Wednesday, January 17 , 2018, 2:56 pm | Fair 66º


Alana Walczak: When My Child Is Bullied

I wish this had never happened. Last fall, my daughter was bullied. She’s in first grade, and in the grand scheme of things, the incident was pretty minor. But still, my daughter was targeted, and it breaks my heart.

In her classroom, the children are using online apps to work on math skills. The program is like a game in which the students complete math challenges and earn coins as they advance. Alix was so enthusiastic about this and accumulated many coins for her efforts. We were proud of her, and more important, she was proud of herself.

A few weeks later, a boy in her class learned her password and “stole” all of her coins. As you can imagine, she was distraught. She felt violated. And, we learned that she wasn’t the only girl who was targeted.

Alix’s teacher handled the incident beautifully, and the young boy took responsibility for his actions. But, I’m disappointed that at the age of 6, my daughter’s innocence was sullied.

Children who are bullied experience a wide array of emotions. They can feel anxious and afraid, they may withdraw, or feel very angry and aggressive. Children can also feel embarrassed about being bullied, and may not want to tell anyone about it. They may cry, become defiant, have trouble sleeping or not feel like eating much.

Before she told us what was going on, Alix had several sleepless nights, frequent tummy aches, and most frustrating to a working mom on a tight schedule, she was really slow in getting ready for school in the morning. The signs can be subtle, but we need to keep our eyes — and our hearts — open.

Bullying is a complicated subject. We know that children who experience violence at home or who are abused are both more likely to be bullied and more likely to become a bully.

Certainly, when children witness domestic violence, as more than 60 percent of our CALM clients do, they see adults bullying one another. They see that violence and manipulation are acceptable.

As we all know, children watch and emulate what we do, not what we say. So, if we behave in a violent or manipulative way toward one another, or to our child, we can be sure to see that behavior reflected.

In addition to providing treatment and support to children who have witnessed domestic violence, CALM has resources for schools and parents.

Ann Bryant, known by thousands of school-age children as “the CALM Lady,” is available to speak to your PTA, your faith group or any other community group about bullying and what parents and teachers can do to recognize and prevent it.

Ann regularly presents in the Santa Barbara and Goleta schools about body safety, which includes a discussion about bullying and cyberbullying. Unfortunately, this is a subject familiar to every single child. Each year, after one of Ann’s presentation, teachers hear disclosures about what is going on in children’s lives.

If you’d like to schedule a presentation about bullying or about body safety, click here to request one from CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation).

I’m happy to say that Alix recovered from her experience. After talking with us about it, she confided in her teacher and, with her support, told the boy how she felt when he stole her coins. She used her words to explain that she felt “sad” and really “disappointed” to work so hard on something, only to have it taken away.

She was able to explain that she didn’t like what happened, but she still liked him. The little boy listened, he apologized, and he learned that his actions have consequences.

We are so proud of our strong, brave little girl. I’m thankful that Alix felt confident enough to talk about her experience with us, with her teacher and with her classmate. Throughout the experience, she was believed, she felt supported, and ultimately, she felt whole.

This is my wish for every child in our community.

— Alana Walczak is CEO of the nonprofit CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation), a leader in developing programs and services that effectively treat child abuse and promote healing, as well as programs that help prevent abuse through family strengthening and support. Click here for more information, or call 805.965.2376. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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