Phoebe Prince’s Death: A New Look At Bullying
April 8, 2010 · Posted in Bullying, Child Abuse, Communication, Discipline, K-5 Kids, Media, Mental Health, Parenting, Pressure on Children, Relationships, Social Action, Technology, Teens · Permalink · Comments (1)

bullyingPhoebe Prince, the high school girl who hung herself last week, was purportedly “bullied” to death. Tortured is more like it. Hounded, cursed, humiliated in school and on-line. Defining bullying clearly is critical. Many adults think of bullying as a rite of passage in childhood. Clearly there is a difference between being picked last in gym class and being targeted by an individual or group of kids whose aim is to intimidate and shame.  Today’s landscape for children is also markedly different in that Facebook and email amplifies and exacerbates the intensity of peer relationships.We need to take a fresh look at bullying.

“Peer Abuse” is a phrase that more clearly defines the difference between teasing and belittling. “Peer Abuse” includes not only the physical aggression most associate with bullying, but also the verbal and emotional abuse that are a part of situations like Phoebe’s.

“Peer Abuse” are repeated acts over time of physical assault, psychological manipulation, name calling and using social power to ostracize an individual or group. This goes against our commonly held belief that bullies are loners, having been rejected socially. New research shows that it is often popular kids that use subtly abusive tactics to put down others to maintain their social status. Becoming the victim of malicious bullying can happen for a variety of reasons.

The message here for parents is that any of our children can, and most likely will be aggressive or cruel to other children at some point. Make this an open discussion in your family: Model respectful behavior, take seriously claims that your child is being bullied, talk about the pressure and responsibilities that come with popularity. Teach your child to speak up and stand up if someone is being abused. Adults need to do the same. The stakes are too high to be complacent.

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Can’t Spank? Then Scream.
February 23, 2010 · Posted in Child Abuse, Communication, Discipline, Fatherhood, K-5 Kids, Mental Health, Parenting, Relationships, Teens · Permalink · Comments (1)

screamingThe New York Times article, For Some Parents Shouting is the New Spanking, by Hillary Stout,  bravely shines the light on a slightly taboo topic. In many parenting circles, spanking is a discipline tool of the past.Whether or not parents actually resort to spanking is another story.

When it comes to screaming, however, it often seems accepted as a matter of course. Everyone  has a reflexive, knee jerk stance based on family of origin. If you came from a family of screamers, yelling might feel completely normal. Many people feel it is an ethnic rite or genetically encoded behavior. Others remember their parents yelling and screaming and the fear that it engendered. These parents do a yeoman’s job of controlling their tempers, but nevertheless find themselves overtaken by fury and frustration at times. Some grew up with simmering issues but no communication, so “letting it all out” can feel like a healthier way.

The problem is that yelling and screaming can feel so damn good while you are doing it. You feel powerful, like you are someone to be reckoned with, self-righteous and entitled.  After all, what human being can cope with the amount of badgering, whining, and defiance that kids dish out. In actuality, the desire to yell actually comes from the opposite place: a place of helplessness, feeling overburdened and incompetent. Screaming and yelling bring false empowerment. True power is when parents control themselves, for example, putting their child in their room without yelling or ranting or being able to take away privileges in a three word sentence like “No TV tomorrow!!”

Unfortunately, the nature of children and the culture we live in has the deck stacked against parents. Kids need repeated reminders, often years of reminders to do things like saying please and thank you, coming to the dinner table and not smashing their siblings. Our culture is all about getting what you want by taking no prisoners.  Given those forces, staying respectful calls for a kind of determination, focus and self control that seems only a zen master could muster. The good news is that self control can be learned. Start with this rule. Screaming, name calling, ranting and shaming is NOT ALLOWED. It is a boundary violation and something to avoid. Remember, it is not our right as a parent.

Since most people are not zen masters, realistically you probabaly will yell or scream when you are in your most helpless and overwhelmed state. Treat it as if you had hit your child. After you calm down, apologize. Remind them that it wasn’t OK, and that you are really focused on learning to control that behavior, just like they are.

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EMDR, A Powerful Therapuetic Process
November 3, 2009 · Posted in Child Abuse, EMDR, Mental Health, Parenting, Therapy · Permalink · Comments (1)

kh-brain-Vitruvian-Man-brain3Clinicians at Soho Parenting have been providing the therapuetic technique of EMDR for nearly a decade.  We are constantly awed by the results. EMDR is one of the most important discoveries in the field of psychotherapy in the last twenty years.  It is hard to describe EMDR without sounding like a “new age” nut, so first the results-and then the description of the process.

