Bully Proof Your Family. Part 2: Victim Blaming

Bullying affects at least 1 in 5 children.  This is what is reported, and numbers may be higher since many children won’t share when bad things are happening to them.  How can we help our children to share what they are experiencing?  To start, we can do our best to avoid going thru the rabbit hole of victim blaming.

What is Victim Blaming?

Victim blaming is when the family or friends of the bullying victim suggest that the victim’s behavior caused or led to being bullied. In many cases, the first thing adults and other children do is ask the bullied child what they did to cause it.  Did they start it?  Did they say something mean first?  Are they annoying? What’s wrong with the bully that made them a target. Would you want to share a bad experience with others if you knew that they’d blame you? What if you are already blaming yourself in your head?

Why do we do it?

Victim blaming is widely seen across all aspects of trauma. We see it in the courtrooms of domestic abuse and rape cases.  The answer isn’t really simple, but in many cases, we do it to feel safe.  After all, if the victim did something to allow the trauma to happen, then if we act differently we can avoid it.  So we question our kids.  What did you do for her to say that to you? Maybe he’d leave you alone if you wore different clothes.

How can we address the concern without blaming the victim?

When trying to get all the details of an instance of bullying, it is important to gather all the information, pretty or not.  Keep the emotion out of it and try to sort out what happened.

  • What happened?
  • What was going on right before it happened?
  • Who was there when it happened?
  • Has this happened before?
  • Have you seen this happen before to someone else?
  • Were you scared?  How did you feel?
  • What did you do? What did your friends say?
  • Were there any adults that saw what happened?

The goal with the questioning is to put together a clear picture of what is going on.  You need more information to determine whether or not what is going on is meanness or bullying. If you are not sure if what is going on is meanness or bullying, check out this article by the Washington post.  Asking questions can help your child process what happened and show that you care.

What to avoid when asking questions..

  1. Try to avoid big shows of emotion when asking questions.  At this point, you are gathering information and your job is to stay neutral.
  2. Do not tell your child that they are being too sensitive.  This suggests that the problem is them and minimizes the pain and frustration they are feeling.
  3. Do not suggest that they caused the problem or that they need to change something about themselves to prevent it from happening.

What to remember when asking questions..

  1. Be empathetic.  Imagine how you’d feel if you were in your child’s shoes and this happened to you.
  2. Be calm.  Right now you are gathering information.  It’s super tough when your baby is hurting, but reign in mama bear (or papa bear) until you’ve gathered all the info and have developed a reasonable plan.

Hang in there.  You have the tools for helping your child thru this.  And if all of us band together, we can change things for the good of all of our children.  For information on acknowledging the bullying problem, check out my post Bully Proof Your Family.  Part 1: Acknowledge the Problem.  Next week, I’ll be posting on Recognizing the Signs.

 

 

Molluscum Contagiosum: What you need to know

Has your child or another child you know been diagnosed with molluscum contagiosum?  If so, you are definitely not alone.  Molluscum is a skin condition caused by a poxvirus known as molluscum.  It most commonly affects kids under 10 and it is very contagious.  In fact, some reports suggest that 20% of kids will be affected at some point during their childhood.  If your child has been diagnosed with molluscum, there are some things to look for.  But worry not, this disorder is usually self-limited and will resolve on its own without intervention.

What does it look like?

Parents often describe molluscum as “skin tags.”  They are small, usually several millimeters, and often show up in clusters.  Molluscum lesions are round and raised.  They tend to be pink or flesh-colored and almost pearl-like and shiny.  If you look closely, the center has a tiny indentation.  The gunk inside is white and firm, not pus.  Molluscum bumps can live anywhere on the body, but particularly like insides of elbows, armpits, and behind knees.

Incidence

Because up to 20% of kids are affected at some point in their childhood, you can be assured that your child will be exposed at some point.  (Joy!!) Children with eczema and sensitive skin are often more likely to get it and have more bumps than those who do not.  Molluscum happens more in gyms where kids share mats and equipment.  Young wrestlers spread the virus easily.

Diagnosis

In most cases, no special tests are needed to diagnose molluscum contagiosum.  And although you may never have heard of it, the chances are good that your pediatrician has already seen several today and will recognize it near immediately on sight.  For cases that are not clear, we will consult dermatology.

Treatment

Most of the time, time and patience are all that we recommend for treatment.  And although this is frustrating for parents (believe me, I know, our kids get molluscum too!!), it is often the safest method and the least harmful.  Many treatments for molluscum have downsides.

Do Nothing

This is the most recommended treatment for molluscum contagiosum.  Most cases of molluscum resolve on their own (without intervention) within 6-18 months.  They disappear nearly as quickly as they come, and generally leave no scarring or other indication that they’ve even existed.

Pros: Cheap, easy, painless

Cons: Does not stop spread, patience is a virtue most of us (myself included) don’t have in spades.

