Dr. Mayo – Fighting Against Abuse

Let’s work together to end all forms of child abuse

by Dr. Nicolle Mayo, PhD – May 22, 2018

Last month, I hosted a feature about Child Abuse Prevention. Today, I want to talk about another related issue. See if you can guess what it is based on some of my statistical hints…

According to reports documented on the SPCC (Society for the Positive Care of Children), 28% of students between the ages of 12-18 experience this during the school year. Approximately, 30% of young people admit to doing this. 70% say they have witnessed this in their school. The majority of these instances take place at school. On average, across a 39 states survey, 7.2% of students admit to not going to school due to concerns about this issue, or suffer extreme anxiety and depression if they go to school anyway. Other general side effects from this issue include: truancy, headaches, stomach pains, reduced appetite, shame, irritability, and aggression.

The answer is : bullying. We are familiar with it as parents, students, teachers, community members, either as witnesses, those bullied, or bullying ourselves. What we may not know exactly, is how can we prevent this from happening to our children, or even how we can prevent our children from bullying?

First, it’s crucial to know that many children who bully feel a need to dominate and be aggressive. They show anger and frustration easily, have difficulty following rules, view violence positively, and lack empathy. There is likely very little parental involvement, or significant parental issues happening at home. A note to parents, you may think you are hiding spousal conflict well, but children pick up on EVERYTHING!

So, where to start?

Parents, with summer on the way, there is no better time to make sure you are taking advantage of the free moments your child has to talk to them about bullying.

Keep the lines of communication open. For kids of any age, taking time to understand, show interest, and to use your child’s language signifies investment. You may not be interested in any of your child’s interests, but that really is the way into their world. The part of their brain that is more developed (until their twenties) is called the limbic system (which is associated with emotional development, and memories), whereas, the last part to develop is the prefrontal cortex. This is associated with logic, reasoning, decision-making, and organization. If you’ve ever wondered why your child is more impulsive, lacks organizational skills, or an ability to prepare, brain development explains a lot! So, connect with them on an emotional level, use metaphors they understand, validate them, and encourage them to share problems with you. This may take awhile to foster if it’s not already in the making. Remember, you may also have to hold your tongue on giving advice, or “lecturing” as they would call it because most likely you will just be tuned out!

Talk about bullying, specifically. This helps them recognize it in themselves, others, and prepares them to stand up for it if they see it. You may openly talk about it, role-play certain scenarios, read books about, use puppets to discuss, etc. Find a way to talk about this in a way your child can developmentally understand and engage with. The earlier you talk about this, though, the better. If you talk over or under their head, it is likely they won’t get much benefit. Bullying is unacceptable. Make sure your kids know this, because your attitude will shape theirs. Share that bullying is not about the person who experiences it (though it is easy to take it personally), but more about the person doing the bullying. This outward focus can help kids cope better with bullying.

Teach kids how to emotionally regulate themselves. Remind them to stop and think before they say or do something that could hurt someone. Teach them about the power of emotions, as important signals in their body to pay attention to, positive or negative. Identifying strategies to reduce emotional intensity, and/ or appropriately express emotions cultivates healthy habits. Parents can be a helpful example of this by talking openly and appropriately about their own emotions, and not acting impulsively. Just as well, not blaming youth for bullying, and not labeling youth as bullies, or victims help shape the talk around bullying as an unacceptable action, separate from the person themselves.

In the same vein, practicing assertiveness enhances children’s interpersonal skills. Kids need to be coached on how to act assertively, not aggressively, and also how to appropriately stand up for themselves. Adults could use help with this, too. Setting boundaries like, “I will not tolerate this”, or “I am uncomfortable with this”. Notice the personal responsibility taken here? Assertiveness skills can be applied to everyday situations, not just bullying behaviors. For example, a child who receives a poor grade on a paper can respond in a number of ways. A passive child might complain to his/her friends, or parents. An aggressive child might make a rude comment to the teacher, or impulsively act out. An assertive child might go to the teacher and say something like, “I feel confused about upset because I worked really hard on this, and my grade does not reflect that. Could you explain what I should have done differently, or give me a chance to make corrections?” Assertiveness presented in a respectful way goes a long way!

Cultivating empathy is another rule-of-thumb to follow. Children who learn how to empathize are less likely to bully, more likely to stand up to those bullying, and show increased ability to connect with others. Although babies have the capacity to feel empathy innately, further developing this skill promotes more positive interpersonal relations in a variety of situations. So, why not set up scenarios for your child to practice empathy? It’s never too early to start. After all parents, you probably want your kids to hear these messages from you, rather than their peers. You have to beat them to the punch (no pun intended).

Credits:
Idea/Concept: Dr. Mayo
Videography: Kaitlyn Callahan
Video Editing: Kaitlyn Callahan
Writing: Dr. Mayo
Anchor: Dr. Mayo

Produced by Vogt Media
Funded by UPMC Susquehanna, First Citizens Community Bank

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