Fear of Clowns

I’m sure you’ve seen it: a child cringing and screaming at the sight of Ronald McDonald, Krusty the Clown, Circus Charlie or another clown. Whether the youngster met the clown in person or just saw him or her on television, the reaction is the same: intense dislike, panic, even pure horror. It makes one wonder: how can a mascot designed to bring on fun and silliness end up being a villain?

The fear of clowns is called coulrophobia. This phobia is more common than most think, affecting both adults and children across different cultures. In most cases, coulrophobia is a mild and temporary phobia, one that starts in early childhood and is naturally outgrown by puberty. But extreme cases also exist, with sufferers experiencing severe stress by the mere thought of clowns.

Why Would Kids be Afraid of Clowns?
Most of us recognize that clowns are just ordinary people dressed up in heavy make-up, colorful wigs and baggy clothes. We can also associate their presence with entertainment, magic tricks and comic relief. However, kids – especially really young children – can’t yet make those conclusions.

For them, clowns are strange-looking creatures who interact with them in a way that they are not used to. It’s only natural for children to be wary and fearful of what they don’t understand — it’s part of a person’s natural instinct. Also, consider that kids often meet clowns in loud and confusing settings, such as at a party, a show or a carnival. The context can also make clowns feel very intimidating to young children.

Media images may also play a role in the “villain-ization” of clowns. Television shows and movies today often poke fun at coulrophobia; take Bart’s line of “Can’t sleep, clown will eat me,” in an episode of the The Simpsons, or Sam Winchester’s “Planes crash… and apparently clowns kill,” in the horror series Supernatural. The late Heath Ledger also gave a convincing portrayal of a psychopath clown as The Joker in the movie Batman: Dark Knight. These kinds of images only contribute to feelings of upset and fear that vulnerable children may have.

What can Parents Do?
Fear of clowns that developed spontaneously (that is, was not caused by a traumatic experience involving clowns) will eventually go away on its own. However, clowns are hard to avoid in a child’s life – they show up on T.V., in movies, at shopping malls, at a birthday parties and many other places that children frequent. If a child’s fear is overwhelming to the point where the child doesn’t want to go out or to the point that the child will have a full blown panic attack upon seeing a clown, then professional help is in order. Child psychologists can help a child recover from coulrophobia.

If the fear is annoying but not that strong, then home treatment may suffice; try Bach Flower Remedies like Mimulus for phobias and Rock Rose for panic attacks – 2 drops of each given 4 times a day over a number of months can gently melt fear out of the system. Also, taking the Bach preparation Rescue Remedy along on outings is a useful strategy. Rescue Remedy can quickly calm a child and turn off a panic attack or tantrum – 4 drops in a small amount of liquid, given every couple of minutes usually calms the child very quickly. It also comes in spray form so that it can be sprayed into the child’s mouth (or even right on his or her arms).  Teaching the child EFT (emotional freedom technique) or doing EFT on the child can also cure the clown issue in many children. Check out online information on EFT as well as videos showing the treatment of children with phobias through EFT.

Fear of clowns that persist until adulthood, or fear that causes significant stress in a child should be referred to a mental health professional.

Fear of Thunder, Lightning, and Other Weather Conditions

Storms can be frightening for children and adults alike. A flash of electricity lighting up the night time sky, a rumble of thunder followed by a crashing boom can send shivers up anyone’s back! Some children are more afraid of severe weather conditions than others, but parents need to know how to help any child feel more comfortable in the face of howling winds, noisy storms, torrential downpours and all the other frightening weather events that inevitably occur in our world.

To help your child be more comfortable during severe weather events, consider the following tips:

Make it Fun
Many adults associate storms with fond childhood memories. You can help your child do the same by starting “traditions” of story-telling or game-playing during storms. Since everyone is stuck inside anyway, it’s a great opportunity for family time.  Sipping cocoa, munching munchies, listening to music, cuddling up with a good book or movie – cozy activities can create cozy feelings toward rough weather condition.

If it’s already bedtime and your child is under the covers, you can still help her associate storms with comfort and positive feelings. A young child might appreciate the companionship of a special plush toy (or the real family pet). An older one might enjoy a flashlight and a good book to read under the covers – a special activity reserved for stormy nights. Or, you might help the child imagine that there is a noisy celebration of fireworks outside. Or, you can take turns making up explanations for the noise with your child as a fun and silly game – for instance, you suggest that the sky giants are bowling and your child suggests that the angels are go-carting and you suggest that the clouds are arguing and so on and so forth. Or, you can invite everyone into your bed so they can all fall asleep together. Most storms don’t last very long, so hopefully everyone will soon return to their own beds!

If your child is too frightened and upset to enjoy the fun, consider learning and then treating him or her with Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). This very simple self-help tapping technique can be used WHILE the child is overwhelmed with panic to help turn off the fight-or-flight response. Learn about EFT online or from one of the many books on the subject, or consult a mental health practitioner who uses and teaches the technique.  EFT can often reduce intense feelings of fear in just a few minutes.