Freezing

If there are many lesions, or the lesions are causing a lot of distress due to location, freezing can be an option.  Think of freezing, or cryotherapy, like localized frostbite.  Your doctor will use liquid nitrogen for 30-50 seconds on each little bump.  As many children have upwards of 20-30 bumps, this can be quite an undertaking and will often need to be split over several sessions.

Pros: Decreases spread of the molluscum and encourages the body to resolve the infection sooner than it would have on its own.

Cons: It HURTS!  Even after the initial procedure, it will continue to hurt.  Afterwards the skin blisters.  Cryotherapy increases the risk of infection and scarring.

Topical creams

Several creams can treat molluscum contagiosum.  Most pediatricians who start creams use acne creams such as tretinoin to treat molluscum.  When using tretinoin cream, apply only to the very tops of the molluscum avoiding the skin at the base.  Over the counter wart medicines are safe to use.  Dermatologists may also apply a medicine such as cantharidin in the office which kills the top few layers of skin.

Pros: Can decrease spread of the molluscum and encourage the body to resolve the infection sooner than it would have on its own.

Cons: Often causes blistering and pain to the surrounding skin.  In children with eczema, it can cause a flare-up of the chronic skin issues.  As with any disruption in the skin barrier, can increase risk of infection and scarring.

Curettage (cutting off)

This is something usually done by the dermatologist.  The dermatologist uses a special curved instrument to scrape off the affected bumps.

Pros: Instant gratification

Cons: Painful, may lead to scarring

Oral medicines

For children with widespread molluscum lesions, your pediatrician may recommend treatment with an oral medicine such at cimetidine.  Cimetidine is a medicine generally used for acid reflux. But in some children, it can encourage the body to take care of the viral warts.

Pros: easy and painless

Cons: requires taking medicine twice daily for 3 months

Prevention of Spread

You can minimize the spread.  Follow a few simple rules.

Wash Hands

Do not share towels

keep sores covered if possible

Try not to scratch

Restrictions

Molluscum is a NORMAL childhood ailment.  DO NOT restrict their activity.  They MAY attend school.  They MAY attend sports.  If you are getting pushback from anyone questioning this, let your pediatrician know so they can help.

Outcome

Luckily for all of us, this is just a little blip in your child’s health and wellness.  Molluscum contagiosum WILL resolve.  With or without our help.  So hang in there.  This too shall pass!!

Other Resources for Molluscum Contagiosum

American Academy of Dermatology Overview of Molluscum

Mayo Clinic symptoms and causes of molluscum contagiosum

CDC on Molluscum Contagiosum

Bully Proof Your Family. Part 1: Acknowledge Bullying

According to 2016 studies, over 20% of school aged children reported being bullied.  Various studies may report differences in prevalence, but those of us with kids in school know there is a problem.  With increasing rates of bullying and the resulting consequences on mental health and education, it is time to take action.  We as parents need to acknowledge bullying and help teach our kids how to handle it.  Because with a 1 in 5 occurrence rate, chances are good they WILL see it or be involved.

What is bullying?

Bullying is different from just being mean or leaving someone out.  According to www.pacer.org, bullying is intentional behavior that hurts, harms, or humiliates a student, either physically or emotionally, and can happen while at school, in the community, or online.  It should also be noted that there is often an imbalance in power between the bully and bullied.  And although the incident may only happen once, it often happens repeatedly.

Often, bullying happens out of sight and ears of supervising adults.  Hallways, bathrooms, and school busses are prime bullying locations.  Affected students often avoid telling others because they are ashamed and don’t want to appear weak.

Why are kids bullied?

Kids bully other kids to show power and gain control.  They pick on kids who are smaller, quieter, or different from them.  Kids with medical issues or disabilities are at greater risk.  Minority groups are at risk.  Kids with gender identity issues are at risk.  But one things is present in all the bullying situations.  The bully aims to make his or her victim feel less than the bully.

What are the effects of bullying?

Bullying affects every area of a kid’s life.  Social, medical, and mental health.

Social issues

Bullied children often will withdraw from their peers.  Many become very quiet and find reasons not to interact with their friends.  They may be afraid to reach out to other students.

Medical concerns

Bullied children are more likely to complain of trouble sleeping.  They are also more likely to complain of physical complaints such as headaches and stomach-aches.  Many will miss more school due to their physical complaints.

Educational issues

When children are worrying about bullying at school, it can be difficult to pay attention and focus.  Grades often will drop and children have trouble learning.

Mental Health

Kids who are being bullied have higher incidences of depression and anxiety. There is an increased rate of suicide among children who are bullied.

How can we help?

Most schools and parents are currently telling kids to tell an adult if they are being bullied.  But if asked, most children feel that we are failing them.  We are not doing enough to protect them.  Here are things to keep in mind..

  • Only about 40% of bullied kids tell an adult
  • Bullying is most likely to stop if other children step in to say something (nearly 60%!!)
  • Most children report interventions they direct toward the bully do not help.  This includes telling them to stop, pretending it doesn’t bother them, or trying to “get back” at them. (and notably, this is what we adults usually tell them to do)

What does NOT work?

