Re­spond­ing to bul­lies

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Dear Amy: My 12-year-old son started at a new school, where he has be­come a tar­get for ver­bal bul­ly­ing by a few older guys. The school is do­ing its best to con­trol the sit­u­a­tion. But my son feels a need to re­spond with some funny quips. Do you have any sug­ges­tions?

Eloise

Dear Eloise: Re­spond­ing to bul­ly­ing with a quip of his own might be a way for your son to feel con­fi­dent and pow­er­ful, which is good bully-proof­ing be­hav­ior. He also needs to know when not to quip.

Role-play­ing with your son can help him come up with more strate­gies, be­cause as ev­ery stand-up comic knows, you never open with your new stuff un­til you run it past your mom first.

Sim­ple state­ments such as “What­ever” or “Go find some­one who cares” should be fol­lowed by walk­ing away. Walk­ing away is key here. Re­spond­ing with strong but not ag­gres­sive body lan­guage and eye con­tact will show th­ese bul­lies that your son isn’t afraid.

You should con­tinue to work with the school. Also see safechild.org for more in­for­ma­tion. (March 2004)

Dear Amy: My hus­band has been es­tranged from his fa­ther for al­most 25 years. Ev­ery five years or so, his dad at­tempts to con­tact him, and it usu­ally turns out badly. His fa­ther suf­fers from de­pres­sion and per­haps other men­tal ill­nesses and tends to call when he is not well and hasn’t been tak­ing his med­i­ca­tion. He usu­ally says ter­ri­ble, hurt­ful things.

The last episode was four years ago, and my hus­band fi­nally de­cided to cut off all con­tact.

Our old­est daugh­ter (age 4) has asked my hus­band about his fa­ther, but he just changes the sub­ject.

We both agree that this should not be kept a se­cret, but nei­ther of us knows how to ex­plain it to our kids.

We don’t want our kids to grow up think­ing that they have a grand­par­ent who is a bad guy. How can we ap­proach this?

El­iz­a­beth

Dear El­iz­a­beth: You’d be sur­prised how ac­cept­ing chil­dren are of the truth, if it’s de­liv­ered in a straight­for­ward and sen­si­tive man­ner. At age 4, chil­dren are very cu­ri­ous about fam­ily re­la­tion­ships, as they learn to put branches on their fam­ily tree.

I think it would be good if your hus­band found some pho­tos from his child­hood to show the kids. The next time your daugh­ter asks, he can sit down with her and point out who var­i­ous fam­ily mem­bers are. When he gets to his dad, he should tell your daugh­ter his dad’s name and share a be­nign mem­ory from his child­hood.

When your daugh­ter asks where his dad is now, your hus­band should tell her where he lives. If she asks why he doesn’t see him, he can say sim­ply, “He has a sick­ness that makes him say bad things to me, and I haven’t seen him in a long time.” Then he can tell your daugh­ter that he feels so lucky to be her dad and that he’ll al­ways be there for her, in ev­ery way.

I would add that hav­ing young chil­dren of­ten brings gen­er­a­tions to rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, even if it is an un­easy one. Per­haps your hus­band can de­clare a truce of sorts. (March 2004)

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