Consider Rescue Remedy and Bach Flower Remedies
Another resource is Rescue Remedy – a harmless, water-based form of vibrational “medicine” that quickly calms agitation and fear. Give your child 4 drops in a small amount of water, encouraging him to sip it every few minutes until he feels better. Rescue Remedy also comes in spray form and can be sprayed directly into the child’s mouth.

The Bach Flower Remedies Mimulus and Rock Rose can be prepared together in one mixing bottle (see instructions on this site and elsewhere online and in books, or consult a Bach Flower Practitioner for assistance). Giving this mixture to the child several times a day for an extended period (i.e. many months) can help prevent the fear of storms from occurring in the future.

Explain the Science
Understanding the science of storms can help reduce the child’s fear. Get the information you need about the cause of severe weather conditions and give it over in an age-appropriate way to your child. Be sure to include information about how to stay safe in a storm.

Teach Self-Soothing Skills
Teach your child simple but effective ways of calming feelings of fear. Self-talk is a good tool for this purpose: teach your child to tell him or herself, “the storm will be over very soon and everything will be back to normal” or “it’s noisy outside but I’m safe here inside.”  You can also teach the child how to calm the fight-or-flight chemistry by breathing very slowly. Your child’s fear is fueled by his or her negative imagination (picturing worst case scenarios). Teach the child to use positive imagination instead (i.e. picturing how nice and fresh everything will look after the storm).

Professional Help
If self-help techniques do not sufficiently help your child through storms, do take him or her to a mental health professional. Fears and phobias produce a lot of unnecessary anguish and suffering – they are usually quickly and easily resolved with a short course of professional treatment.

Fear of Doctors or Dentists

Some babies, kids and teens have fears of medical professionals. This is highly inconvenient because all people need to see doctors and dentists at least occasionally. Moreover, some people require acute medical or dental attention – being terrified of the helping professional only adds stress to the already intense stress of injury or illness.

If your child has a fear of doctors or dentists, consider the following tips:

Babies are Smarter Than They Look
A baby often figures out rather quickly that the doctor gives – ouch – needles. If your baby develops “attitude” about doctor’s visits, it means that he or she is smart. Even though the doctor smiles and seems so friendly, he or she pokes and prods and pricks during those first-year visits. You can validate your baby’s feelings by saying things like, “I know you don’t like the doctor. It isn’t fun to get that needle!” Even if your baby doesn’t understand your speech, your validation of his or her experience is good practice for the validation that you’ll need to be doing for many years to come. Moreover, the baby can feel your sympathy and understanding even if he doesn’t understand your words. This helps establish a strong parent-child bond that builds trust while also helps to soothe and calm your baby. Once the doctor’s visits become more pleasant, the baby will usually develop a warm relationship with the doctor. In other words, in most cases, the problem will go away by itself within some months or, in more difficult cases, in a couple of years. Just wait it out. Alternatively, it may help a little if you can pair a doctor’s visit with a treat or privilege of some kind. Don’t bribe the child; simply give the child a treat or privilege when you leave the doctor’s office. This can help the child associate the doctor with pleasure and this can reduce his upset, despite the pain.

Persistent Fear Requires Intervention
If your baby doesn’t grow out of the fear of a white coat or the smell of the doctor’s office by toddlerhood, you’ll definitely want to help him along. Young kids can benefit from “bibliotherapy” – the use of picture books to help reduce anxiety. Your local library may have a selection of picture books for young children that focus on what exactly happens at a medical or dental office. Reading such books can help prepare and calm the youngster before a visit for a check-up or treatment. Older children – those beyond the picture-book stage of life – may benefit from specific stress-reduction strategies. If you know some, teach them to your child or teen. If you don’t, one or two visits to a mental health professional may be all that your child needs in order to learn some coping tools for fear. If the child has a true phobia, full treatment can take a number of weeks or even some months. One thing that you might teach a child is how to focus on his breath while the doctor or dentist performs an examination. Tell your child to pay attention to the breath going in and out of his nostrils, or pay attention to his chest rising and falling as he breathes. Alternatively, teach the child to “daydream” effectively – to use visualization to take himself to a safe, fun place while the doctor is performing his examination. A different kind of tool is “mindfulness meditation.” In this technique you teach your child to name his thoughts and feelings and physical sensations as they are occurring during the examination or treatment. For instance, the child might say (silently), “scared, nervous, don’t like this, don’t want to be here, cold, uncomfortable, want to go home, relaxed, sore, sad, upset, mad, happy to be going home now,” and so on, throughout the medical or dental visit. Even though the child is naming negative thoughts and feelings, he will actually feel more in-control and calmer by doing this exercise. Try it yourself first to see how it feels. Another tool that helps many children and teens is EFT – emotional freedom technique. You can learn about this self-help tool online. It is excellent for removing or minimizing feelings of fear.

