Friday, September 19, 2014

Scared of School - Warning Signs of Bully Behavior and How to protect your Child

By: Dwight Bain

School should be one of the safest places instead of a scary place because of bully behavior. Yet the recent number of horrifying acts of violence from bullies toward shy and introverted kids has everyone concerned, from the President to local school and law enforcement officials. However, the most important group to take positive action to protect their kids at school is always their parents who are the most tuned in to the needs of their children. 

It is essential to know what to look for in protecting your child from the dangers of bully behavior.

Here are the classic warning signs of a child who is being victimized by bullies:

  • Talking about being scared to walk to school
  • Acting scared to ride on the school bus
  • Plead for you to drive them to school instead of ride the bus
  • Develop a phobia about going to school
  • Act sick on school mornings
  • Lie to avoid school.
  • Skip school
  • Failing in school work
  • Have mysterious broken or damaged books, backpacks or torn clothes
  • Always hungry, (from bullies taking lunches or lunch money)
  • Verbal changes, especially stammering or inability to express fears
  • Develop eating disorders, inability to eat or excessive over-eating
  • Discussing suicide or threats to harm themselves instead of going to school
  • Develop sleeping disorders, active night terrors or nightmares
  • Mysterious disappearance of personal possessions, (cellphones, ipads, etc)
  • Missing money or stealing money to bribe bullies
  • Silence about the major changes in their behavior
  • Mysterious appearance of bruises, cuts, scratches or broken bones
  • Passing on the pain by bullying younger siblings
  • Major changes in behavior, completely withdrawn or totally aggressive
  • Lies and deception to cover up all of the major changes in behavior

(If you aren’t sure how to spot the more dangerous warning signs from gangs, weapons, substance abuse or when a fight is going to erupt, there are a number of web links at the end of this article to give you greater insight of what to look for, and more importantly, what to do to keep your child safe).

Here are five key strategies you can use to protect your son or daughter from bully behavior at school or in the community.

1) Listen to your child’s fears and frustrations

Sadly many of the kids who felt like committing suicide to escape bully behavior held all of their fears and frustrations inside until they began a self-destructive cycle ending in their death. Bully behavior at school is not a new problem. However these days there are dangerous gangs and violent individuals in or around just about every school environment. Sometimes the bully violence comes from neighborhood gangs, but it’s far more likely that the threats, harassment, intimidation, fights or acts of violence will come from someone inside your child’s school. Student’s who use weapons against other students, like the Virginia Tech or Columbine shooters for example, often make threats long before acting on them. It is essential to listen to what is going on so you know how to respond.

Become more involved in talking about safety with your child, instead of just talking about academics or daily activities. Ask your kids direct questions and then really listen to their fears and frustrations about what’s happening around them at school. Keep the conversation age appropriate and allow your child to do most of the talking as you hear about their experiences with bullies or other situations that might have made them feel uncomfortable or afraid while at school, (Remember to change the conversation slightly depending on the ages of your kids and the pressures they may be facing at school, since it’s important to talk about safety to kids of all ages so they know what to do to stay safe while at school or away from their parents).

2) Get involved at their school & ask direct questions to teachers and administration
The greater the level of parental involvement the greater the chance that your child’s school will have less intimidation from bullies. When kids are involved in healthy after-school activities like sports, music, drama or scouting they are less likely to be in a dangerous situation, because everyone is engaged and involved, instead of bored or detached. Parents can spot and then quietly solve a lot of problems that may be in the ‘shadows’ by getting more involved in the lives of their children and encouraging greater involvement in healthy activities. Sometimes the easiest way to avoid becoming victimized by bully behavior is to be involved in activities with others instead of feeling insecure and isolated when threatening people or situations come along.

Kids need their parents to be involved in their lives at every age and life stage, either as classroom volunteers or to help with after school sports or extra-curricular activities. The extra support for your child builds a greater sense of connection and self worth since these activities are essential to develop important social skills and personal confidence. It also provides another set of ‘eyes and ears’ on the school campus to notice what pressures your child is facing from their peers.

If you see anything that makes you feel uncomfortable don’t be afraid to bring it up to your child’s teacher, school administrators or school safety officers. Also, if you are unsure about the safety at your child’s school to deal with more serious crisis events like school violence, then ask to see a copy of their critical incident preparation training guide, or school safety plan so you can review it with your son or daughter and then pass it along to help other parents as well.

