By Elaine Wilson
Oct. 2, 2009
I got a call from my daughter’s school the other day, the one every parent dreads. My daughter’s teacher was calling me to point out some “behavioral issues” my daughter had been having for several weeks.
I decided to have a one-on-one with my 7-year-old to see what was going on. She’s generally a very happy kid and normally breezes through school without any major problems. Turns out her best friend from last year had been ignoring her at recess and she was devastated. My daughter’s shy and it’s tough for her to make new friends so this was a huge hit to her ego.
I decided to use a visual technique I picked up at DoD’s family readiness conference last month. Trevor Romain, a noted children’s author and advocate, had described several methods he uses to help military children that I thought were pure genius.
Following Romain’s example, I took a dollar bill and asked my daughter what is was worth. “A dollar,” she said. I then crumpled it up, threw it on the floor and stomped on it for a while. I picked it up, smoothed it out and asked her again what it was worth. “A dollar,” she said.
I explained to her that no matter what happens to her in life, her self-worth and value never change. The visual helped keep her engaged in the conversation and, more importantly, understand the concept of self-worth.
Romain had a few techniques for dealing with bullies as well.
He described a visual he often uses to help those being bullied. He first puts a toy mouse he calls Coco into a jar. He sprays the jar with silly string until it’s covered. And when he takes Coco out, he’s untouched.
Romain explains to children that Coco’s untouched because of an invisible shield he has around him. Children can shield themselves from mean comments just as Coco shielded himself from the silly string, he said.
The other visual he uses involves a bag or backpack. He starts off describing a bully who has 12 siblings and chaos at home. In his visual, the bully is carrying the bag.
“I’m new at the school,” he said. “I’m really scared. I’ve got butterflies and I’m the first person that [the bully] sees. She’s angry. She’s frustrated. So what happens is she starts being mean to me, hitting me, being horrible.”
The bully passes the bag off to the victim.
“What’s really happening is she’s passing her problem on to me,” he continued. “She has unloaded. She feels much better. Now I’m walking around carrying [her] problems. I don’t even know who she is!”
The victim could end up carrying these problems around for a day, for a month or for 40 years, Romain said.
“What I have to do is … go to a school counselor, a therapist, a parent or somebody that I trust … and I need to say, ‘I have this problem. Can you help me with it?’”
The bag is then passed to the adult helper.
By passing the problem on, the victim won’t be carrying around the burden, or bag, anymore, and the adult can help the bully so she won’t pick on others.
Romain, who often works with military children, said he’s surprised by the frequency of bullying he hears about within the military.
“What we have to do is figure out how to have them be compassionate and understand what’s going on with the kid next to them,” he said.
I really appreciated Romain’s tips on parent-child communication and plan to use them every chance I get.
For more on Romain, visit MilitaryOneSource.com. He has a series of children’s books there, including “Bullies are a Pain in the Brain” and “Taking the Duh out of Divorce.” Or, go to www.trevorromain.com.
For a related article, go to Author Helps Military Children Cope