Try Bach Flower Therapy
On the day of the medical visit, and right beforehand, try giving your child Rescue Remedy. This pre-mixed Bach Flower Remedy is available at health food stores and on-line. Rescue Remedy helps to calm feelings of overwhelming fear and panic and can be taken right before, during and right after a very frightening experience. It comes in liquid (drop 4 drops in water or any other beverage) as well as spray and candy form. In order to help ease the fearful tendency out of the child and thereby prevent on-going fear of medical professionals, use Bach Flowers regularly for some months. Try the remedies Mimulus (for fears) and Rock Rose (for panic). You can speak to a Bach Flower Therapist to get a specially designed formulation for your child or you can look up the remedy descriptions online and select up to 7 remedies to put all together in one dropper bottle. There are online resources to learn how to prepare the remedies for use.

Seek Professional Help
If you’ve tried everything and your child is still afraid of medical or dental professionals, enlist the help of a professional therapist. Do this as soon as possible to make healing easier and to save your child many years of unnecessary pain and distress.

Head-Banging

Seeing one’s child banging his or her head against the wall or a wooden bed is alarming for parents, especially if the child is a baby or toddler. Parents are not only concerned about the possible pain and injury that may result from such an activity – they are also worried about the child’s psychological well-being. “Is something wrong with my baby?” is a reasonable question for parents to ask when their child deliberately harms himself.

In fact, in most cases, a child’s head-banging is caused by a normal desire for stimulation or soothing (as we will discuss below) — not by underlying mental health issues. Additionally, young kids rarely hurt themselves during head banging enough to cause considerable pain or head damage. Head-banging may also occur in certain developmental syndromes such as autism. In these cases, there will be other neurological and behavioral symptoms besides head banging. In an otherwise healthy child, head-banging is not a matter for intense concern.

What’s Behind Head-Banging?
Head banging can be a way for kids to get stimulation. The habit can relieve the discomfort of boredom or stress. Remember that during the toddler years, kids are in the process of understanding and appreciating different body sensations such as sights, sounds and  even feelings of pain and discomfort. The sensation that comes when we bang our heads against a hard surface is new and foreign to a child, and understandably, the child is curious about it. Thus he may repeat head-banging so that he can explore the sensation better.

It’s also possible for children to head-bang in order to soothe themselves when they are anxious, in discomfort or otherwise distressed. In these cases, head banging is no different from thumb sucking or nail biting. It’s ironic, but it’s possible that children find the pain of head banging a distraction for their current discomfort or unease. Some kids may also find the rhythm of soft head banging comforting, in the same way that a slow and steady drum beat can be soothing, rhythmic head banging can be reassuring to a child.

What can Parents Do?
Safety is always a primary concern. Even if head-banging is usually harmless, there’s nothing wrong with taking a few extra precautions. As much as possible, keep young children away from hard surfaces like walls or bed posts. If there’s a risk that they will run into a hard surface, protect your child by putting a soft pillow or foam padding as insulation. If you can make it impossible for your child to head-bang against something hard, then you can worry less about head-banging behavior.

It may also help to provide your child with stimulation and soothing when you feel that he or she needs it. Toys of different shapes and colors, as well as materials of varying comfortable textures and temperatures can provide stimulation to a child. Rocking, singing a lullaby or a soft massage are also positive ways to provide soothing.

When parents suspect that unease, discomfort or stress is causing the head-banging behavior, they can offer their child the Bach Flower Remedy Agrimony. Two drops in liquid four times a day can be used until the banging diminishes. Or, for a more complete treatment, call a Bach Flower Practitioner. You can find more information about the Bach Remedies online and throughout this site.

Older children who are banging their heads may need more than Bach Remedies (although these should be tried first). Stress reduction through professional psychological counseling may be very helpful. If very young children are stressed, family counseling may be preferable. Parents may be able to make environmental changes that put the child more at ease.

When Should Parents be Concerned?
While head-banging is generally normal and harmless, there are occasions of head-banging behavior when parents need to provide their children with stronger interventions and/or professional help.

One situation is when kids use head banging as a way to get negative attention, punish themselves or release anger and frustration. When head banging is a deliberate action to achieve an end, parents should arrange a consultation with a child psychologist. The psychologist may help the parents intervene in more appropriate ways or he or she may work with the child directly in order to reduce underlying tensions.

But a second situation is when parents suspect an underlying medical or psychological condition behind the head banging behavior. If head banging is seen alongside symptoms of social withdrawal, delayed speech and motor development, and inability to empathize, parents should consider consult their pediatrician. A referral to a mental health professional for assessment can confirm or rule out a diagnosis of autism or pervasive developmental disorder. Head banging that seems beyond a child’s control may be a symptom of Tourette’s Syndrome. Various seizure disorders may also account for head banging behavior. To be certain, it’s best to get a child diagnosed by the appropriate medical or mental health professional.

Sexual Harassment via Social Media

Our children may be spending considerable time each day logging on to social networking sites. But just because your child is surfing from the comfort of home doesn’t mean his or her safety is guaranteed. In fact, there is one serious threat to children online that must be given particular attention by parents: sexual harassment via social media.

