Thursday, 2 October 2014

One Minute Clinical Assessment: Five Words Can Make a Difference

Well-child checkups are being performed in every health clinic across America on a daily basis.  These clinics, aside from the fear of receiving shots, are perceived areas of safety for many kids.  Children undergo blood pressure checks, weight and height measurements, scoliosis, vision, and hearing screenings, and basic physical exams of the vital organs.  One of these vital organs is the heart.  While health professionals across the country lay the stethoscope on the hearts of these young patients, I encourage them to do more than just evaluate for murmurs.  Clinicians have the perfect opportunity to hear the hearts of children and these five words can make a difference:

                        Tell Me About Your School

A child’s emotional well-being can be evaluated and assessed in one minute if carried out correctly.  If phrased differently, “How’s school going?”  The answer is “FINE,” and a critical window of opportunity to connect on a personal level with a child that may be struggling has been missed.  For a child that is happy at school, a sense of confidence will spill forth in their answer, as they recount positive aspects of the school day.  For children that are unhappy at school, the opposite response will be encountered.  Negativity will be in the forefront of their thought processes, and it is the clinician’s job to evaluate the source of the negativity and make a difference.

There are many reasons that children may be unhappy at school that includes separation anxiety, struggling with academics, or uncomfortable social aspects involving peer groups and bullying.  Bullying has become a huge societal problem in school systems from elementary age through high school.  Again, the clinical setting is considered a safe-zone, and health care providers have the opportunity to evaluate if a child is being bullied or if they are the bully.  If a problem is sensed with the first statement, “Tell me about your school,” then narrow down the topic to the next five words that can make a difference.

                        Tell Me About Your Friends

A silent delay is a tell-tale sign of a problem.  Follow this up with a more direct approach.  Do you have mean friends?  Do you feel like you are mean to people sometimes?  I would encourage family practice and pediatrician offices to add the topic of bullying into their preventive medicine protocols.  After all, a well-child check-up should include the child’s emotional well-being, and this is certainly worth a minute of time. 
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  Benjamin Franklin

Bli Marston Dugi, MPA-C

Co-Author, The Principle Gang

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Know Your Anti-Bullying ABCs

By Dr. Dan and Bli Dugi, authors of The Principle Gang, books on anti-bullying for 4-11 year olds

What can parents do if they suspect their child is taking part in bullying behavior?  First, take a deep cleansing breath and remain calm.  Parents that are actively engaged in their children’s lives from the earliest days of childhood are very comfortable with receiving “praise” from other adults who observe their child’s good behaviors.  Unfortunately, there may come a time that the opposite occurs and parents need to have a coping mechanism in place for when that same child gets called out for behavior that is unbecoming of a nice girl or boy.  Don’t be the parent that immediately ruffles their feathers in preparation for an all out personal attack.  Children can and will make mistakes, your child can and will make a mistake, and all children can learn from that mistake.  So parents, let’s go back to school and learn your ABCs.

        Assess the situation.  Has your child been exhibiting angry or hurtful behavior at home to a younger or older sibling?  Does your child seem to be upset, sad, or withdrawn on more days than he/she is happy or engaging?  What is the source of their anger?  Is there family strife in the home?  Could dad or mom be modeling negative forms of behavior?  Does your child gravitate in their free time to games, movies, online media that promotes negativity and violence?  Be honest with yourself when answering these questions and do not assess your environment through rose-colored glasses. The notion that “boys will be boys” and that “girls go through stages” is an excuse to not act. 

        Be calm in the storm.  If the school administration, teacher, or another parent contacts you to report your child’s negative behavior, remain calm and gather the facts thoughtfully regarding the situation.  Most parents will initially feel a gut-wrenching emotional response to this type of report about their child.  Don’t immediately project blame onto yourself or your spouse, as this type of call is not a “personal attack.”  Sit down and evaluate the family dynamics and how your child’s behavior at home has played into those dynamics.  After your fact gathering and personal assessment has been completed, it will be time to meet with the school counselor, teacher, or administration and calmly discuss the issues at hand.  Realize you each have a common goal to fix the problem and this is not a finger-pointing, placing-blame session. 
        Correct any and all inappropriate behavior or potential bullying behavior that your child may be exhibiting.  Discuss school and home activities and behavior on a daily basis.  Remember that behaviors and attitudes can change, and careful observation and guidance will help your child develop long-term successful appropriate behavior with his/her peers.  Realize that children model the behavior of their parents and/or other significant adults in their lives.  Be careful what you are “feeding” your child in terms of your own behavior.  Correcting poor behavior takes effort that may cause frustration on both parties, but nonetheless will yield positive results.