A two year old child who had seen the twin towers fall on 9/11 experienced intense tantrums ever time she heard sirens for weeks afterwards. Her mother was desperate to help her. The little girl came for EMDR, and after one session the tantrums stopped.

An adult man having trouble controlling his anger and sarcasm does EMDR in regards to losing his father when he was eight years old. In the EMDR therapy he discovers that he has been angry at himself for saying something to his dad before he died. His entire anger-ridden exterior melts and he reports two months later that he has not felt that constant agitation anymore. His wife expresses a gigantic change in their relationship.

A woman who had been in talk therapy for 15 years does EMDR for 10 sessions about childhood sexual abuse and finally feels forgiveness for herself and even for her father. She is able to move ahead in her life – opens a business, maintains a stable relationship – things she had not been able to do before.

Interested? EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is based on the knowledge that the two hemispheres in our brain have very different functions. Simply put, the left hemisphere is the logical, analytical, verbal part of the brain. The right hemishere governs our bodily processes like breathing, heart rate, and our “fight or flight” response –it is the more “emotional side” of the brain. When we experience something frightening or upsetting, our right brain goes into high gear and our left brain quiets down. So the experience is “held” in the right brain. Talking (left brain) about the experience can be helpful in understanding the narrative, but it does not release the emotions, bodily experiences and interpertiatons of the event that the right brain holds…still following?

EMDR makes a connection between your left and right brain by alternately sending a small signal to the right and left brain while focusing on the exact memory or feeling. You can listen to beeps on head phones or hold onto small pulsars that buzz alternately, right, left. It is a very targeted and specific protocol. As the session proceeds, the tangle of emotions, thoughts and sensations becomes untangled and integrated and the person experiences distinct relief.

Here is another way to understand it.  For those of you who run–often times when you go out for a jog there is something on your mind that you are chewing over – a fight with someone, a problem you need to solve, etc. You notice after your run that you feel better, that something felt figured out or you have even forgetten what you were obsessing about.  Endorphins are important, but think about running-left, right, left, right – feet hitting the ground. Alternating signals to the right and left brain. Something about that bilateral stimulation seems to help you resolve or move on from upsetting thoughts.

Those are the basic mechanics of EMDR. It is a well-researched, effective method for dealing with PTSD and trauma:

“The Department of Defense/Department of Veterans Affairs Practice Guidelines have placed EMDR in the highest category, recommended for all trauma populations at all times. In addition, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies current treatment guidelines have designated EMDR as an effective treatment for PTSD (Foa, Keane, Friedman, & Cohen, 2009) as have the Departments of Health of both Northern Ireland and Israel (see below), which have indicated EMDR to be one of only two or three treatments of choice for trauma victims. The American Psychiatric Association Practice Guideline (2004) has stated that SSRI’s, CBT, and EMDR are recommended as first-line treatments of trauma.”

We can attest to undergoing EMDR ourselves and have practiced it for years.  It is a fast, useful and results-oriented therapy that has made a tremendous difference in many peoples lives.

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Questions About The “Perfect Mother” Who Drove High and Drunk
August 11, 2009 · Posted in Child Abuse, Mental Health, Parenting · Permalink · Comments (3)

175649281_b91b4031bbThe unfolding story of Diane Schuler becomes more disturbing each day. Trying to make sense of the incomprehensible, I try to decide what is the worst part of the story. The idea that she was involved in her brother’s three children’s death? The knowledge that the surviving boy’s whole life story will be determined by this event?  The fact that this woman had 10 vodkas and marijuana in her system and drove with five children in the car? The children’s experience in the car right before the crash? Perhaps it is just the overwhelming level of denial that must have existed in this family.

I keep trying to to hold on to my compassion. While attempting not to judge or feel disdain I find myself feeling sad for Diane Schuler.  How much energy must have gone into keeping the facade of the “perfect mother”. What inner turmoil would lead one to renounce all responsibility, protectiveness, and the cherishing of life? What could have made her obliterate herself with drugs and alcohol while driving with five children who she loved?

I wish I had the answers but all I have are questions.

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Michael Jackson: A Cautionary Tale
June 30, 2009 · Posted in Child Abuse, Media, Parenting · Permalink · Comments (3)

michael-jacksonAs the days go by since Michael Jackson’s death I find myself feeling sadder and sadder rather than more settled.  I am one year younger than Michael, so moved through the decades with him from preteen crush, to his music flowing inside like blood, crazy on the dance floor fun, to watching his desperate descent.