The anonymity of the internet can easily make people do things they wouldn’t normally do in real life. Inhibitions, after all, can dissolve when you can’t see the person on the other end of the line. Add to this is the difficulty in policing people online, and the lack of anti-cyber crime laws in many countries and states. The reality is: the internet is ripe for committing sexual harassment.

Many cases of sexual harassment online have resulted in tragic consequences; from the teenage girl who developed an eating disorder because of the barrage of negative comments about her figure, to the gay teen who committed suicide because a video of him kissing another man was uploaded by a roommate. Sexual harassment, whether face to face or online, can result in psychological trauma and severe mental anguish.

The following are some tips in helping protect your child against sexual harassment online:

Educate Your Child
The first thing you need to do is to increase your child’s awareness of what sexual harassment is. Many children today are already getting sexually harassed but don’t know it, simply because the internet is filled with ideas presented in all extremes. For example, not all kids know that demeaning comments about one’s gender and/or one’s gender preference is a form of sexual harassment. The same goes with unwanted sexual comments or innuendos. Your child may already be suffering the ill effects of sexual harassment, and yet not know that they are being victimized.  Talk about the issue comfortably so that your children will feel comfortable coming to you when they have concerns or need your help. The last thing you want to do is make your child afraid to come to you when he or she needs you most. Avoid heavy-handed threats and tacticts. The internet is here to stay; help your child learn to use it safely and learn to use YOU as a safe resource.

Protect When Possible
Using child protection software may be helpful. Keeping your computer in a public area or just doing random checks can help your children and younger teens stay on a proper path and not deviate off to more suspicious communications online. Let your child know that you have reporting software and that you are checking regularly. Older teens want and need more privacy. With this group, make sure you keep your communication lines open; keep a warm and friendly relationship with them so that they’ll feel comfortable asking you for help when they need it. Also, as mentioned above, talk openly about your concerns and the dangers that some innocent kids have fallen into.

Never Release Private Information Online
Tell your child that he or she must always be careful what kind of information to release online — even to friends! Never give out contact details aside from email addresses; you can always give this information face to face. Similarly, never release information that can be used to track you, such as school ID number or a parent’s social security number, especially when commenting on pages accessible to the general public. A social networking site may claim to have privacy settings that protect members, but at the end of the day, you don’t really know when your private information will be hacked by someone with malicious intent.

Don’t Engage the Harasser
Teach your child that if you’re the victim of sexual harassment on social networking sites, the first thing you must do is to disengage — whether the other person is someone you know or is a stranger. Don’t argue or fight with your harasser; it will only lengthen the ordeal and encourage further contact. Instead, collect documentation, e.g. screenshots of what they said with timestamps, copies of their emails and IMs, and all information about them that you have. Then block your victimizer from your list of friends immediately and/or change your account, password and/or username.

Report Harassment to the Authorities
Tell your child the following: They should tell you and other adults what is going on. Let the right authority deal with your harasser. If he or she is someone from your school, then do report their action to the school principal or prefect of discipline. For people you don’t know, and for serious cases, report the crime to the police. You should also send the management of the social networking site a copy of your documentation so that they can permanently remove that person’s account.

Stalking

Have you ever been so enamored of a celebrity that you wanted to know what they were doing every single minute of the day? Or did you ever have an ex in your life that you couldn’t let go of, and you hungered to know details of what he or she was doing in life after your relationship ended? Intense curiosity about others is a normal phenomenon experienced by millions of people every day. Usually, people don’t act on their feeling of “wanting to know,” but sometimes they do. When someone closely tracks another person’s activities it is called “stalking.”

Young people are just as capable of stalking as adults. What can you do if you discover that your own child is involved in this activity?

What is Stalking?
Stalking refers to tracking the behaviors of another person in such a way that the person feels harassed and violated.  Stalking, an invasion of another person’s privacy, can take many forms. For instance, stalking behaviors  include spying on someone’s private mail or phone conversations, following a person wherever they go, watching a person’s comings and goings, sending unwanted correspondence or gifts, forcing unwanted relationships, and even threatening and attacking the object of one’s obsession. Very recently a new brand of stalking has surfaced — cyberstalking — which is stalking behavior conducted over the internet.

Stalking is a criminal offense punishable by law.

How Do Kids and Teenagers Engage in Stalking Behavior?
Stalking behaviors can range from mild to severe. In some cases, kids and teens don’t even realize that what they are doing may be considered stalking. In other cases, they may be fully aware that their behavior is unacceptable, harmful,  and even illegal but they continue to do it nonetheless.

Obsessing about and following celebrities is the more common type of stalking behavior among young people. Teens can get so attached to a matinee idol or rock band, for example, that they devise creative means to find out where their favorite stars hang out, and sneak inside the hotel they are staying in or the restaurant where they’re eating. This kind of behavior in young people may or may not be considered a criminal offense; some celebrities do encourage these accidental “spottings” (even announcing it on their microblogging sites!) for the sake of publicity. But in any event, any excessive adoration is unhealthy, and can cause significant problems at home or at school.