3) Use national media events as springboards into serious discussions with your child and their friends

Much of the televised news reports about death by suicide to avoid school bullies is shocking to say the least, however, you can use news stories from the paper, television or an Internet news source to bring the facts of a national story out in the open to then ‘springboard’ into a more personal discussion with your son or daughter about how to deal with issues they might one day face on the local level at their school.

This can especially be important with older teens who may believe they are invincible to the harsh realities of violent and aggressive bullies who direct their rage toward innocent people in public places, especially schools. Something about seeing a group of crying teens gathered around a makeshift memorial to honor their fellow classmate who died tragically makes it more real… because it shows regular kids, just like them, who were victimized by dangerous bullies at or around school. Asking, “what would you do if you saw someone being bullied in a locker room?”, or “does anyone at your school make threats to hurt you, your teachers or other classmates?” are all ways to get directly involved in protecting your child, as well as preventing the next breaking news story about another school tragedy from happening on their school campus.

4) Have open family meetings about bully issues on a regular basis, don't go silent on this potentially life-threatening issue

Every family should have regular discussions on how they would need to respond to bully behavior. Education officials encourage parents to have a plan for their personal safety should bully behavior happen against them. Knowing what to do and then reviewing that plan monthly will remove a significant amount of panic because planning removes panic.

If your son or daughter received a threatening note or heard about an act of violence from a bully, do they know who to call to protect themselves? When your son or daughter has insight on what to do when facing a bully they are better equipped to manage their fears, instead of internalize them which can build up into self-destructive behavior. 

5) Pray for your children, for their friends, their class and their teachers
We can prepare our kids to know how to respond to bullies at their schools, but ultimately we can’t protect our kids from everything. Bullies can infiltrate just about any school setting. However, we know that God is bigger than any bully and that He is always a safe place to turn throughout the hours of the day when we can’t be there to guard our kids.

Many parents have the habit of praying for the safety and strength of their kids throughout day when they are apart. Why not give it a try so you can move from feeling scared about what you can’t do, to feeling secure in knowing that God always hears your prayers. Moving away from panic through prayer is a powerful way to get through any crisis and it’s a great practice to model for your kids. When your children learn to pray as their first step in dealing with pressure situations, they will have a remarkable power and peace in dealing with any situation, at school, work or in personal relationships as they grow into an adult. Prayer is a life skill that makes any situation easier to deal with, because you don’t have to carry your problems alone.

The bottom line is to take positive action to protect your child from experiencing more pain in the future from bullies at school, in the neighborhood or anywhere they may face tough people who want to intimidate them. Building your child’s confidence now will protect them for a lifetime.


For more detailed information about school bullies to review in preparing to talk to your kids visit:

US Department of Education

National Crime Prevention Council

For helpful resources to save time by solving other parenting challenges from a Faith based perspective visit: 

Most of all - never give up on staying connected and involved with your child's life. The more engaged you are, the more you can be their safe place against the challenges they will face in every grade. You never stop being a parent, and in protecting your children from bully behavior you are protecting them from a lifetime of pain..


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About the author-
 Dwight Bain helps people re-write their story to find greater significance and success. He is a Nationally Certified Counselor, Certified Life Coach and Family Law Mediator in practice since 1984 with a primary focus on solving crisis events and managing major change.



Thursday, September 18, 2014

Help! My Spouse is a Bully!

By: Christine Hammond, LMHC

You don’t have to be 12 and in middle school to be bullied. It can happen anywhere, even in your marriage. But what does spousal bullying look like? You recognize the feelings of intimidation and fear after a verbal exchange but they are also mixed in with feelings of guilt and shame. This confusing mix of emotions causes you to agree to things you normally would not. How does your spouse do this? How does a simple conversation leave you feeling beaten up while they look better than ever?

The methods of bullying a spouse are far more subtle then the playground bully. By understanding their tactic, you can be better prepared for a response. Hoping they will change will not work. Instead, change your response to them.

