As a child, Jodee Blanco was a victim of bullying. As a best-selling author, author of the National Catholic Educational Association’s Anti-Bullying Survivor Series and expert on bullying, Blanco empowers families to identify, cope with and prevent bullying.
Editor’s Note: Jodee Blanco, author of Please Stop Laughing at Me, is a guest writer for Peanut Butter & Grace. To read more about Blanco’s journey and work with the National Catholic Education Association, see the end of this article.
by Jodee Blanco
As a former victim of bullying who travels the nation’s schools sharing my story to motivate awareness, I meet many distraught parents who want advice on how to help their bullied, ostracized child. I ache for them because I remember what my own mom and dad went through never knowing from one day to the next what kind of shape I’d be in when I got home from school.
If you’re a parent, here are some guidelines on the two types of bullied students, the signs your child may be hurting, the most common mistake parents sometimes make, and how to help your child find hope.
This is one in a two-part series on finding ways to address bullying for Catholic families.
The Two Types of Bullied Students: The Overtly Bullied Child and the “Invisible Student”
The first is the child who’s overtly bullied in ways such as teasing, taunting, verbal and physical harassment, intentional exclusion, being laughed at and put down constantly, gossiped about, digitally bullied, among other forms of purposeful unkindness.
The second type is what I call the “invisible student,” the child who may not be bullied per se, but who’s treated as if he/she doesn’t exist, who isn’t necessarily consciously exluded, but who no one thinks to include in anything either. It’s the student who’s simply not on their classmates’ social radar. This is the child who goes through school feeling unnoticed and lonely.
Being an “invisible student” is sometimes more damaging in the long-term because if you’re overtly bullied, you can say to yourself, “There’s something wrong with them.” Whereas if you feel like you don’t exist, you may falsely conclude, “There’s something wrong with me.” For many kids, that conclusion will stick with them their whole lives. That’s one of bullying’s biggest dangers — its effect on adulthood.
The Signs Your Child May Be Hurting from Bullying or Exclusion
Some are obvious and exactly what you’d probably expect. Others are subtle … and surprising. The following are signs and questions to prompt awareness and consideration.
- Inexplicable bursts of anger: Does your child blow up at the least provocation?
- Overreaction to normal, daily frustrations: Does your child overreact to people and situations that never would have bothered him/her before?
- Faking illness to avoid going to school or making themselves sick
- Impaired immune system, frequent illness: The constant stress and sadness from bullying and exclusion can weaken your child’s immune system. This coupled with a child’s wishing him/herself sick to get out of school can be a powerful combination.
- Sudden change in weight: Has your child started gaining or losing weight at an alarming rate?
- Despondency or depression: Is your child sad, lonely, unmotivated?
- Change in grades: Has your child’s grades gone down, or way up: Bullied kids sometimes immerse themselves in academics as an escape, and then when they realize that even with straight A’s, they’re still lonely, they can spiral into a dark place.
- Desperate attempts to win friends: Has your child began succumbing to peer pressure, perhaps not including old friends whom they’d always played with before?
- Moodiness: Is your child sullen one moment, obstinate the next?
- Distractedness: Is your child unfocused and preoccupied?
Triage for the Bullied Child
The bullied child is bleeding spiritually. A common oversight many parents make is that they become so focused making sure the bullies are punished, that they forget to perform triage on their hurting child first.
One of the best ways to help your child combat the sadness of struggling to fit in is to find a new social outlet for them, someplace where they can engage in an organized activity with other kids the same age and forge meaningful friendships outside of school. It will give your child something to look forward to and boost their confidence. The more confident a child is, the less of a target they’ll be.
Additionally, bullied students often emit a subtle desperation for friendship that makes their peers uncomfortable. Once your son or daughter begins making some new friends, it can reduce feelings of desperation and lead to positive results with classmates. Park districts, dance studios, community theater programs, local public libraries, and chambers of commerce are good places to start to find confidence-building activities and to forge new friendships. You also can ask the next closest local parish if your child could join their youth group. The key is that your child experiences a fresh start with a new group of kids.
Coming up: Working in Compassionate, Productive Partnership with Schools
My next article will be on how to handle the bully and work with the school in compassionate, productive partnership. Traditional punishment doesn’t work. It only makes an angry child angrier. Bullying is a cry for help. I’ll address how to answer that cry in a way that helps everyone: the bully, the bystander and the victims.
As Catholics, we need to remember that compassion is our greatest weapon in combatting cruelty. I promise that if there’s a child mistreating another child at school, it’s not an act of hatred, it’s a cry for help. Compassionate forms of discipline that help the bully heal through building their empathy is the secret to transforming hearts. Stay tuned!
Jodee Blanco is the author of four books on bullying, including the seminal New York Times bestseller Please Stop Laughing At Me, which has become required reading in Catholic schools across the country. She is also the author of a series of books on bullying for the National Catholic Educational Association, known as NCEA. She travels to schools, sharing her story to save lives, and has spoken to over a half-million people worldwide. Her work inside schools is based on core Catholic values of compassion, tolerance and forgiveness. For more info, visit www.jodeeblanco.com