But there is also the more serious type of stalking behavior happening among young people today, one that is more malicious and ill-intentioned. With the ease of modern  communication and networking, young people can easily find ways to attack someone that they have issues with, or force embarrassing public confrontations. Pervasive harassment through sms, emails, blogs and social networking sites, for example, are fairly common among young people. Worse, some kids and teens are unaware of how they are actually victimizing other people with their actions. They underestimate the destructive impact of their behavior.

What can Parents Do?
Stalking behavior should be treated as a serious matter. Not only can stalking cause severe problems in relating and working, stalking is a criminal offense that can result in arrest and/or commitment to a juvenile facility. Children and teens must know when to draw a line between acceptable ways of relating and violation of other people’s rights. Remember, even if a fixation or obsession is manageable at the moment, it can easily turn unhealthy.

If you’re a parent whose child engages in stalking behavior, consider the following tips:

Evaluate the Gravity of the Situation
As mentioned, stalking behavior exists in a range; with some behaviors more understandable and acceptable than others. Find out where your child is in the stalking spectrum so that you may know if guidance and education is sufficient, or stronger interventions are necessary (such as assessment and treatment by a mental health professional). Signs of seriousness include the presence of delusions (e.g. the belief that the other person is in love with the stalker), lack of empathy for the other person’s feelings, severe anxiety if stalking behavior is not fulfilled, and intrusions of the obsessions into everyday living causing problems at home and/or school.

Explain to Your Child Why Stalking is Wrong
Perhaps your child is simply unaware that what they are doing is wrong. Educate your child about the impact of stalking behavior on not just the stalker, but also on the target. Psychologists have conceptualized stalking as a form of mental and emotional assault (sometimes even physical), that can be traumatic to its victim. But even if the target of the stalking is unaware that he or she is being followed or watched, common courtesy and ethics demand that stalking be stopped. Moreover, obsessing, even without stalking, is an unhealthy habit for a person and should be replaced with more wholesome activities. If your child seems fixated on someone to the extent that other activities are being neglected, try to arrange a consultation with a mental health professional to help address the problem.

Make Them Aware of the Risks of Stalking
Aside, from getting arrested, stalking can also put a person at risk for various negative consequences. Following celebrities around, for example, can result in being crushed in a throng of people, especially if the celebrity sighting is accompanied by fan hysteria. A person also does not know how a victim of stalking will react to finding out that they are being followed; stalking also puts person at risk for being victims of assault.

Give Them Sensitivity Training on Issues of Privacy and Boundaries
At the end of the day, what you want is to enhance your child’s sensitivity to the basic rights of other people. Take all opportunities to teach your child about the importance of boundaries and private spaces. Differentiate between information that should be kept to one’s self, and information that should be kept in private. Tell your children that in the same way they don’t want to have their secrets broadcast to strangers, they also don’t want to intrude on another person’s private correspondence and activities. Let them also understand the line between being friendly and being creepy. Training in social skills can help eliminate stalking behavior.

Deal with the Feelings Behind the Stalking Behavior
Obsessively following or communicating with another person can be a dysfunctional way of coping with unpleasant emotions. For example, the inability to let go of a lost relationship can cause a person to obsess on an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend. Boredom over one’s plain and unexciting life can cause teenagers to want to follow celebrities around. If you can teach your child to better manage their negative emotions, you can give them more functional coping strategies than stalking. Again, treatment by a mental health professional can be the most effective way to help your child if he or she is obsessing or stalking. Keep in mind, too, that stalking and obsessing may be symptoms of a mental health disorder. A psychologist or psychiatrist can help.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is typically thought of as something that happens between a boss and an employee, or committed by a drunk in the bar. But recent reports have shown that sexual harassment in schools is on the rise. A national survey of American public schools report that as much as 80% of female students and 60% of male students have experienced sexual harassment while in school! Worse, most of the time these harassments occur right out in the open, in full view and/or hearing of other people.

What is Sexual Harassment?
Put simply, sexual harassment is any unsolicited and unwanted sexual advance or attack against one’s gender and sexuality. Behaviors considered as sexual harassment exist in a range, from making sexual jokes or comments, to giving looks that may be construed as lewd or suggestive, to inappropriate touches and forcing someone to engage in sexual behavior.

Sexual harassment can happen face-to-face or indirectly. Abuses within internet chatrooms, spreading nasty rumors, and vandalisms that contain explicit sexual content targeted to a particular person are all considered indirect ways of sexual harassment. Both direct and indirect ways of sexual harassment can cause severe stress and trauma to its victim, and must be taken seriously.

What can Parents Do?
There are many things that parents can do to prevent sexual harassment from reaching their children.

Prevention is always better than any steps taken after the fact, so it’s best if parents take a proactive role in combating sexual harassment.

