By the time the bullying had stopped, the damage was already done.
It was too late. It had gone too far, says mom, Laurie Flasko.
“I spent the next five years trying to keep her alive,” she says.
“You have a broken heart. You have a broken soul.”
Indeed, her daughter’s spirit had been destroyed.
There were times when Flasko wondered, silently terrified, that her daughter, Amanda, had been broken beyond repair.
She tried to kill herself twice. There were many nights when she’d wake up screaming in her sleep. When she tried returning to school, she’d start shaking and feeling like she was about to vomit as soon as she walked through the doors.
“She was too ill to have friends,” says Flasko.
Eventually, she was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.
It would take months for that damage to finally heal. And, eventually, to take an experience that almost killed her and turn it into a source of empowerment.
It’s from her daughter’s courage that Flasko found her own strength to chronicle the story of their journey through bullying in her book, Bullying is not a Game, A Parents’ Survival Guide (Laurie Flasko and Associates and Leverage U Press, $24.95).
She co-authored it with Julie Christiansen, a local counsellor and psychology teacher at George Brown College. Together they offer coping strategies for parents.
A common mistake is blaming the victim.
“The system we have in place blames the victim and puts the onus on the victim to fix it,” says Christiansen.
Consider the universal messages we give kids about dealing with bullies. Just walk away. Tell a grown up. Ignore it. Go work it out.
More often than not, we ask the question: “What did the victim do to cause it?” rather than: “What’s going on with the bully?”
A bully may get a suspension from school or be required to stay inside during recess.
Neither works. “Sending a child home doesn’t teach the child how to behave,” she says.
Bullies need to understand the consequences of their behaviour. They need to develop empathy. “They need to learn how to foster healthy relationships,” she says.
Another common mistake is telling victims to be more assertive. To speak up for themselves. In fact, parents are the greatest advocates for their children.
“You can’t force that on a victim,” says Christiansen.
“They’re doing all they can to create healthy relationships.”
For Flasko’s daughter, the bullying started in Grade 8, on the first day of school and continued to early high school.
It involved new girls, and friends she’d had since kindergarten. They huddled together. Called her names. And wouldn’t play with her.
She was poked with a poppy pin during a Remembrance Day service. Fake blood was smeared on her lockers. And no one would sit with her on the school bus.
Even after she changed schools, it continued.
At one point, when Amanda refused to get out of bed in the mornings, a child and youth worker came to the house and helped her mother pull Amanda from her bed.
Amanda needs to go to school. She can’t run away. She needs to stand up for herself and work it out.
All this horrifies Flasko now. “We kept putting her in a
situation of fear, over and over again,” says Flasko.
“She was dying inside.” So much so, that even after the bullying
stopped in high school, life only got worse for Amanda.
There was no one something that helped. It was a combination of many things — counselling, art therapy, meeting new friends outside of school, family support, and finally, graduating high school.
When Amanda started the child and youth studies program at Brock University, her parents were uneasy.
“We held our breath and she went,” says Flasko.
She’s done well and has friends. This summer she is a camp counsellor in northern Ontario.
“Whatever she decides to do she’ll be amazing at,” says Flasko.
“She’s been there. She knows.”
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TALK WITH YOUR CHILD
Parents of bullied children should let their children know:
Speaking up was the right thing to do.
That you, together as a family, are truly committed to seeing him/her through this difficult time.
That you will be with him/her every step of the way and that now is the time to take action.
They will be involved in deciding how to resolve the problem.
It is OK to feel angry, sad, embarrassed, or whatever feeling is presenting itself.
That as parents, you are proud of your child.
It is OK to express his/her feelings and vent, and that you will be a good listener.
Source: Bullying is not a Game, A Parents’ Survival Guide.