  1. Telling them to ignore the bully.
  2. Telling them that it’s just part of growing up and it will pass.
  3. Zero tolerance policies do not work.  You can read more about that here.  But in general, making an across the board rule doesn’t take into account all of the possible nuances.  Do we REALLY want to punish a kid who finally stands up to the person who has been tormenting him for months?  My 13-year-old attended an assembly at the beginning of the school year letting the kids know that if someone attacked them, they were not to retaliate or defend themselves.  If they did participate at all, they would be suspended as well.  We are asking them to be suspended or face physical harm.  Not ok.

So if what we’re telling them doesn’t work, what DO we tell them?

Clearly our tactics need to change.  Our kids are hurting and school is often not a safe place for them.   How can we expect them to learn when they are physically and emotionally unsafe? We need to acknowledge bullying.  Acknowledge that it is a problem.  Ask our kids how we can help.  Things to do RIGHT NOW…

teach our kids to watch out for others

The biggest protection for kids who are being bullied is to have another child stand up for them.  We have to teach our kids to stand with others.  Be present.  If they aren’t comfortable saying something to the bully, let them know to tell a teacher.  If that teacher doesn’t listen, tell another.  Tell the guidance counselor.  They can come up with an excuse to help the bullied child escape.  Any act, however small, will help the bullied child not feel so alone.

Talk with the school

If your child is having issues with bullying at school, make sure that the school is aware.  Ask for their assistance in solving the problem.  Check back in with them if attempts at resolution fail.

Do not blame your child

Avoid trying to sort out what your child may have done to incite the bullying behavior.  Bullying is about control.  Not about settling differences.  Asking these questions only brings more shame to the child struggling.

Don’t assume your child could not be a bully

The roles between bully, bullied, and bystander are fluid and ever-changing.  A child who is being bullied may be a bystander in other interactions and the bully in yet another.  Our children, like us, are not perfect.  Remember that the child and the behavior are not one and the same.  All of our children need our support.

Talk to your child

Keep the conversation going.  Ask them if they’ve seen bullying taking place?  Where is it happening?  How is it being handled?  How do they think they could help? Don’t have just one conversation. Keep it going.

For more information on bullying, check out www.pacer.org and www.stopbullying.gov.

 

 

Suicide Prevention

Each year, September 10th is recognized as World Suicide Prevention Day. The suicide rate among young people has tripled since the 1940s.  And according to this article in the National Institute of Mental Health, there were over twice as many deaths due to suicide than homicide in 2016. But together, we can all do our part in suicide prevention.

Statistics

  • Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death between 10-24 years old.
  • Suicide claims about 4,600 youth lives  each year.
  • There are 157,000 youth between the ages of 10-24 treated in the ER for self-inflicted injury each year.
  • Girls are more likely to attempt suicide, but boys are more likely to be successful.
  • 16% of high school students will consider suicide, 13% will make a plan, and 8% will make an actual attempt.

What this means

What this means is that over time, we are nearly guaranteed to either know someone or know of someone who has at least considered suicide. Suicide can touch any family and can happen in families who don’t know there is a problem. Many kids can paint a perfect exterior and successfully hide their pain from even close friends and families.

What Can You Do

Know the Signs

If you hear someone talking about wishing they were dead or talking about wanting to kill themselves, you need to take action right away. But often, the signs are more subtle.  Is your child becoming more withdrawn? Avoiding friends and not seeming to enjoy things they normally enjoy?  Are the mood swings significantly more dramatic than usual? If you are worried something may not be right, ask questions.  Let them know you love them.  Go do something together and ask directly if they’ve thought about hurting themselves.  These are hard questions, but they need to be asked.

Do Your Part

One of the most powerful things you can do as a parent is to let your child know that you’re there for them.  And not just when things are good.  But also when they are at their worst.  So take a deep breath and plunge right on in.  Let them know that you’ve noticed that they seem to be struggling.  Tell them you’re there if they need to talk.  Remember that many children who are contemplating suicide feel deeply and utterly alone and that their voice and presence doesn’t matter.  Be there.  Acknowledge the struggle.  And if you are worried about them, get help.  Talk to your pediatrician.  Get them in with a counselor.  It truly does take a village.  Do not hesitate to expand yours.

Self-Care

Are you taking care of your emotional health?  Is your teen taking care of their’s?  If not, there is no time like the present. Kids face enormous pressure at school trying to balance their education, friends, family, and social media.  Talk about stress management and listen to what they think would help them to decompress.  You can read more about self-care in Self Care for the School Year.

Reach Out

If your teen or someone you know is struggling, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Find a counselor or talk to your doctor. You (and they) are not alone. Know where to call for help. If you don’t know where to turn, you can also call the suicide hotline at any time for help.

suicide prevention hotline

Spread the Word

Make sure you let others know what to look for.  Teach your kids to recognize signs of distress in their friends.  Empower your friends to help as well. There may be only 1 suicide awareness day, but the time to be aware is every day.  We have to look out for each other and help keep all of our kids safe.  To learn more about suicide prevention, check out the Take 5 site to learn the steps.