dont make your complaints personal against another child. When you speak, put your concern for the physical and emotional wellbeing of your child over everything.

And finally, I have told my child that he is to come to me with everything that happens in school. I am not judging him. I am not going to ask him what he could have done to provoke the situation. I want him to know that his parents are rocks of support who will do all they can to smooth out the wrinkles in his school life.

What are your suggestions? Have you ever faced such a situation with your child? How did you deal with it? How did your child deal with it? I would love to hear them and try and implement them. Right now, my son needs all the help he can get.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Journey for some weight loss and getting fit - want to join in?

[Posted by Kay of http://towardsabettertomorrow.blogspot.com/]

I realized it's high time that I got rid of those extra pounds in my hips and elsewhere and have started working out. I am not dieting - just eating healthy and working out and avoiding junk food.
I have started recording what I eat and workout in an online journal (aka blog!).


A friend of mine in Toronto is my partner. she has her own blog too.

If anybody is interested in joining us, you are most welcome. Let's cheer and motivate each other.

[P.s: Sandeepa, I hope it's okay to post this here. If not, let me know. I'll delete the post.]

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Raising Chip

A while ago, I had written a post about the spirited child Chip is. I refuse to call him difficult and while it is vexing to get my point across to him at times, I admire his resolve and determination. He also tends to get frustrated easily and can fly into what I call nuclear tantrums. Change is hard on him. He is a slow adapter. Traditional child rearing advice is lost on him. Never works. He is only three and as he grows up, his temperament may change little or not at all, but I sure hope to teach him how to change the way he expresses his thoughts and emotions. A few weeks ago I bought a book- Raising your Spirited Child by Mary Kurcinka. While I have yet to read it, I thought it might be a good idea to put into writing my own strategies and later compare them to those in the book.

Be very specific
While this is true of most toddlers, for spirited children, this is a life saving technique. “Don’t touch that”, “Sit here” doesn’t quite cut it. Even if you tell Chip the dire consequences of his actions, his impulse doesn’t go away. For e.g. if I tell Chip to put the fork down when he is running around the kitchen with it, he won’t listen. He wants to do “something” with the fork, and running around with it is the only thing that comes to his mind. Instead I tell him to put it in the sink or put it back in the flatware drawer. That satisfies his urge, I get a chore done and he is out of trouble.

A few months ago Chip and I visited a friend and her new baby. Chip was very excited and in his excitement pulled the little baby’s hand. Instead of telling him to not touch the baby or play with other things which would have resulted in a tantrum, I channeled his urge. He wanted to connect to the baby. So I allowed him a gentle pat on the blanket by the foot and told him to sing songs and recite the alphabet. He does that to all babies he sees now. The parents are amused and the babies gurgle and laugh which delights him.

Let them know what to expect
Even if it is trip to the tot lot or a dinner with friends or a doctor’s visit, I always tell him what to expect of the place and event and of him. I tell him names of all the friends we are visiting and what we plan to do. I also tell him what I expect of him – he has to share, no whining, no fuss when its time to go home. Or if we are going to the doctor, what will happen (stethoscope, look in your ear etc). This way he is prepared and does not get caught with surprises. For the past few days, he has gotten into the habit of asking a grown up what their name is. I personally feel this is rude, so I have told him he has to ask me softly (or I have to tell him the name of the person we are meeting before hand). I have also told him I will remember to introduce him to people. He is a young boy now. Stop the whine with shock and awe Chip whines. And he is persistent. I need to stop the whine before it turns into a tantrum. And like most kids, Chip’s whine does not go away when you ignore it. It gets worse. So instead of telling him again that he cannot have jelly beans today, I sit down with him and tell him jelly beans have artificial colors and preservatives and that will make holes in his brain.

Shock and awe.
Since he has learnt something new here, his attention gets diverted to the artificial colors and preservatives instead of the jelly beans. Give them something to do I give mine chores. He sets the table every night. He helps himself to cereal and snacks from the pantry. He helps me unload the dishwasher. He puts his diaper in the bin every morning and his clothes in the hamper. It gives him a sense of importance and a comforting routine and giving him safe activities puts him out of trouble for at least 10-15 minutes a day.

Teach them to identify their emotions and triggers
This is very useful. Chip has a temper that can quickly get out of hand. A few months ago, I tried this trick. Every time he would get angry and thre a tantrum, I would tell him to tell me when he realized he was getting angry and that I would help him. It took a few months and he needs a reminder every now and then, but he does come and tell me to help him because he is angry or feels like a tantrum. We sit down and we “search and pluck” all the tantrums from his head. There are usually ten – so he has learnt to count till 10 when he gets angry. He also identifies when he is sad and tells me and we deal with it. Or when he is scared or happy. Down time and quiet time They need this more than the other kids, I suspect. I know kids who would cry way after midnight at their own 1st birthday parties. Chip cried in the first five minutes because he wanted everyone to go home and leave him alone.

Even know, he needs some quiet and one-on-one time every day with me in the evening. Undivided attention. He is much better behaved that way. Many times, when we have company over, he tells me he wants to go to bed way before his expected bedtime. I take the cue. He is overwhelmed and 20 minutes by ourselves upstairs usually recharges him and he much better behaved when we come back down. On busy days when he tends to be a bit tantrummy, we have a quiet time. Where he can do what he wants without walking/running/climbing/not leaving the room. He can lie down, draw, read books.

Sugar and physical activity
Limiting sugar does help. He is less tantrummy, more even tempered. Juice is no more than 6oz a day or not at all. No sugar in milk. Sweet cereals in limited quantities. No sugary stuff when he is tired. Or sugar combined with protein only (like peanuts and jaggery). Increasing protein intake helps him manage his temper. He also needs a lot of physical activity. He walked a mile and half yesterday and played in the water for 30 mins. in the evening and only then was he tired. I’ll post a review of the book as soon as I am done reading it. Until then, do share your tactics too if you have a spirited child.

*Cross posted on my blog here.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Hola de Buenos Aires moderno (Hello, from trendy Buenos Aires!)

Just wanted to post a quick note from BA (where we are having a crazy winter in the summer - given it is in the southern hemisphere), since I sa a blog about keeping kids safe online and thought you folks may find it useful. Though written for a BA audience (I gather), it is pretty global in it's messages.