Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Things I Wish I'd Known: Cancer and Kids


 
 

“It’s hard to ask children to understand the randomness with which cancer arrives, uninvited, or the ambiguity far beyond their years that cancer poses when most adults are struggling to do the same.”
Deborah J. Cornwall

According to the CDC, about 8 million people from around the world die from cancer each year.  Chances are you or someone you know has a loved one who is battling the disease.  It’s a hard issue for any adult to confront and if you’re a parent, it becomes even more difficult.  How do you tell your kids that someone they love has a terminal illness?  And when your loved one passes on, how do you grieve and be there for your child at the same time?  These thoughts can be overwhelming. 

As someone who has lost 3 people to cancer, I immediately identified with Deborah J. Cornwall’s book Things I Wish I’d Known; Cancer with Kids.  I can still recall reading fairy tales to my children and purposely leaving out the part in Cinderella where the mother dies.  I didn’t want them to even imagine that something like that could happen.  However by the time they were ages 2 and 4, I had lost both of my Grandparents as well as my Father and I was at a loss of words as to how to explain it to my children.  I only wish I had access to this book back then.

 
Sharing the News
Talking to your kids about cancer and helping them deal with their own emotions is an issue Cornwall tackles early in her book.  She states that “children are more perceptive than we realize and that the family will be better off with more communication, rather than less.”  She also offers tips on how to share the news such as:

·        Be Proactive – Children are intuitive.  They can sense when something isn’t right either from your mood, tone or a change in routine.  It’s better to tell them what’s going on instead of allowing their imagination to get the better of them.

·        Meet the Child’s Needs, Not Your Own – Cornwall suggests that you communicate with your children since they have fewer resources to understand what’s going on.  My son was young when my father died.  He knew his grandfather had cancer but he lacked the life experience to make sense of it all and therefore began to become afraid that someone else he loved might die.  This in turn gave him tremendous anxiety which led to problems later on. 

·        Be Direct – She states how important it is to be honest and forthright with your children.  In addition she suggests ways to moderate the conversation according to your child’s age.
 

Managing Impact
Managing the impact that cancer has on children’s lives is very important.  Whether it’s a parent, grandparent or sibling, cancer will leave a lasting impression and will undoubtedly change them.  Cornwall recommends principals for managing emotions that tie into a cancer diagnosis.  Furthermore she offers an entire chapter in which she lists a variety of support resources for children and adults ranging from before treatment to grief counseling.

When the Child is the Patient

Things I Wish I’d Known: Cancer and Kids
is also a great resource for parents that are dealing with a cancer diagnosis for their child.  It describes in detail the importance of understanding the diagnosis fast and how to advocate for your child during treatment.  She states, “If your gut tells you something isn’t right, ask the professional caregivers to explain what they are doing and why, and to change it if necessary.  If their answer isn’t satisfactory, it is perfectly acceptable to ask to see a supervising nurse or doctor.” She then offers tips on how to do this effectively. 
Cornwall also writes that we need to remember that “you are the customer of the medical system and should be treated that way.”  I think this is something we often forget in this country.  If you challenge the medical profession, however, they tend to get defensive and advocating for a loved one becomes difficult.  Nevertheless, doctors are humans and humans make mistakes.  My own father’s cancer was misdiagnosed and there is not a day that goes by that I wish I spoke up.

She also talks about how important it is to remember the needs of your other children to avoid feelings of neglect. 

Conclusion
Dealing with a cancer diagnosis is scary and overwhelming.  I strongly encourage anyone who is going through this to seek professional support. Hospice and Grief Counseling helped me and my family tremendously.  Things I Wish I’d Known: Cancer and Kids is a great resource to not only guide you in the right direction but it also serves as a reminder that you and your loved ones are not alone in this battle.