The train wreck that became Michael Jackson as a fun house mirror reflection of our culture of celebrity makes me sad too. But I find my heart connecting to little Michael, 6 years old, ten years old, 14 years old. Feeling pressured and pushed by his father in particular–ridiculed, idolized, humiliated, worshipped– where fame and the exterior became the shell outside a very ill, sad, and lonely little boy.  Michael Jackson as an adult is the the poster child for child abuse.  His image is the outward projection of the inside of a victim of abuse. Distorted, stuck at different ages, part boy, part girl, man, woman, predator, victim, monster, fragile being.

If there is a cautionary tale here for us mortals it is to check our desires to push our children and to use them to fulfill our desires for validation, attention, self worth. Get help if your temper, anxiety or depression is mounting.  Think hard about the criticisms that can fly  when we as parents are feeling anxious or angry or overwhelmed. Keep the fight up against the cultural pull toward perfection, financial success, fame, and beauty being the goals for happiness.

I hope he is peaceful now.

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Protecting Your Children from Sexual Abuse
May 21, 2009 · Posted in Child Abuse, Parenting · Permalink · Comments (2)

images-2“Babysitter is Charged With Sexual Abuse of 3 Boys.”  A 21 year old college student, Jonathan Then, “manny” to many families in the Manhattan-Brooklyn area is the purported perpetrator. He has also volunteered in 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms and coached childrens’ sports teams. Two young boys told their parents about his inappropriate behavior and they called the police. Many other children then reported the same thing about Mr. Then.  This is a parent’s nightmare and a confusing and traumatic experience for a child.

The possibility of sexual abuse by a babysitter, male or female, is never that far away from our awareness. It takes a certain leap of faith to allow a stranger to be alone with our child at all. Of course, we all want to trust in the people close to our children and for the most part we can, but in reality unfortunate things will happen. What we can control is empowering our children to be open with us about the topic of bodies and sexuality. Here are some important things you can do from toddlerhood on to make sure children feel that they have a trusted and safe adult to come to for comfort and information.

Anyone who has been in a mother’s group with us knows we stress how important it is to talk to your children about this topic.  We know that this can be  hard for people who grew up without that kind of open dialogue. Bodies and sexuality are tender and sometimes embarrassing topics for all of us. But when you think of the brave boys who told their parents about their babysitter, you can see the importance of letting your child know that they can speak to you about anything and everything.

Here are some suggestions about encouraging openness:

Start young.
As soon as your child is toilet training you can begin an open, funny, and honest approach to talking about the body. Teach them about how their bodies work, and about their private parts. As your children continue through the preschool years there will be many times when your honest straightforward manner teaches them important lessons.

Take it on.
Your little boy is in the tub and gets an erection. “Look Mommy it’s sticking out!” Instead of ignoring it, or even telling him not to talk about things like that, here’s your opening! “Yeah, your penis IS sticking out. Sometimes penis’ get hard and stick out. It feels good and tickly. That happens to all boys.” Finito.

Don’t shame them.
You walk in the room and your four-year old daughter and her friend are naked and giggling hysterically and yelling, “We are bumping butts!” After closing your dropped jaw and getting the girls dressed you can address this head on with no shame or humiliation, but with clear rules. ” I know it felt fun to play bumping butts, but the rule here is that we don’t touch our friends private parts. Even if we like to. So we are going to keep our clothes on on play dates.” I would even talk to your daughter privately and remind her that she can touch her own vagina but not someone else’s. I know, I know, this is hard stuff, but when you get more comfortable it will feel more natural.

Teach them.
Teach them boundaries and that saying no is important.  If anyone ever touches them or asks them to do something that makes them feel yucky or funny they should come and tell you.  You will help them out with it.

Answer their questions.
One of the best gifts a parent can give their child is the ability to feel comfortable asking questions about sex. A group member once spoke about her sixth grade graduation party.  “While playing spin the bottle a boy put his tongue in my mouth. A few minutes later I went to find my mom. ‘Timmy R just put his tongue in my mouth!’ She answered with a totally straight face. ‘That is called French kissing and if you don’t like it ask him not do it.’ Hmmm…I do remember Timmy R with fondness so I guess it wasn’t that bad. But I got a message loud and clear-it was my body and I made the rules with boys.”

The sad but true fact is that we cant always protect our children. But we can teach them how to not only enjoy and understand thier bodies but also how to protect them.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/09/nyregion/09arrest.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=baby%20sitter%20is%20charged&st=cse

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