How to Talk to Your Child About Bullying

During the first week of October, schools across the country observe the “Week of Respect” or anti-bullying week. As we all know, bullying is one person acting towards another person with the intent to cause harm – physical or emotional. More recently, intentional exclusion, is another form of bullying, even termed ‘soft’ bullying. Bullying is not a new phenomenon and has been a part of playground life since the beginning of time, but over time, things got complicated, and especially with the use of social media by our children.

As parents, we all fear that our child is being bullied, and we don’t know about it. Our fear is that our child may be suffering in silence. Even though our goal for our children is to take pride in who they are, to have friends, and be able to speak up for themselves with confidence, but it’s not always that simple.

Teenagers, in middle or high school, may not want to share what’s going on for fear of parents getting involved and making it worse. For our younger children, in elementary school, we want our children to understand that someone else’s view of them is not accurate, and only one person’s opinion.

“You do not have to be everyone’s friend and Everyone Is Not Your Friend”
How much time does your adolescent spend checking his likes on his latest post on Instagram? I’m going to guess quite a bit. Sadly, our children give a great deal of credence to the number of followers and likes they have.

It’s difficult to change their minds, but it is important to emphasize to your child that if there are ‘ugly’ comments on their posts, they need to share this with you. Or, if they see those nasty comments on someone else’s posts that are hurtful, to share that with you or their guidance counselor. In general, if you suspect your child is being bullied, contact your school’s guidance counselor and/or principal/vice principal. Chances are, your child is not the only one being affected.

As a parent, please make it a point to have your child’s login and password to their social media channels. As often as you can, log in as your child and see what is being posted. If, over time, you notice that the number of posts they make is decreasing, changes are that they have created another account, and it’s time to gain the login and password for that account too! Have candid conversations with your child about how she is using social media, what she likes about it and what she doesn’t like about it.

For our elementary aged children, they believe that they ‘should’ be friends with everyone, just as they were in preschool and in kindergarten. Do you remember when every single child in the class was invited to the birthday party? With time, our children develop their personalities, their preferences, and their friendships. Emphasize that it’s okay if not every child in their class is their friend, but it’s not okay to be mean. Ask your child several times each week who they are sitting next to at lunch time and who they are playing with at recess. You will begin to hear their preferences, and also about negative interactions between your child and other children, as well between other children.  If your child (or another child) is being bullied, talk to your child’s teacher and guidance counselor.

Teach about the “Bystander Effect” 
The “Bystander Effect” was coined after Kitty Genovese was murdered in a crowd of people, without anyone intervening. Can you imagine? An entire crowd witnessed a murder and nobody did anything?!?

The same thing happens when our children witness bullying. They get scared and don’t want to be the target of it. So, they look away or walk away because nobody really knows how to respond.

For our elementary school children, we want them to recognize what is happening and to be able to pull the child who is being bullied away from the situation (e.g., Samamtha, let me show you that preying mantis over there!”). If your child is not that courageous (and many are not), we want to teach them to find an adult to help.

With our adolescents, we hope that they will also help an acquaintance/friend who is being bullied by making a blanket statement like, “Hey, Mr. XX is looking for you. Come on, I’ll go with you.” This makes it less likely that the ‘upstander’ (not a bystander) isn’t the next victim of the bullying, and it serves as a distractor for the child who is being bullied as well as the bully.

“Why are people mean?”
That’s a tough question to answer as a parent. Where do you even begin? One place to begin is to help your child understand that mean people are mean because they feel badly about themselves. So, they take out their frustration by putting down other people. In a strange way, it makes them feel better.

Most times, our children feel like they are the weaker person, that there is something wrong with them and that’s why they are being bullied. They believe what the bully says and point out. Most likely, the bully is pointing out things that he/she feels insecure about or is jealous about in him/herself. Having an understanding of ‘why’ makes it easier to distance the negativity from one’s self esteem.

Look for Kindness
Mr. Fred Rogers always recommended that in a time of crisis, “look for the helpers. You can always find people who are helping”. This can be applied to bullying. Ask children about who was being kind to them. How were they being kind and to focus on those people. This helps children build trust with their environment and take in positive feedback.

This can also work for our elementary aged children and our teens. Point out who the ‘nice’ kids are. Who do they like hanging out with and why, and to make sure that they are displaying that kindness back into their environment. Just like negativity breeds more negativity, kindness does breed more kindness. Our human nature is one of wanting to belong and be connected, and we are drawn to that positivity. So by putting out acceptance, we hope that the circle of kindness and acceptance will continue to grow so that the bullies become the minority.

Winfrey, M. S. (2012). The bystander effect: Would you speak up? Pembroke, NC: University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

Winner, M. G. (2007). Social behavior mapping: Connecting behavior, emotions and consequences across the day. San Jose, CA: Think Social Pub.

by Rick Manista, Psy.D.

Homework Tips for the New School Year

A new school year brings promise.

Freshly sharpened pencils, pointy clean crayons, freshly waxed floors in the classroom, and an excitement for all that is new! Even homework can be exciting within the first two weeks of school, and then the boredom and resistance kicks in.

If your house is anything like mine, week three of the school year marks the official end of the honeymoon period, and the disenchantment with the school year begins.

In an effort to nurture the enthusiasm and keep the summer vibe going, I have a few strategies to help your children get through homework quickly, and hopefully, painlessly for you!

Break Time
Once our kids get home from school, they have been “on” for hours. They have been trying to pay attention, follow directions, interact with their friends, problem solve, defend, and find a break since they saw you in the morning.

Many of our kids, especially those with Sensory Processing Disorders, Anxiety, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), just need a break. For some kids, they want to dive into their homework and get it done.