You can purchase this book on Amazon!
http://www.amazon.com/Things-Wish-Id-Known-Cancer/dp/1938842227/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1434706019&sr=8-1&keywords=Things+I+Wish+I%27d+Known+Cancer+and+Kids&pebp=1434706019456&perid=139VSN5BFNJ36XGSQ4SC

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Elementary School and Bullying




Before I tell my story of what our family experienced last year I'd like to go back 35  years for when I was a child.  Life was different in 1978.  Our parents let us outside for the day without supervision.  There were no scheduled play dates or all day summer camps.  I lived in a neighborhood where there were at least 15 kids and we played all day until our parents called us in for meals.  I can remember sledding in the winter, kick-ball in the summer and countless hours of imaginary play.  For the most part, we all got along but there were those days where conflict arose.  What I DON'T remember is; running to my mother every time I had an issue with another kid.  We worked it out on our own and moved on.  As I grew older, I remember two specific days where I encountered a Bully.  I don't remember their names and I barely recall what they said.  However, I do remember standing up for myself and the fact that those two girls never bothered me again. This gave me a tremendous sense of pride. I stood up for myself and won! From that moment, I knew that I could handle anything.

Now lets fast forward to 2014 where the word "Bully" is a buzz word and every school is "cracking down on Bullies".  There are "Anti-Bullying" policies and "Bully Prevention" programs.  The public school in my town has been quoted as saying we have "a zero tolerance for bullies."  However, I've learned this year that their tolerance for such behavior is much higher than they are leading us to believe.  In my town, things have got better for the Bully.  These kids now have the upper hand because they have learned how to work the system.  I can't tell you how many mothers I have talked to that all describe a similar situation:

On the playground, a Bully pushed my child to the ground.  My child stood up and pushed them back.  The Bully became upset and ran to the teacher and my child got in trouble.

I have heard the same story time and time again from other parents.  There are so many things wrong with that statement.  First of all, where was the supervision?  If a school is going to have an "Anti-Bullying" policy then why aren't they watching their students?  If they are not going to properly supervise their students then I firmly believe they should let the children work it out on their own.  In this particular situation, the Bully became empowered and the child that stood up for himself became a victim.

My Story:
I have a son who is my pride and joy. He is outgoing, smart and very funny. These traits he got from his father.  He is also highly sensitive and therefore becomes very upset when someone is mean to him.  When he first began public school he instinctively stood up to the Bullies;  if someone pushed him, he pushed back and I remember thinking that I would never have to worry about him.  Then, he began getting in trouble and the teachers started telling him that everything his parents were teaching him was WRONG.  They told him NOT to hit back and NOT to use unkind words when a Bully started antagonizing him. They advised him to talk to an adult instead.  However, every time he did go to a teacher they told him to ignore it, to walk away and move on.  By 2nd Grade my confident young boy became so confused and distraught that he actually started showing physical signs of anxiety.  He began having facial tics.  A Tic is an uncontrollable spasm in the face, such as blinking of the eyes, flaring the nostrils and opening the mouth.  One of the most common contributing factors to Tics is stress and anxiety. 

By 3rd Grade, his Tics became noticeable to other children and this is where my story begins.  In every school, there are different kinds of Bullies.  There are the Bullies who are aggressive.  They are the ones that will openly make fun of another child, they push, they hit, and they do anything to make themselves feel empowered.  Often, these aggressive Bullies are well known in school.  Every parent has a story about them. 

Then there is the Silent-Bully.  These are the kids who seem to fly under the radar because they are extremely well behaved in front of the teachers.  These children will smile at the teacher one minute while they are quietly insulting a classmate the next minute.  This past year, my son had a problem with both of these types of Bullies.  The first child, the Aggressive-Bully, had been bothering my son and many other children for quite some time.  In fact, by October of 2013, I had been documenting his behavior towards my son and had compiled a list of incidents that were 3 pages long.  The second child, the Silent-Bully, we have had problems with since Pre-School.  I tried to reach out to his mother on several occasions but each time she refused to believe that her son could do anything wrong and she frequently blamed my son for any conflict that came between them. 

When my child approached me and told me about these two boys, my first reaction was to tell him to stand up for himself.  To which my son replied, "I can't.  If I do, then I will get in trouble!"  I knew he was right.  From our experiences with the public school these past 4 years and the stories I've heard from other parents, I knew that we had to conquer this issue a different way.  I started to write a letter to the principal but I didn't send it right away because I was concerned about the repercussions of bringing this all to light.  The mother of the Silent-Bully is a prominent figure in my town.  However, the day after I finished this letter my son came home and told me that the Silent-Bully was making fun of his Tics.  I knew, then, that I couldn't let this go on.  I sent the letter that evening to the principal, outlining with dates, the problems that my son was having with these 2 boys.  I requested that consequences be given to the Aggressive-Bully for frequently assaulting my child. As for the Silent-Bully, I simply asked that his mother be notified and that a letter of apology addressed to my son be written promptly. 

