Prevention101

Why is my child being bullied?

Experts do not exactly understand why some students are targeted as victims and others are not. When we look at research, physical characteristics are not clear indicators. Unusually tall or short children, children with braces or glasses, and children with freckles or weight problems are often teased, but this does not mean they will become a serious and persistent victim of bullying. However, studies show that the best indicator for whether or not a child will be targeted is usually how they react to teasing. 

Bullying is about power. If a bully teases a child because he or she is much shorter than the other children, but that child shrugs it off and doesn’t seem bothered, then that child is not a likely victim. A child who is teased and runs out of the room crying has shown the bully that he or she has power over the child. 

Adults blessed with children who are very sensitive, kind hearted souls know it is virtually impossible to tell such a child, “Don’t react, don’t cry, don’t be upset.” This is at odds with the child’s biological reality. Shy and anxious children are shy and anxious. They can eventually outgrow it and get past it, but it is in their genes. Not reacting is very difficult for them. 

Additionally, it is sometimes easier for children and even adults to tolerate girls being reactive rather than boys. A girl being sensitive and a crier is more accepted while a boy who is sensitive and cries easily does not go over well with his peers. What can we do to help our children and our students who are victims? 

First and foremost, we must validate them. They need to hear us say that whatever is being done to them it is not justified, and they need to believe us when we say this. They need to know we believe no one has the right to make other people feel devalued or unimportant. Whatever has happened, whether it was their snack that was stolen yet again or something they did and people made fun of them, nothing justifies the bullying behavior. Most importantly, they need to know it isn’t their fault. 

After validation, we now have to say to the victim, “How do we help situations like this in the future?” Sometimes, the best option is careful planning. We can encourage them not take out their really yummy snack and have everybody bother them about sharing it. We can show them how to keep their homework in a place where someone cannot grab it. It is important that the children understand these safeguards are not because it’s their fault that the bullies act as they do, but because the only thing a person can change is what he or she does. We must teach our children that they can only control their actions and are not responsible for the actions of others. 

Related to reactions, sometimes, we have to teach our children to be really good actors and actresses. We have to help them understand that, like actors, how we feel on the inside doesn’t always match what we show on the outside. If a child is Abe Lincoln in the President’s Day play, he or she has to stand tall, stiff, and straight with the stovepipe hat on, even though inside he or she might be shaking and nervous. This is the same thing we have to teach our victim children to do when they get tormented and feel as though they are going to react. Children need to know it is okay to have those feelings inside, but they should try to think about their favorite superhero or movie character so they can act stronger or braver than they feel just for a minute until they can get themselves to a safe place. 

Some victims benefit from attending social skills groups and learning social skills such as how to have conversations, how to break into a conversation, how to go beyond some of their reactivity and shyness, and how to deal with conflict in social situations. All of that can help. 

While there are many strategies we can teach our children who are being bullied, we should never do any of that without first validating that we understand how painful this is for victims and emphasizing that it’s not their fault. Bullies make victims feel insignificant and make them believe something is wrong with them. The best defense is to help these children believe in themselves and see that the fault lies with the bully and not them.

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(Article is based on an interview with Dr. Rona Novick for Operation Survival’s Prevention101series)

My child is hanging around a bad crowd – what can I do?

All parents worry about the influence other children have on their own children. And all parents want to protect their children from negative influences. But when parents tell their child not to be friends with another child, it usually has the exact opposite effect. Pointing out that another child is a bad influence creates resentment and anger. So what should an adult do when a child has started hanging out with individuals who are having a negative influence? 


First, we must consider what creates bonds between people. In general, it is our commonalities that bind us together. When we have something in common with somebody, we think, “Oh, I like that person. She gets me. We have the same interests.” If a child gravitates toward friends who are interested in smoking, hanging out on the streets late at night, or other negative or risky behaviors, that means the child feels accepted by those people and may have some common interests or, in many cases, some common pain. 

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What Causes Depression? Can It Be Prevented?

There are many different types of depression, and the causes for depression are varied and extensive. Depression could be the result of chemical imbalances in a person’s brain. Medication can help with these imbalances to reduce the symptoms, or sometimes, to relieve them completely.  Even when the depression is situational, the depression does not always show up at the time the causative event occurs. This makes determining the reason for depression difficult. 

For example, a five-year-old child loses her mother. We know such a loss can have a profound effect on a child’s psychological development, but the effect on the child, and the potential resultant depression, might not show up for many years. In this situation, it might be difficult to determine the cause of the depression when it appears, but once the history is known, the cause is fairly straightforward. 