Parents can start by educating their kids on what sexual harassment is, and its impact to its victims. For instance, parents must take a hard stance against making inappropriate jokes and comments, even if there are those who would say “boys are just being boys” or “it’s all just good-natured teasing.” Sensitizing children on the offensive nature of sexual jokes is a good start in preventing sexual harassment from spreading. Similarly, children must always be taught to respect people’s sexuality. Calling someone a “faggot” or a “dyke,”  a “whore” or other insulting sexual names is not to be tolerated under any circumstance. By teaching kids not to hurt others in this way, parents help put an end to the cycle of victimization.

However, parents also have to teach their children how to respond to sexual harassment in the case that it happens to them. This can help prevent trauma.  When a child knows what steps to take, he or she feels empowered and supported. For instance, teach your child to report harassment to the principle or guidance counselor immediately.  Kids can also be taught how to stand up to bullies of all kinds, including those who bully through sexual harassment. Bully-proofing can be brought into schools as a program for the student body – speak to the guidance department about arranging this. Kids should also be taught how not to invite abuse and harassment through their own behaviors. For instance, if a girl dresses very provocatively instead of more modestly, she is communicating that she wants to be noticed sexually. Although she is not responsible for being victimized by harassment, she is certainly responsible for inviting sexual attention. Teach your kids how the opposite gender reacts to cues (i.e. how boys are stimulated by revealing clothing and so on).

Parents can ask their local librarian for help in selecting age-appropriate materials on this subject to bring home for their kids. When children learn from books it can be extra powerful – it means that the information they are receiving is not just Mom or Dad’s nervous over-reactions.

Sometimes parents can take the advocacy to the school and the community. Many school administrators, teachers and community members are unaware of how prevalent the problem is, and thus they are not as vigilant in identifying and reporting sexual harassment cases. A culture of silence and impunity may exist in a school, so it’s best to launch information campaigns designed to remove the stigma associated with being victimized. Establishing clear channels for reporting harassment and systems of response and referral are also ideal.

Lastly, it’s important that parents make their kids aware of what their rights are. For instance, choosing not give in to peer pressure to harass others is a right and a responsibility. Similarly, one always has a right to say “no” to any unwanted communication or sexual advance. And if they are victimized, or know someone who has been, it’s their right to report the harassment to the proper authorities.

Forcing Sexual Attention on a Peer

No one wants to hear that their child is misbehaving at school, on the sports team or in the neighborhood. A call home from teacher, principal, or coach can make good parents cringe. They feel ashamed of their child as well as concerned for him or her. However, one of the hardest things to hear is a report that one’s child has committed a sexual misdeed. In such cases, parents feel not only shame and embarrassment, but also panic and horror. What kind of monster have they raised?

What are parents to do when they find out that their child has forced sexual attention on a peer?

Stay Calm
Hearing from the school principal — or worse, the police — that your child committed sexual harassment is difficult. You might be tempted to give in to your emotions and lash out at your child — don’t! Instead, take the time to calm down so that you can approach the situation rationally. The issue is too important to treat with drama or hysteria.

Take the Behavior Seriously
Parents of kids who sexually harass others may deliberately or unconsciously water down the gravity of the issue. They might say that their child is just being flirtatious, or is responding to mixed messages from the victim. If you’re a parent sincerely interested in helping your child, do not give in to this temptation. Whether your child was deliberate in forcing sexual attention on a peer, or your child is honestly unaware that what he or she did is wrong, this is one behavior you want to nip in the bud. Studies show that adult sexual offenders begin through inappropriate sexual behavior as teenagers or young children. Shrugging things off today may prove to be costly in the future.

Assess How Much Help Your Child Needs
Each case of sexual harassment is different and must be approached differently. Some cases are more serious than others and will  require professional intervention. Other cases can be addressed by parent education, sensitivity training and logical consequences. It’s important that parents assess the problem correctly so that they can make the most appropriate intervention. Enlisting the help of objective professionals is highly recommended. For instance, a child psychologist is in an excellent position to determine whether the child’s behavior reflects serious mental health issues or more benign inappropriate actions.

What are the things parents and professionals should consider?

First, ask: is this a first offense or is this behavior been going on for some time now? If it’s the latter then you don’t just have a one time incident to deal with but a pattern of misbehavior to address. You may need extra support and professional intervention to help your child towards positive change.

Second, assess: did your child deliberately force sexual attention on his or her friend or classmate, or is your child honestly confused regarding the gravity of his or her actions? If it’s the first case, the situation is more serious, as there is an actual choice to do something that is clearly wrong and harmful. You might be dealing with a conduct disorder or other mental health disorder. If, however, the child is honestly confused regarding the gravity of his or her actions, it’s possible that your child is merely poorly socialized, and has no idea how to behave appropriately in the presence of people he or she finds sexually attractive. In fact, the child may just be modeling negative role models, like swashbuckling TV characters who get away with the kind of behavior that shouldn’t be tolerated in real life.