The next day, the school contacted me and said that they would do an "investigation" into the matter.  However, within a week, I learned that my concerns about calling attention to the Silent-Bully and his mother were correct for she immediately responded by bad-mouthing me (and my child) all around town and the principal still hadn't taken any action.  I now felt like I was the one being Bullied.  So, I foolishly tried to reach out to this woman again and confront her about the slanderous accusations she was saying about me and my family.  When I did, she accused me of "harassing" her.  Since that day, whenever I walk by her I am accosted by snickers and dirty looks from her and her children.  If only she spent her energy on being a good role model to her children instead of bad-mouthing me, maybe we wouldn't be in this situation in the first place, but I digress.

I waited weeks for that letter of apology and for the school to notify me regarding the action they were planning to take.  I grew impatient and requested a meeting with the Superintendent.  Two days before this meeting took place; the Principal called my child into his office and made him sign a form stating that HE must stay away from the boys who are bullying him!  I was never notified of this meeting, before or after it took place.  The only reason I found out was because my child was deeply disturbed and upset the next morning. He didn't want to go to school.  He was having trouble breathing and his Tics were out of control.  When I inquired as to what was bothering him, I was completely appalled!  He didn't understand why HE was in trouble and neither did I.  I immediately called the principal and demanded answers.  The Principal's only reply was that the Silent-Bully's mother had complaints too and he thought it would be better if they just "Stayed-Away" from each other.  I didn't send my son to school that day, instead, we spent the day at the pediatrician's office where I was told that he experienced an anxiety attack.

I wrote a letter to the Superintendent, complaining about the Principal.  In this letter, I informed her that I was intending to bring a lawyer to our meeting that week.  It was on this day that I learned for the first time that when you use the word "lawyer" in a sentence it changes everything.  The Superintendent's office pulled out all the stops to try and cancel our meeting.  First they said they "could only meet with me if my husband attended the meeting."  Then, when my husband changed his schedule to accommodate them they tried to cancel again stating that "someone from their party was sick."  I told them that if they didn't meet with me that I would take legal action.  So, they met with me, but it only lasted 5 minutes because they pretended to not know that I was bringing legal council. However, before we left, my lawyer made it very clear that having my child sign a "Stay-Away" plan without my consent was a federal violation of his civil rights. (By the way, I demanded a copy of this form.  On it, there is a line for the Principal's signature, the school counselor's signature and my 9 year olds signature.  On that document there is NOT one place for a parent's signature!  I didn't think it was legal for a 9 year old to sign a document.)

A month later, when their lawyer called my lawyer they labeled the incident as "Mutual Bullying" and said that the "Stay-Away" plan was put in place to assure the safety of all the children involved.  During this time, the Principal of my child's school also tried to ruin my creditability by telling his lawyer that I was walking around the playground "yelling at any kid that bothered my son."  That is an outrageous lie and I am appalled that they would stoop so low in order to get out of a lawsuit. 

It is now a year later and my son now attends a private school. Since this incident he has undergone therapy and his Tics are almost gone.  I still believe that we should teach our children how to stand up to Bullies but I also believe in teaching them empathy so they understand that it's not their fault.  I know for a fact that one of the Bullies he had a problem with comes from a difficult family situation. I have to say, if there is a silver lining to all of this it's that my son and I have become closer.  He knows I have his back and he talks to me about everything! 

Copyright 2014 by Michelle Fiore

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Are we Teaching Our Kids the Right Coping Skills?


Something happened to our generation. We have become a society over scheduling, stressed out, helicopter parents. We are so afraid to let our children outside unsupervised that we are scheduling them for a ton of activities to keep them from being bored.  What is so wrong with being bored?  From boredom comes inspiration; a chance to find out what sparks your interest.