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How Can I Help Someone Who’s Being Bullied?

When discussing bullying it is important to raise the issue of bystanders. Bystanders are present in at least eighty percent of bullying episodes. This percentage increases when we consider that people take pictures and record incidents on their phones and then share them through text messages and social media. Thus about ninety-nine percent of all bullying happens with an audience, typically an audience of peers. 

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How Do I Deal With Difficult Parents?

At some point in a school year, a teacher will encounter a difficult parent. A difficult parent is someone who doesn’t believe or trust the teacher and blames the school for any problem their child is having. These parents believe their child is perfect even though the child might be failing academically or having real challenges with behavior. 

How can teachers approach parents like this? Shimon Waronker, EdD, experienced a situation in which a team of teachers was having difficulty communicating with a particular parent whose child was troubled, both academically and behaviorally, and the parent maintained that the situation was all the teachers’ faults. The parent truly believed the teachers were ganging up on her blameless child.

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Should the schools be talking to our children about drugs

There has always been a debate about whether we should expose children who are clueless about drugs and substance abuse to information about these sensitive topics. There are powerful arguments for both sides of this issue but in a school setting, where children are not segregated according to their levels of innocence, it may be necessary to expose the more innocent students to this information in order to inform and protect those who are engaging in risky behaviors. Dena Gorkin, CPP,  believes it is better to inform innocent children than to leave the exposed kids unprotected.

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What can I do to prevent cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is one of the most dangerous forms of bullying for the simple reason that online we are given the luxury of anonymity and we are often our worst selves when we are anonymous. We are angrier and meaner, and we do and say things we would never do or say in person. It’s easy to make cruel remarks to others when you don’t have to do it to their faces.  

For better or worse, anything published online is public and permanent. These are two important ‘p’ words that today’s generation does not understand. They will say “I deleted it”, but it doesn’t matter if we deleted something from our devices. Once it is out there in the cyber world, it exists forever in the public domain. 

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Should I Refuse to Let the School Evaluate My Child

One of the most challenging situation parents can find themselves in is when the school principal or teacher believes their child has a learning disability and perhaps requires special education intervention. Unfortunately, a learning disability is seen as a stigma by many parents and their response is predictably, “No, my child is normal. My child does not have special needs. How dare you say something like that about my child?!” The reality, however, is that each child is different; each child has his or her own special needs.

A child can be gifted but still require special education services. Each child needs to be able to have his or her needs met, and different learners learn at different paces and have different abilities. Parents need to remain open to the fact that the feedback from the school is likely correct. Maybe the child does need help, and parents need to consider how they will avail themselves of the resources that are out there to help their child.

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Is My Child Using Drugs? How to Spot the Early Warning Signs

The teenage years are delicate years. Typically, teenagers move away from listening to their parents or seeing their parents as the ultimate authority. Beyond that, they view their parents as people who do not understand them or what they are going through, so they look to their peers for validation. Having a conversation with a teenager can be difficult, but this is not unusual and should be expected. Mood swings and emotional outbursts are common in teenagers as well.

Parents often wonder how they can know if their teenager is using drugs when his or her behavior is so erratic under normal circumstances. Parents should look for sudden changes in a teenager’s appearance, hairstyle and friendships, especially if the new friends are very different from the teenager’s previous peers. Pay attention to the pictures teenagers hang on their walls because they could indicate a connection with drug use. They will not be putting up pictures of drug paraphernalia, of course, but rather they will have pictures of people they look up to who are associated with the drug community or with using drugs. The appearance of drug paraphernalia, such as rolling papers, is something else parents should look out for at home.

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Is there a respectful and healthy way to argue in front of our children?

Most parents have heard the adage to “never argue in front of the children.” But this might not always be the best advice, especially if we know how to “argue” in a constructive way. Very few of us are taught how to argue, so when moments of disagreement arise, we cling to our viewpoints and feelings and stop listening. This always leads to trouble, and it becomes a vicious cycle. Rabbi Shea Hecht believes showing children how to discuss, disagree and debate in a way that conveys our ideas to the other person respectfully, might be the greatest tool we ever give children. 

If two adults are engaged in unfair and dirty arguing, then that type of arguing should be out of sight and earshot of children. Arguing that includes name-calling and putting each other down only damages a child’s ability to interact effectively with others. This type of arguing sets a bad example.

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