All children old enough to go to school, even preschool, become at risk for becoming prey to aggressive other kids. Vulnerability increases when children are less socially skilled, smaller than their peers, or particularly sensitive. Autistic spectrum kids, for instance, tend to play on the outskirts of their social group. Any kids who are different and thereore hover on the periphery of their peer group become easier prey for bullies. Still, even the most socially successful children can become the focus of a bully's unwanted attentions.
Even a single bullying incident can create long-lasting depression, low self-image, emotional hyper-sensitivites and more. These negative reactions can have lifelong impacts, both on the child and on the parents who then are trying to cope with a hyper-emotional son or daughter. While prevention would obviously be ideal, there is much a parent can do to prevent lifelong impacts after a bullying incident or series of incidents.
Once a child has been bullied, what can a parent do?
If a child is verbal, the first line of response for parents who suspect that their child may have been bullied is talking. Sit down together, ask sensitively if someone at school has hurt their feelings, and if so encourage them to tell you about the incident. If they can put words to the feelings they experienced, that's a strong beginning. Crying out the pain with a loving and consoling parent can further the process of washing it away. Warm hugs add the reassurance and emotional soothing that can enable even the most painful emotional wounds to heal.
Ask what and how questions to help your child verbalize as many details as possible about what happened. Sometimes the worst doesn't come out until the last. Talking about the incident a child is likely to first dip just a toe in the waters of openly describing what happened. Only after these waters turn out to be safe is talking about the worst of the incident likely to follow.
DO NOT minimize the incident. Comments like "He probably didn't mean to hurt your feelings," or "Well every school has some mean kids," will potentially discourage a child from telling more.
Instead, encourage a full emotional catharsis. Validate your child's feelings, saying how much you appreciate the child's telling you about the situation and how the feelings are normal and understandable. Appreciate whatever the child did to cope with the situation. Say explicitly that what the bully did was not right.
Once all the details and emotions have flowed and ebbed, end by talking together about what each of you, you and your child, can do to prevent similar incidents from re-occurring.
What if your child is not sufficiently verbal to use a talking catharsis?
Or if talking doesn't seem to help?
If you try talking together and your child still shows signs of emotional distress like depressive emotions, acting badly,regressing to fearfulness and clinging behaviors, there are multiple further options.
In addition there now is a new generation of rapid and highly effective remedies for accessing and eliminating the negative emotional impacts of hurtful incidents like bullying. These techniques go under the general term of energy therapies.
The new frontier of energy therapies.
The Emotion Code, EFT, and EMDR, three of the most well-known of these treatments, are being used successfully to erase the impacts of emotional trauma, including with non-verbal creatures like animals.
You can google for examples of the use of these energy therapy techniques with animals. If they truly are successful with non-verbal animals, the techniques should be able to work similarly with children, including even young and/or autistic spectrum children whose verbal skills and insight abilities are less than what traditional therapies may rely on for effectiveness.
Energy therapy treatments are remarkably rapid. I have watched multiple sessions conducted by Dale Petterson, an independent therapy professional in my office suite who specializes in the use of Emotion Code and other energy treatment techniques. Within one treatment session Dale generally can release the negative trapped emotions of a child or adult who has experienced a bullying or other trauma incident even years prior. I've seen no downsides from treatment.
Research on healing after bullying
Research on energy therapies thus far has been minimal. I've been wary therefore as I have watched now for over a year Dale Petterson's energy treatment methods. I myself am a conventional traditional therapist. By this point however I have seen enough of Dale's treatment interventions and have been so impressed by their healing potentials that I am writing about them in this blog, a public confession of sorts that I do take these alternative treatment methods very seriously.
The clincher for me was watching Dale's work with two young boys.
One had experienced a painful medical situation that left him terrified. Fifteen minutes with Dale and the terror, along with massive avoidance of similar situations (the boy was encopretic, holding in bowel movements and becoming seriously constipated), was totally eliminated. The memory of the painful medical incident remained, but the panic and encopresis were gone.
The second boy was a obviously intelligent second grader who read words but took in no meaning, and consequently scored way below grade level on reading tests. He also was terrified that robbers might enter his house, and was hypersensitive, often crying and getting into fights with his peers.
Dale used energy techniques to identity the source of the boy's difficulties, which turned out to be a bullying incident that had occurred when the boy had been in preschool. As this incident came to the fore, the trapped emotions came out in a sudden flood of tears. Immediately after treatment, the boy's self-confidence returned. He described feeling lighter and happy. The fear of robbers went away. Within a month after treatment the boy's reading level had jumped to two years ahead of grade and among his peers he now regarded himself as popular.
In sum, assuming that they are conducted by a skilled practitioner, the new energy therapy treatments have potential that certainly merits serious research by therapy professionals and exploration by parents looking to help emotionally wounded kids.
Susan Heitler, PhD, A graduate of Harvard and NYU and a Denver clinical psychologist Dr. Heitler has authored multiple publications including From Conflict to Resolution for therapists and, for couples wanting better marriage communication, The Power of Two.
Dr. Heitler's interactive marriage skills website, PowerOfTwoMarriage.com, teaches the skills for relationship success.
Dr. Heitler's most recent book, Prescriptions Without Pills, is both for therapists and for self-help, The prescriptions there offer new ways to sustain feelings of well-being, including how to recover from feelings of depression, anger and anxiety.
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