As a child, my friends and I used to pretend to be teachers, scientists, gymnasts, even leaf people!  (Yes, I said leaf people) My point is; these days’ children are rarely seen engaging in imaginary play.  Instead, they’re inside watching TV, playing Minecraft or busy with the structured activities we've signed them up for.

I'm not sure what made us this way. Some blame it on the media and all its coverage on child abductions.  Others think it's a product of a society in which both parents need to work. I'm not sure which theory is correct.  However, I know that I've fallen into the trap myself.

Since my kids were in Pre-School I've signed them up for Soccer, Dance, Hockey, Baseball, Basketball, Football, Lacrosse, Tae Kwon Do, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Violin and Drums!  You name it, they've tried it!  But a few years ago, I realized something wasn't right.  It happened one day, during the summer.  I was so run down from carting my kids to all their activities that I decided it would be better for all of us to have a little down time and I didn't sign them up for any camps.  I pictured a relaxing summer where we I could lounge on my porch and read a book while my kids played in the yard all day.  However, it didn't work out quite that way because my kids didn't have a clue as to what to do with themselves!  I realized, then, that I had conditioned them to wait for the next activity and to follow the adults lead. In the process they forgot how to use their imagination!  I began to hear things like, "What are we doing today?" and   "Where are we going?"  When I informed them that they needed to figure out what to do on their own, you would have thought I said something horrible.  That's when I knew that something needed to change!

Just a few weeks ago, I had a great conversation with my child's school counselor.  She mentioned that she felt that the kids in her school did not have coping skills.  This sparked an intense conversation about whether she thought, as a professional, if this was typical behavior for 9 year old children or if it was a sign of our times.  Her opinion was that it was NOT typical behavior.  “By 9 years of age," she said, "a child should be able to work things out on their own”. 

It is my opinion that we are not giving our children enough opportunities to play among themselves and work out their issues.  Instead, from the constant supervision, we are conditioning them to “tattle” on each other.  I think we need to go back a few generations, and follow our Grandparents lead.  We need to give our children some space to use their imaginations and find out who they are.

 

 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Reading to Your Infant - Tips for New Parents

After reading The New York Times article "Pediatrics Group to Recommend Reading Aloud to Children From Birth" I remembered the first post I wrote for Little Nippers years ago: 



Reading to Your Infant - Tips for New Parents

While I was pregnant with my first child, I can remember watching Florence Henderson on the Today show promoting literacy. I can recall her telling the viewers to read to their kids daily even when they are infants. She said it would foster a love for books and promote communication skills. So being an impressionable first time Mom, I listened to her. Do you know what? She was right! My daughter began talking at a very early age. Before she had reached her 2nd birthday, she had a vocabulary of a 3 year old. My son, who is now in preschool, is currently reading at a 1st Grade level! So, I personally believe that Miss Henderson and all the experts out there who promote daily reading know what they are talking about!

TIPS: I began reading to my daughter during her first month. I found the best time for her was when she just woke from a nap. While she was still in her cradle I read whatever was handy. Sometimes it was a children's book, sometimes it was a newspaper and sometimes it was even Atlas Shrugged! (The book I was reading at the time.) I read until she seemed restless and then I'd pick her up and go about our day. I found that anything that was read with enthusiasm was well received. There were times where she was content for 15 minutes, other times only five. I let her take the lead.

BOOKS: When my daughter was a toddler, one of our favorite books became I'm Gonna Like Me: Letting Off a Little Self Esteem by Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell. It is written for children ages 4-8 but it's such a fun book that I would suggest it for younger children too. Curtis uses repetition and rhyme to show children how easy it is to like yourself even if you give a wrong answer in school or fall down and get hurt. My daughters favorite line was: I'm gonna like me/when I jump up so high/I'll twist and I'll stretch/straight up to the sky because while reading this page I would literally JUMP, TWIST, STRETCH and try to TOUCH THE SKY! My favorite line is: I'm gonna like me/ 'cause I'm loved and I know it/and liking myself/is the best way to show it. I highly recommend this book. It was a favorite in my family for years!