  • Rage – This is an intense, furious anger that comes out of nowhere. It is intended to startle and shock you into immediate compliance. If you are a person who likes to “keep the peace,” this is a highly effective tactic. Most likely, your response is to immediately give in. This calms down the chaos and defuses the anger. While this idea works, it also leaves you feeling empty and defeated. Instead, view their rage as a two-year-old temper tantrum. Remain calm and don’t give in.
  • Gaslighting – The term originates from the 1938 play and 1944 film version called Gas Light. As the victim, you are given false information causing you to doubt your memory, perception, and even sanity. This is frequently done in a very calm, almost caring, manner. Naturally, you abandon your own perspective (because they must be right) and substitute it with theirs. In the end, a dependency is formed leaving you to feel like you can’t make a decision without them. If you have fallen prey to this tactic, remember that you make thousands of small decisions every day without them. Build your confidence from the good choices you do make.
  • The Stare – No explanation is needed when your spouse uses this tactic. Just the thought of their intense stare intimidates you. They don’t have to say a thing; you already know what they are thinking. But do you… This is a good time to practice assuming the best about your spouse. The next time you get “the look,” smile back and think something nice about them. (You might need to practice this in the mirror and have a couple of kind thoughts already planned out.) The change in your response will cause them to abandon this method for another.
  • Silent Treatment – This tactic is a one-two punch. The first punch is to ignore or cut you out of their life. As you feel the void they have left, you naturally try to reconcile. Then comes the second punch when they “let you off the hook” by demanding an apology even when you aren’t to blame. You can’t stop the first punch, as you never know when this will happen. But you can stop the second one by not conceding to their demands of an apology. Be prepared because once you take a stand, they are likely to rage in order to obtain compliance. Stand your ground, don’t give in.
  • Projection – Freud identified projection as a defense mechanism. Basically, your spouse dumps their issues onto you as if you were the one doing it, not them. Because you trust them, you look to see if what they said is true. Finding some small shred of truth, you accept full responsibility and completely let your spouse off the hook. They might even add that if you didn’t have this issue, neither would they. NOT TRUE. Everyone is responsible for their own actions. Only accept responsibility for your behavior, not theirs.

Unfortunately there are many more tactics then the ones listed. These are just a couple to get you thinking more clearly about your situation. Try a different response next time. Don’t let your spouse bully you into compliance.

Back to School Bullying: A 5 Part Series on Parental Guidelines for Dealing with Bullying

By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

You’re all excited for the new school year – the kids and so are the parents. They’re looking forward to friends, events and who knows, maybe even learning something cool. Parents are looking forward to getting the kids out of the house and seeing their kids grow and learn new things. However, no one is looking forward to dealing with a bullying situation. And yet, it happens. And I mean a lot. The website reports that 90% of all students in grades 4th through 8th have reported being a victim of bullying and cites that “Over 67% of students believe that schools respond poorly to bullying, with a high percentage of students believing that adult help is infrequent and ineffective.” Bullying can be physical aggression or fighting, but also can be mocking, insults, threats, shaming ridicule, ostracizing a child, stealing from them and more. This first installment in the series will address dealing with physical and verbal types of bullying. Part two of the series will take a look at psychological bullying and also will delve into some more bold or direct ways of dealing with bullies. And then there’s the whole huge category of cyber bullying. I’ve dedicated part three of the series to addressing this particular type of bullying.  

Bullying comes in innumerable shapes and sizes. It’s going on all around us and many teachers and parents are unaware of it or worse yet, ignoring it. reports that, “1 in 4 teachers see nothing wrong with bullying and will only intervene 4% of the time.” I have, unfortunately, often heard that even when parents learn of the problem and go to the school, that the school’s response is very unsatisfying, from pretending to take action, to just plain doing nothing. I’ve dedicated the fourth part of the series on how to deal with the school in bullying situations. The fifth part of the series will involve mental health strategies for your family.

Let’s get started. I would like to outline some helpful strategies for kids, teens and parents for dealing with this pervasive and difficult social problem. Most of the strategies provided will be most applicable for kids above 3rd grade due to their cognitive and expressive requirements. Children younger than this would be best served by direct interventions by adults anyway. 

