Laura Martocci Ph.D.

You Can’t Sit With Us

Back to School: Packing Your Emotional Backpack

Resources for your child (and for you)

Posted Aug 25, 2017

As the days begin to grow shorter, and “Back to School” notices become more urgent, questions about “first-day” outfits start to claim our children’s attention--as does a vague, unarticulated dis-ease about the judgments of peers.  What  if the outfit is ‘wrong’? What if this year s/he is mocked, left sitting alone at a lunch table, laughed at in the hallway, or discovers cruel texts on her/his phone?   

If you, as a guardian, become concerned about your child’s social experiences this year, you may be overwhelmed by the number of sites offering resources and assistance. Though well-intended, many of them are not regularly updated, and/or offer rudimentary information that is, by now, well-known. Below, I list sites that are particularly useful—to parents and teens—and contain up-to-date resources.   A premier site for hands-on advice on every aspect of bullying  A resource for every aspect of bullying  The government's official site  A watchdog site listing bullying laws state by state   Cyberbullying Resources  For LAWS on cyberbyllying   LGBTQ resources   LGBTQ resources

All these sites will support your child’s needs / your advocacy as you negotiate her or his pathway through social cruelty. 
One thing they will not do, however, is help you with is your own memories / feelings that may re-emerge around your child’s experiences. 

Many of us harbor cruel childhood memories, yet have no sense that these past emotional wounds affect how we respond to our child. Witnessing the pain of our children-- the shutting down and withdrawal—reawakens a host of feeling-traps, and may cause us to respond in disproportionate ways.  Are you more aggressive?  Or are you overly-solicitous, but somewhat numb?  Do you yourself feel more fragile, as old insecurities crowd the fringes of your day-to-day life?  What do these responses imperceptibly communicate to your child, who is negotiating his / her own sense of shame and rejection? 

As adults, we are caught up in our child’s experiences, and likely to subsume our own pain under the heartache we feel on their behalf.  Yet we may find ourselves recalling old slights or mulling over ‘long-forgotten’ rejections. When our own child’s experiences awaken slumbering memories, it is likely we plumb them for wisdom—how did we handle it?  (Or, we counsel them from hindsight, sighing over what we wish we had done). Either way, this web of feelings makes its way into the vortex of dis-ease we feel as we try to support our child.

Self-reflection (perhaps coupled with an extra glass of wine) has a limited ability to resolve the shame/pain buried in your past;  to change your relationship to the experience.  Sharing with friends—something women are much more inclined to do—may begin the process, as you are required to re-create the whole picture, to fill in details, and to answer "why you didn’t do ‘x’? Or tell ‘y’?"  My book My Bullied Past:  Why Does it Still Hurt? prompts even further untangling of this web of feelings. Written in response to the countless stories of school-yard bullying shared by adults, it offers writing prompts that facilitate a shift in your relationship to buried pain. Negotiating your own experiences involves re-narrating stories, unpacking and re-shaping memories from last century, last decade, or even last month (for example, you may begin to position yourself as a ‘survivor’ rather than a ‘victim.’)

No matter how you begin to shake out the emotions trapped in your memories, your own process allows you to become a richer resource for your child. Perhaps this means something as straightforward as prompting her or him to keep diaries or ‘journal’ about events in productive, non-judgmental ways. Or it may mean professional counseling for you, as well as for her/him.  As you address you own experiences, you will likely develop a more self-possessed ability to help your child draw boundaries, to advocate on their behalf, and/or a deeper capacity to forge connections, bonding in ways that your own pain/anger/withdraw prevented. 

As you support your child, do not forget to take care of yourself. 
Taking care of yourself is taking care of your child.