Another favorite book of ours is Micawber by John Lithgow and C.F Payne. This beautifully illustrated book is about a squirrel that discovers the wonders of painting. He is quite the cultured squirrel who regularly ventures to the "palace on Fifth Avenue" (the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and through the windows he admires the various masterpieces on exhibit. It was on one of these excursions that he discovered an artist painting a Monet which inspires him to create his own works of art! "Using his tail as a brush" he opens himself up to a whole new world! This book is both fun to read and hear! And thanks to John Lithgow, my children discovered words like Rembrandt, Monet and "peregrination"! A MUST have for all parents!
 
According to the article from The New York Times "research shows that many parents do not read to their children as often as educators think they should." As a teacher I can affirm that this fact is true.  I would say that only 50% of my students have a regular story time with their parents.  A common excuse that I hear is that they are just too busy or that their child won't sit long enough for a story.  That's why I encourage all parents to start reading to their children while they are young.  Establish a regular story time early. Cuddle up with them and read rhyming books with enthusiasm. Children love the way they sound! They will enjoy the attention and in the meantime you will be promoting a crucial part of their development. 

Copyright 2014 by Michelle Fiore

Saturday, June 21, 2014

My Son's Battle with Tics



A year ago, we discovered that our son had Tics.  For those who are unfamiliar with this disorder, Tics are defined as "a sudden, repetitive, motor movement with numerous successive occurrences."  In my son's case, his Tics involved blinking his eyes multiple times and twitching his mouth.  They are generally considered to occur in some people in times of stress, anxiety or excitability.  There is also a correlation between kids with ADHD and Tics. 

We first noticed my sons Tics during our trip to Disney.  Initially, we thought it was something he was doing on purpose and we asked him to stop!  Then I realized it wasn't intentional and I became quite worried.  I thought maybe it was a mistake to bring him to Disney World.  I even became annoyed with Disney for making the whole experience over stimulating. It's not just amusement rides anymore.  They now have rides with extremely loud music, 3D images and pyrotechnics.  I'm an adult and my nerves were tattered! 

However, when we brought him home the Tics didn't go away and my concern grew.  We took him to his Pediatrician who diagnosed him with Asperger's without any formal testing.  She even recommended medication. When I told her that I wasn't comfortable administering drugs to my 8 year old, she said I was "narrow-minded".  Nonetheless, I went forward with a Neuro-Phych evaluation and it turned out that he did not have Asperger's!  They didn't even understand why his Pediatrician would consider it as a diagnosis for there were no apparent signs or symptoms of that syndrome.  They did say that he had a mild form of ADHD but the primary area of concern was Anxiety.  They recommended therapy and Behavioral Modification.  Therefore, we found a great therapist in town and within a few months his Tics went away.

A year later, however, his Tics were back and they were exceedingly worse!  Not only did his eye's blink but they also rolled back, then he would open his mouth wide and it would twitch constantly.  This pattern would repeat multiple times every hour.  I was terrified!  I immediately made an appointment with a Neurologist.  They were so booked that we had to wait a few months to see him. In the meantime I began to do some research.  If you search for "Children with Tic's" on the web there are countless posts from frightened parents. People blamed this syndrome on everything; high fructose corn syrup, gluten, the strep virus, video games and TV.

In regards to my own child, I started to notice a pattern.  For one, this happened exactly a year later after the first episode.  It was November; a week after Halloween and his birthday party.  I wondered if sugar was the culprit.  I immediately threw away the last of the Halloween candy and any desert like food in our cabinets.  The Tics did not go away. 

Then I considered that it was the Strep virus.  We all had it just a few months ago.  Suddenly, I remembered a segment on the Today show years ago about how a boy who contracted Strep, the infection went to his brain and cause Tics.  I called the doctor to demand that they put him on antibiotics immediately but they dismissed the idea and me as some crazed parent.  I knew they were right. I was acting irrational!  Therefore, I began documenting his Tics.  I wrote when they happened, what he ate and what he was doing when they occurred.

Finally, a month later, we had our appointment with the Neurologist.  I thought, for certain, that he would somehow make this go away.  Unfortunately, my appointment only last 15minutes during which he did not listen to one thing I said.  Instead he hastily threw out a diagnosis of Tourette's syndrome, spent the remainder of our appointment researching drugs on his computer and informed me of the various reactions to each one!  I told him that I wasn't about to put my son on drugs until I got a second opinion.  Once again, I was called "narrow-minded".  Needless to say, I left that office angry.