There is no right way to do this – it’s about preference. In my home, my son needs a 30-45 minute break. My daughter likes to get her homework done as soon as she walks in through the door.  So, we set a timer – whether using Alexa, your microwave, or your good ole fashioned egg timer. Set it, and when it rings, break time is over.
Whichever option you choose, keep it consistent from day to day with the routine of taking a break first or not and starting homework at the same time.

Assess It
When our kids think about homework, the sheer volume or multiple steps of it can be overwhelming and will lead to resistance, tears, and meltdowns. In an effort to avoid that, ask your child, “What’s for homework tonight?”

Get into the routine of going over the night’s assignments and tasks – from required signatures on permission slips, studying for a quiz, or reading a chapter in a book. Write it all down. Then, assess: what do I want to finish first? The easiest or the hardest assignment? The quickest or the longest assignment?

Make that decision for the night and then number assignments in the order for them to be completed.  As your child completes items from the list, cross them off; don’t erase, but rather cross off.  As more gets done, your child’s sense of accomplishment and the “I can” factor becomes stronger and homework becomes do-able rather than painful.

Build in Down Time
By the time your child gets through the school day, homework, and activities, they are in need of a break. Make sure to build in down time each night so that your child has a chance to decompress and come down from the day.

This is the time when it’s okay to play on the computer, video games, or iPad. The time can be limited to 30, 45, or 60 minutes – and screen time should not be the last thing that your child looks at before bed. Reading a book, working on a puzzle, or another quiet activity is best to give your child’s body the signal that the day is over and it’s time to quiet down for bed.

My philosophy has always been “work hard, play hard,” and the students I work with are surprised when I tell them, “I would like for you to get your work done as quickly as you can so that you can have your down time.”

Down time is not a luxury, but rather a necessity for our children and for us, as their parents. Unfortunately, we are stuck in the routine of run, run, run – and then sleep. Our sleep is not restful and our minds are still running even though our bodies have technically stopped.

With the new school year upon us, I hope these strategies bring you some comfort that homework does not have to be a struggle. Set up a new plan with your child or children and use it consistently throughout the month of September.

Assess at the end of the month – if certain aspects are not working, change them. If certain routines are keeping you sane, keep using them.

The key is consistency and assessing what is and is not working. When your child is old enough, have him set up this plan with you, and reassess together.

In the meantime, enjoy the rest of the summer – watch a sunset, feel the sand between your toes, walk barefoot in the grass, and let the sun shine on your face!

by Dr. Liz Matheis and Mommybites

“Back to School Anxiety” – Dr. Liz On Mom’s Minute With Marisa Brahney, News 12

At the beginning of the school year, our children often experience difficulty adjusting. Their anxiety about the new school year may present itself in a variety of symptoms that we can watch out for.

Dr. Liz and Marisa Brahney discuss back to school anxiety on the News 12 “Mom’s Minute” segment. Dr. Liz talks parents through the signs to watch out for, and strategies for you to help your child with their transition. Going back to school may be a common cause of stress among our children, but Dr. Liz offers a number of ways to help your kid ease into the school year and have a smooth transition!

Taking the Stress out of the New School Year

Check out my article with “The Autism Notebook” for the September issue!

The focus is on back to school transition and how to help parents of children with special needs ease the nervousness that comes with a new school year. I share a few strategies to help make the beginning of a new year pleasant and easy!

Click here to read the article

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"Dr. Liz is the best! Our family was directed to her by our Pediatrician to assist with figuring out severe mood changes, severe anxiety, strange new fears and food aversion that had come onto one of our children literally overnight. After just a couple of visits, she suggested that the issues may actually be rooted in a physical issue and suggested we immediately take our child to be swabbed for strep, because Dr. Liz suspected PANDAS (a pediatric autoimmune disorder brought on by strep). The same Pediatrician that suggested Dr. Liz would not do the swab (they do not believe in PANDAS and we no longer go there) but I took my child to my doctor who did the swab and it was positive for strep. When our child went on antibiotics, within 24 hours all symptoms went away and our child was back :-) Dr. Liz then recommended a PANDAS specialist who helped us and our child is in complete remission and is happy and healthy. We are incredibly grateful to Dr. Liz for her knowledge of all things, even the most remote and unusual and for helping us so much! Thank you!"
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"The various psycho-educational testing Dr. Liz conducted on our son gave us critical clues about where his learning strengths and weaknesses lie so that his needs could be better addressed at home and school. Moreover, because of their warm, kindhearted personalities, both Dr. Liz and her associate, Stephanie, formed an immediate bond with my son. He eagerly looks forward to his weekly therapy sessions. We are so lucky Dr. Liz came into our family's lives when she did! For stressed-out families trying to help their children as best they can, she is a calming voice of reason!"
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"Thank you, Dr. Liz. Although we have told you countless times, it will never feel enough. You have listened when J could barely speak and continued to listen when he was sad, angry and confused. You've challenged him and directed us in our roles as parents. You've helped J face his fears while the list evolved and changed, and yet you've stayed committed to 'the course.' We pray that your children realize that time away from them is spent helping children learn and that vulnerability is a sign of strength and bravery."
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"My son was admitted to an Ivy League school when only 2 years ago, you assessed him and saw his struggles, his Dyslexia. We are grateful that he no longer has to carry that deep feeling of inadequacy or shame that must have kept him so self conscious and from reaching his potential. He has the PERFECT program for him. He has A's in high math and economics. He became a Merit Scholar, a Boys State legislature, the HEAD captain of the football team and help a job ALL while studying and managing his classes and disability. I am PROUD of you, a young doctor, who knows and sees the vulnerability of children and helps them recognize "it's NO big deal" God bless."
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