Lastly, consider your child’s age. To what degree does he or she have an understanding of sex and sexuality? The younger kids are, the less likely it is that their misbehavior was malicious in nature. In addition, it is more likely that they would be confused as to when an action is wanted or unwanted. Older children and teenagers, however, must be charged with greater accountability for their actions, as they are expected to be aware of the impact of their behavior on their victim.

Provide the Help Needed
As mentioned, the intervention must fit the gravity of the problem. If the situation is not alarming – that is, a parent is dealing with a first offense, done without awareness of the wrongness of the deed, by a child too young to understand what sexual harassment is – then parents can deal with the situation at home using education, guidance and a system of consequences. For increasing gravity, increasing degrees of professional help must be solicited.

Education is the lightest intervention. Teach your child that what he or she did is wrong, and why exactly it is wrong. Emphasize that it’s a behavior that you don’t ever want to see repeated again. Sensitivity training can follow; teach your child to understand a peer’s point of view and why ta victim would find unwanted sexual advances not just offensive but traumatic. Contract for logical consequences; make sure your child apologizes to his or her victim and/or victim’s parents. If victims press charges, it is possible that the child may also be made to undergo counseling and therapy, or put in community service. Sadly, a child may also have to go through juvenile court as consequence of his or her behavior.

For serious cases, professional treatment is required. You may also want to consult the local social welfare office for resources on how to help juvenile sexual offenders. There are also non-governmental institutions that assist sexual offenders. Treatment options can range from out-patient weekly therapy session to residential placement and treatment.

Child Pulls Down Another Child’s Pants

When you go to pick up your 4 year-old from daycare, the teacher gives you some unpleasant news: your little pre-schooler has pulled down a playmate’s pants. Embarrassed, your child’s victim cried till his mommy picked him up a little while ago. Meanwhile, your son is still running around the classroom laughing. Even though he was reprimanded immediately and sent to the “thinking chair” for 15 minutes, he doesn’t seem to be remorseful.

How should you react? Is a child pulling down other kids’ pants a serious matter? Is your child a deviant? Has he been sexually abused? Why isn’t he feeling guilty or ashamed of himself?

First off, the good news. When it comes to really young children like toddlers and pre-schoolers, pulling down another child’s pants rarely has anything to do with sexual malice or sexual maladjustment. In all likelihood your child thought that it would be a funny thing to do, and the ensuing laughter by peers probably confirmed his or her belief. Targets of pants-pulling tend to be random playmates; in young children, attacking someone in this way is not generally an act of deliberate aggression against someone they do not like. (This is not equally true for older kids, however. For instance, a 10 year-old who pulls down another child’s pants may very well be targeting an “enemy” or otherwise engaging in angry, bullying behavior.)

This said, it’s still a behavior worth correcting. Correcting the behavior is an opportunity to educate your child about issues of privacy, in a way that is appropriate to his or her age. Most importantly, a child who pulls down a playmate’s pants is lacking in the trait of empathy. To help a child acquire more empathy, use the technique of “emotional coaching” on a regular basis. This skill essentially involves naming a child’s feelings BEFORE solving problems or addressing issues. Naming feelings can take place all day long. For instance, when a child says, “I don’t want to wear my gloves today,” a parent can name feelings BEFORE deciding what to do about the gloves. It might sound like this, “I know. It’s a bother to pull those gloves on and off all the time. It can be annoying, right?” Then the parent can “solve” the glove problem any which way he or she desires. For instance, “You’ve had a cold this week and I really think the gloves are important to help you get better and stay better. I’d like you to put them on anyways.” Or, “You don’t have to wear them, but I’d like you to take them so that you have them in case you get cold.” When you tell a child to stop calling his brother names and the child says, “He broke my model!” you can name feelings FIRST before solving the brother problem. “That must be so frustrating! You really worked hard on that model. No wonder you are upset with him!” Now solve the problem whichever way you want. For instance, “However, you still can’t call him names. You can tell him you don’t like what he did and you can tell me if you need help. You can tell him that you aren’t going to play with him tonight because you’re upset. You just can’t insult him or hurt him, do you understand?” Of course, you may also use discipline to discourage the child from name-calling. You can discipline the child who broke the model and so on. The step of emotional coaching has been shown in large research studies to help improve a child’s emotional intelligence, making him more empathetic to others and more socially aware. This helps prevent misbehaviors like pulling down people’s pants!

The following are some tips on how to deal with a child caught pulling down another kid’s pants:

Find Out Where Your Child Learned to Do It
Start by asking your child where he or she got the idea to pull their playmate’s pants. Did your child see it on television? Then explain that certain things on T.V. are not O.K. (and perhaps try to supervise your child’s T.V. experience more closely till he is a little older). Did someone else in the playground start it, and your child just followed along? Then maybe teaching them about not joining unacceptable behavior is in order. Or was your child dared by an older sibling? Then you may need to have a talk with your other child as well.