It was now January and I was no closer to helping my son.  Furthermore, during the holidays I had to endure nosy relatives asking me if there was something wrong with his eyes.  I blatantly ignored them. 

I booked another appointment with a Neurologist in Boston and continued documenting his Tics every day.  I did notice that his Tics were worse while he played 3-D video games.  They also flared up when he ate any sweets.  I began limiting video games to one hour a week and restricted his sugar in-take.  Also, during this time, he was having trouble with Bullies at school. 

The day we saw the Neurologist in Boston was wonderful!  We made it into a family event.  My husband took the day off and we kept both kids home from school.  We drove in early so we could enjoy lunch in the city and after the appointment we planned to go to the Children's Museum.  Even my son was excited. 

The experience with the Neurologist in Boston was completely different.  For one, the doctor spent over an hour questioning us, evaluating my son and assessing the situation.  He came to the conclusion that he did NOT have Tourette's (or Asperger's for that matter) but that his Tics were caused by Anxiety.  He also confirmed that there are other triggers, such as, sugary foods, excitability, 3-D video games and theses triggers are different for everyone.  He told us not to worry about it, that he most likely will grow out of it and he recommended that we continue therapy. 

It is now June and his Tics are almost gone.  They tend to come and go with various triggers.  It is definitely worse during stressful times but I have noticed his diet plays a big role.  I now have him on a 90% Gluten Free diet and I limit sweets.  I also limit video games because that is a trigger too.  Additionally, we learned that he had a vitamin D deficiency so we give him a supplement.  Plus, I discovered a few Homeopathic remedies:


Tic Tamer by Native Remedies

Triple Complex Calm Tonic by Native Remedies

Liquid Calcium Magnesium by Tropical Oasis

I give him the Tic Tamer and Triple Complex Calm Tonic twice a day and the Liquid Calcium Magnesium once a day.  I also try to push liquids because I noticed dehydration is also a trigger. 

Dealing with a Tic disorder is frightening, for the child and the parent.  I hope that this article helps any parent out there that is now dealing with this issue.  Please feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions.  I'd be happy to help and listen.

Copyright by Michelle Fiore




Thursday, June 19, 2014

Losing the Baby-Weight

Let me say, I had the hardest time losing weight after my children were born.  I gained 60 pounds while I was pregnant with both of my kids!  When my first child was born, it was somewhat easier.  I nursed and had plenty of opportunities to take her out for walks.  Two years later, though, after my son was born losing weight became more difficult.  I don't know if it was because I was older, tired or just plain too busy to exercise but the weight stayed on!  A 60lb. weight gain is significant!  I went up 3 dress sizes!

As time went on, I tried everything.  I tried the South Beach Diet, the Zone diet; basically any diet you can think of.  Nothing worked!  Then, I paired dieting with exercise and that didn't work either.  I'd lose weight for a week or two and then gain it back.  I began exercising so much that I injured myself.  Apparently, 5 intense workouts a week was a little too much for me!  I had back problems, knee problems, plus foot and shoulder injuries before I finally stopped.

Then I watched Hungry for Change.  If you haven't seen this documentary yet, I would highly recommend it!  This movie changed my life because it made me think about the way I was eating.



             http://www.hungryforchange.tv/


Instead of "dieting" it talks about focusing on filling your body with good food such as Kale, Spinach, Cilantro, Flax Seeds and Cia Seeds, etc.   "If something has a longer shelf life than you" they say "don't eat it!"  They also promote juicing as a way of giving your body what it needs. When your body gets what it needs, it stops being hungry.  I was ALWAYS hungry and I had low blood sugar issues.  I couldn't get through one day without feeling faint.

So I substituted my regular breakfast of Scrambled Eggs and Toast for a Yogurt Parfait topped with Chia Seeds or a Breakfast Smoothie with Yogurt, Bananas and Spinach.  For snacks I ate Kale Chips or Roasted Chick Peas rather than Cheese, Crackers and Fruit.  Also, I started eating 5 small meals a day, substituting one meal (usually lunch) for fresh vegetable juice. 