1.  Warning signs

It seems that the older kids get the less likely they are to report and talk about the bullying they are experiencing. Look for changes in behavior or demeanor:

o   Academic performance decreasing

o   Excuses to miss school or the bus

o   Increase of health issues or complaints (anxiety and stress can produce GI issues and lower one’s immune system)

o   Missing personal items or items torn

o   Sullen, withdrawn, depressed state

I absolutely must comment here on a terrifying issue that is growing in our country (and in others) – and that is teen suicide. Suicide has become the 3rd leading cause of death in the 10-24 age bracket ( There is a correlation between bullying and teen suicide, although other factors seem to be present as well. The point is that we must take issues of bullying and its effects on victims seriously. You’ll want to be aware of the signs and not take them lightly.

2.  Showing Wisdom

When you able to find out bullying is taking place, I think many parents would be drawn into emotionally intense responses of anger and plans to swiftly intervene. Let me encourage you to temper your responses for the sake of your child. Certainly express your concern and that you care and that you will help. But your demonstration of calm and wisdom at that time will model to your child strength and wisdom that they need to develop and will show that you are a capable and trustworthy advocate.


3.  Provide Guidance

Learn about the circumstances and situation of the bullying to structure a plan for your child to respond.


If the bullying is physical in nature:

o   Parent and Child report the incident(s) to the school and seek a meeting with school personnel. I’ll cover working with the school in part 4.

o   Coach the child to avoid situations or locations in which they would be alone – find a buddy.

o   Go through scenarios with your child, coaching them on their options:

§  Explain that you believe that your child can be strong and can address the bully – that they are just another child.

§  Approach #1 – if there are bystanders around – focus on the crowd instead of the bully and seek a comrade. Rehearse how he/she could draw a third party or parties into the interaction. “What do you think of this guy?” “Does everyone here approve of what he/she is doing to me or intending towards me?” “What if this was happening to you?” And even, “Hey, I could use a little help here, as this is really unfair.”

§  Go over it with them a number of times. By rehearsing it, you do more than just help them prepare for what to say, you are also reducing the intensity and fear and giving them a reason to have some confidence. “I have some idea on what I can do and I am not trapped and powerless.”

§  Consider preparing your child for a physical confrontation, including defense training. I’ll be providing more ideas on direct confrontations in part 2.

If the bullying is verbal in nature:

o   Assess the emotional effects on your child – how fearful or hopeless are they feeling?

o   Talk through with them how you believe in them – affirming what you see in their character.

o   Go through scenarios with your child:

§  Model to them ways they can address the bully. Explain that in the past kids were encouraged to just ignore bullies but that it didn’t work. Explain that they can win by choosing the middle ground between avoidance and retaliation – of being wise and savvy with their responses. Explain that if they just lose it emotionally that it will encourage the bully, because that was what they hoped to get out of you.

§  Assess with them the potential for the bully to become physical with them. Are they aware of this person being physical with others, or could they be bluffing? Talk about how a strong and emotionally neutral response is what is needed to deter the bully.

§  Review with them ways to respond and let them chose one to practice. The idea of these approaches is twofold, first, to show the bully that the child is not rattled by the bully (you aren’t getting me), and second, to show the bully that the child is a real person, not merely a tool they can use to gain notoriety. 

§  You could try simply to change the subject and ask them about themselves. “What did you think of that new movie that just came out?”

§  You could respond by pretending to be a good sport and act like they are simply being funny and then attempt humor – although not attacking or ridiculing humor. “Hey, that’s a good one. I am pretty skinny. Did you see the funny You Tube about…”

§  Another approach is to just confuse them by doing something unexpected. You’ll want to discuss together what to try so as to rule out expressions that would be perceived as directly taunting or mocking, although sarcasm can be useful.

 We’ve only just begun to cover the variety of ways that young people can be hurtful and malicious. Parents absolutely need to be equipped to guide their children through these challenges, because kids don’t have what they need to successfully navigate it on their own resources. But they can make it with your involvement!

Stay tuned for part 2, involving direct interventions with bullies and addressing psychological types of bullying. 

We have many more great resources on our website,

You can find Matt’s other articles on his blog:


Reprint Permission- If this article helped you, you are invited to share it with your own list at work or church, forward it to friends and family or post it on your own site or blog. Just leave it intact and do not alter it in any way. Any links must remain in the article.