Explain Why Pants-Pulling is Wrong
Young children are likely still unaware that their behavior is wrong. Take the opportunity to teach them about privacy, and emphasize why it’s important for kids to respect it. Explain that people wear clothes like pants and underpants because they don’t want to be naked around people who are not in their family (keep in mind that toddlers and preschoolers are often naked in their own homes while they are getting dressed and undressed and when having their baths). Share how pulling down another child’s pants at school or in the park can make that child feel exposed, upset, emabarrassed and uncomfortable.

Ask How They Would Feel if Someone Else Pulled Down Their Pants
To encourage empathy, ask your child how he would have felt if the situations were reversed, if it was HIS pants that were pulled down. How would he feel if other kids laughed at him? More often than not, your child will say that he will not like it. Teach him “The Golden Rule” – do not do unto others that which you don’t want done to you!

Use Discipline
To help reinforce the lesson, tell your child that you do not want this to happen again. Let your youngster know that if you find out that he has done this again, he will have a punishment at home (tell him exactly what punishment you have in mind – for instance, losing dessert, going to bed early, losing T.V. or computer privileges or whatever you think is appropriate and would act as a deterrent).

Understanding Self-Harm

Hurting oneself on purpose seems to be an odd thing to do, yet the practice is growing in popularity among today’s teens. There is a reason for this: self-harm is a “harmless” way to reduce feelings of anxiety and angst. Due to the ease of modern communication among teenagers, word has caught on that this strategy works. It is cheap, easy and always available – unlike other methods of stress relief like drinking alcohol, taking drugs or even accessing counseling services! As a result, this disorder is highly influenced by peer behavior; when children learn that others they know are hurting themselves, they often experiment with this stress relief strategy themselves. Unfortunately, self-harm is a very dysfunctional behavior that often causes feelings of deep shame, helplessness and inadequacy in much the same way as other addictive behaviors do. For instance, bingeing and purging (overeating large amounts of food and then vomitting or using laxatives) also temporarily dispels anxiety but then causes those same painful emotions of shame, helplessness and inadequacy. Some people feel that self-harm is a cry for attention or help. Parents are naturally distressed to learn that their child has been hurting him or herself. Nonetheless, there is some comfort in knowing that self-harming actions are not necessarily related to suicidality. The goal of sufferers is to inflict minor pain, release endorphins and communicate to family members. Suicidal teenagers don’t practice self-harm; they practice killing themselves and sometimes succeed.

What is Self-Harm?
Self-harm is any action taken to cause oneself pain. Some people hit themselves – slapping their head, their face, their limbs or their body. Some people burn themselves. Some bite their skin or pick at it till it bleeds. Some use a sharp object to make small cuts on themselves – most commonly on their arms but also on other parts of the body.

Understanding the Paradox: Why Do People Do It?
When we are pain, such as when we experience a cut or burn, our brain releases natural pain relievers – endorphins – into the body. The chemicals associated with pain relief are also managers of mood. Hence, cutting and other methods of self-harm does bring some form of temporary relief to a person in distress. This temporary relief can get so addictive, that self-harm becomes a person’s first line of defense against emotions he or she can’t handle.

Experts also believe that there are psychological reasons why self-harm makes sense to the people who do it. Many times, cutting becomes some form of displacement. When emotional pain is too much to bear, “transforming” the emotional pain to physical pain makes it more manageable. Engaging in self-harm is also a way of validating that the pain one feels is real. There’s no evidence of inner distress, but seeing scars and burns are an acknowledgment that one is suffering.

In some cases, people engage in self-harm as an unconscious way of punishing themselves or a cry for attention. There are also situations when self-harm is an attempt to “feel something”; too much pain or trauma can numb one’s self. For people who engage in self-injury, self harm is better than feeling nothing.

Is Self-Harm a Suicide Attempt?
Not usually. However, people who self-harm are at additional risk for becoming suicidal. Therefore, parents need to take self-harming behaviors seriously.

While many who engage in self-harm report that they have no plans to kill themselves (they just want the temporary relief self-harm brings), they are always mentally unhealthy. Healthy people don’t hurt themselves. The mental health conditions typically associated with suicide attempts (e.g. clinical depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, severe anxiety) are often the same conditions that trigger self-harm. It is possible that self-harm activities are not suicidal in and of themselves, but if people are left alone to wallow in progressive mental illness, self-harming tendencies can progress to actual suicidality. Parents and mental health professionals are therefore recommended to take the cautious view and always treat the underlying emotions and mental health conditions of those who engage in self-harm.

What can Parents Do to Help a Child Who Engages in Self-Harm?
First off, be alert. Children and teens who self-harms take extra pains to hide what they are doing; you need to be a conscious and attentive parent to spot what’s going on. Symptoms of self-harm includes persistent wearing of clothing that hide common targets of self-harm such as the wrist, the upper arms and the chest; frequent “accidents” that explains injuries, a high need for privacy, implements like cutters, ropes or lighters in the bedroom, and symptoms of depression.

When you’ve confirmed that your child does engage in self-harm, it’s important that you raise the issue with him or her instead of hoping the behavior will go away on its own. Provide unconditional acceptance and a listening ear. And most importantly, arrange an appointment with a licensed mental health professional.