The weight literally melted off!  This was even without regular exercise since during the first two months; I was nursing a knee injury.  That was a year ago and I haven't gained the weight back! Now, I am currently a size 4, I don't have any low blood sugar issues and I feel amazing!  Hungry for Change helped me realize that I wasn't eating right.  Check it out!

Copyright by Michelle Fiore

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Bullies - A Parents Story



Before I tell my story of what I've experienced this past year I'd like to go back 35  years for when I was a child.  Life was different in 1978.  Our parents let us outside for the day without supervision.  There were no scheduled play dates or all day summer camps.  I lived in a neighborhood where there were at least 15 kids and we played all day until our parents called us in for meals.  I can remember sledding in the winter, kick-ball in the summer and countless hours of imaginary play.  For the most part, we all got along but there were those days where conflict arose.  What I DON'T remember is; running to my mother every time I had an issue with another kid.  We worked it out on our own and moved on.  As I grew older, I remember two specific days where I encountered a Bully.  I don't remember their names and I barely recall what they said.  However, I do remember standing up for myself and the fact that those two girls never bothered me again. This gave me a tremendous sense of pride. I stood up for myself and won! From that moment, I knew that I could handle anything.

Now lets fast forward to 2014 where the word "Bully" is a buzz word and every school is "cracking down on Bullies".  There are "Anti-Bullying" policies and "Bully Prevention" programs.  The public school in my town has been quoted as saying we have "a zero tolerance for bullies."  However, I've learned this year that their tolerance for such behavior is much higher than they are leading us to believe.  In my town, things have got better for the Bully.  These kids now have the upper hand because they have learned how to work the system.  I can't tell you how many mothers I have talked to that all describe a similar situation:

On the playground, a Bully pushed my child to the ground.  My child stood up and pushed them back.  The Bully became upset and ran to the teacher and my child got in trouble.

I have heard the same story time and time again from other parents.  There are so many things wrong with that statement.  First of all, where was the supervision?  If a school is going to have an "Anti-Bullying" policy then why aren't they watching their students?  If they are not going to properly supervise their students then I firmly believe they should let the children work it out on their own.  In this particular situation, the Bully became empowered and the child that stood up for himself became a victim.

My Story:
I have a son who is my pride and joy. He is outgoing, smart and very funny. These traits he got from his father.  He is also highly sensitive and therefore becomes very upset when someone is mean to him.  When he first began public school he instinctively stood up to the Bullies;  if someone pushed him, he pushed back and I remember thinking that I would never have to worry about him.  Then, he began getting in trouble and the teachers started telling him that everything his parents were teaching him was WRONG.  They told him NOT to hit back and NOT to use unkind words when a Bully started antagonizing him. They advised him to talk to an adult instead.  However, every time he did go to a teacher they told him to ignore it, to walk away and move on.  By 2nd Grade my confident young boy became so confused and distraught that he actually started showing physical signs of anxiety.  He began having facial tics.  A Tic is an uncontrollable spasm in the face, such as blinking of the eyes, flaring the nostrils and opening the mouth.  One of the most common contributing factors to Tics is stress and anxiety. 

By 3rd Grade, his Tics became noticeable to other children and this is where my story begins.  In every school, there are different kinds of Bullies.  There are the Bullies who are aggressive.  They are the ones that will openly make fun of another child, they push, they hit, and they do anything to make themselves feel empowered.  Often, these aggressive Bullies are well known in school.  Every parent has a story about them. 

Then there is the Silent-Bully.  These are the kids who seem to fly under the radar because they are extremely well behaved in front of the teachers.  These children will smile at the teacher one minute while they are quietly insulting a classmate the next minute.  This past year, my son had a problem with both of these types of Bullies.  The first child, the Aggressive-Bully, had been bothering my son and many other children for quite some time.  In fact, by October of 2013, I had been documenting his behavior towards my son and had compiled a list of incidents that were 3 pages long.  The second child, the Silent-Bully, we have had problems with since Pre-School.  I tried to reach out to his mother on several occasions but each time she refused to believe that her son could do anything wrong and she frequently blamed my son for any conflict that came between them. 

When my child approached me and told me about these two boys, my first reaction was to tell him to stand up for himself.  To which my son replied, "I can't.  If I do, then I will get in trouble!"  I knew he was right.  From our experiences with the public school these past 4 years and the stories I've heard from other parents, I knew that we had to conquer this issue a different way.  I started to write a letter to the principal but I didn't send it right away because I was concerned about the repercussions of bringing this all to light.  The mother of the Silent-Bully is a prominent figure in my town.  However, the day after I finished this letter my son came home and told me that the Silent-Bully was making fun of his Tics.  I knew, then, that I couldn't let this go on.  I sent the letter that evening to the principal, outlining with dates, the problems that my son was having with these 2 boys.  I requested that consequences be given to the Aggressive-Bully for frequently assaulting my child. As for the Silent-Bully, I simply asked that his mother be notified and that a letter of apology addressed to my son be written promptly. 

The next day, the school contacted me and said that they would do an "investigation" into the matter.  However, within a week, I learned that my concerns about calling attention to the Silent-Bully and his mother were correct for she immediately responded by bad-mouthing me (and my child) all around town and the principal still hadn't taken any action.  I now felt like I was the one being Bullied.  So, I foolishly tried to reach out to this woman again and confront her about the slanderous accusations she was saying about me and my family.  When I did, she accused me of "harassing" her.  Since that day, whenever I walk by her I am accosted by snickers and dirty looks from her and her children.  If only she spent her energy on being a good role model to her children instead of bad-mouthing me, maybe we wouldn't be in this situation in the first place, but I digress.

I waited weeks for that letter of apology and for the school to notify me regarding the action they were planning to take.  I grew impatient and requested a meeting with the Superintendent.  Two days before this meeting took place; the Principal called my child into his office and made him sign a form stating that HE must stay away from the boys who are bullying him!  I was never notified of this meeting, before or after it took place.  The only reason I found out was because my child was deeply disturbed and upset the next morning. He didn't want to go to school.  He was having trouble breathing and his Tics were out of control.  When I inquired as to what was bothering him, I was completely appalled!  He didn't understand why HE was in trouble and neither did I.  I immediately called the principal and demanded answers.  The Principal's only reply was that the Silent-Bully's mother had complaints too and he thought it would be better if they just "Stayed-Away" from each other.  I didn't send my son to school that day, instead, we spent the day at the pediatrician's office where I was told that he experienced an anxiety attack.

I wrote a letter to the Superintendent, complaining about the Principal.  In this letter, I informed her that I was intending to bring a lawyer to our meeting that week.  It was on this day that I learned for the first time that when you use the word "lawyer" in a sentence it changes everything.  The Superintendent's office pulled out all the stops to try and cancel our meeting.  First they said they "could only meet with me if my husband attended the meeting."  Then, when my husband changed his schedule to accommodate them they tried to cancel again stating that "someone from their party was sick."  I told them that if they didn't meet with me that I would take legal action.  So, they met with me, but it only lasted 5 minutes because they pretended to not know that I was bringing legal council. However, before we left, my lawyer made it very clear that having my child sign a "Stay-Away" plan without my consent was a federal violation of his civil rights. (By the way, I demanded a copy of this form.  On it, there is a line for the Principal's signature, the school counselor's signature and my 9 year olds signature.  On that document there is NOT one place for a parent's signature!  I didn't think it was legal for a 9 year old to sign a document.)

A month later, when their lawyer called my lawyer they labeled the incident as "Mutual Bullying" and said that the "Stay-Away" plan was put in place to assure the safety of all the children involved.  During this time, the Principal of my child's school also tried to ruin my creditability by telling his lawyer that I was walking around the playground "yelling at any kid that bothered my son."  That is an outrageous lie and I am appalled that they would stoop so low in order to get out of a lawsuit. 

It is now June and we have only 8 more days in this school.  He is not returning next year, we have decided to send him to a private school.  Since this incident he has undergone therapy and his Tics are almost gone.  I still believe that we should teach our children how to stand up to Bullies but I also believe in teaching them empathy so they understand that it's not their fault.  I know for a fact that one of the Bullies he had a problem with comes from a difficult family situation. I have to say, if there is a silver lining to all of this it's that my son and I have become closer.  He knows I have his back and he talks to me about everything! 

Copyright 2014 by Michelle Fiore