Life is often called a journey.  Parents and children will navigate this journey together, which includes roads through hills and valleys with both highs and the dreaded lows.  When parents hold the map and point out the way to go, the valleys will become less frequent and children will have a firm foundation or plateau to always come back to when future conflicts arise.  Don’t take for granted the hills of success either.  Make sure you are celebrating and rewarding good behavior as well, because often times a child misbehaves to seek attention.  Remember your ABCs if you find your child has detoured into one of those valleys as you assess the situation, be calm, and correct poor behavior.  May you and your child have an excellent school year and navigate with success!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Back to School Bullies

“Back to school” can be a hectic time for families as they juggle schedules, readjust to a sleep/wake routine, and have everything in perfect order for that first day.  The last thing that either a parent or child should have to worry about is the dreaded mean kid.  Unfortunately, the anticipation of the first day back brings with it a level of anxiety and stress for those that have encountered problems with a mean kid in the past.  Will the mean kid still be mean?  Will the mean kid still be in my school?  Will the mean kid still pick me to be mean to?  All of these questions play on the minds of those who have been bullied. 
 160,000 students stay home from school everyday due to bullying according to the National Education Agency.  It is paramount for parents to take an active role in their child’s education.   Take part in regular conversations pertaining to school at home and interact as much as possible on school campuses.  This active role is the first step parents can take to bully proof their children. 
                       A parental presence is the number one deterrent for childhood bullies.  Bullies prefer to be sneaky most of the time.   It is very easy for parents and teachers to identify the kid that is mean to everyone, but it is very difficult to identify the kid that is quietly mean to just one person.  This “quietly mean” child can be the one who causes the most damage.  Psychological abuse in the form of damaging words can leave life-long scars that far surpass any physical abuse that one may encounter.  If your child has a “best friend” but still seems to be withdrawn or unhappy, evaluate this friendship immediately.  Ask what games are being played at school.  Ask your child whom they are sitting with at lunch.  Ask more than “how was your day?”  When you ask more, you decrease the chances of having the “it was fine” or the one answer “good” become another day that a potential problem was ignored.
                Mean parents raise mean children.  As parents, you need to be aware of those “mean parents” that you may encounter.  It is a no-brainer that behavior is modeled, so the unfortunate result is the development of mean kids.  Don’t spend every day of the school year in the pick-up or drop-off line.  Walk your child into school once a week to reinforce a parental presence.  Make it a priority to attend a school-sponsored field trip, and attend at least 2 class parties throughout the year.  By engaging in conversation with other parents and teachers, parents make themselves “available” to discuss any problems that may be occurring.  During this interaction, be on the look out for those mean parents that seem to have a bad attitude every time you encounter them and guide your child’s choice of friends accordingly.
                 Don’t be afraid to shake up your social circle.  Parents have to be able to openly discuss the difficult issues that arise with each other without taking offense.  Children are not emotionally mature enough to always act appropriately, but parents should be.  Undoubtedly, problems can and will arise between children of the same social circle that need to be addressed by parents.  The key is to deal with these problems directly with the parent whose child is involved and leave out the uninvolved families.  Often times, parents are quick to complain to a third party, as they are worried about upsetting their “social circle”.  Parents must stand together or a greater degree of division will occur between the children.
         As the start of the new school year begins, there are very important tips to share with children to keep them from either becoming a bully or becoming the victim of a bully.  These critical messages are very simple and should be reinforced throughout the school year.

Kids need to be able to RECOGNIZE what “mean” is:  hurtful words, pushing/shoving/kicking, alienation, exclusion, facial reactions, etc…

Once a child recognizes this type of behavior, he/she needs to be given the okay to REPORT this behavior to a parent/teacher/counselor/principal, etc…  Stop labeling children as “tattle-tales”.  Tattle –tales save lives.

            3.  BE A FRIEND
After an incident has been reported, it is now time to REACT.  A child needs to know that the nicer they are to all children, the less chance they have of being bullied.  Encourage your child to be the one that reaches out to the child who has no friends.

Bli Marston Dugi, M-PAC
The Principle Gang, “No Bullies Allowed”

twitter: @principlegang

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Friday Night Lights and Bullies

One Game Suspension…For the Fan

Friday night kicked off the start of football season in a brand new stadium.  Even though I am not the parent of a player, cheerleader, band member, or even student of this school district, I was extremely proud and grateful to experience such an awesome improvement for the town in which I live.  The field was beautiful and the seating was top-notch.  The players and coaches were excited.  The cheerleaders were engaging, and the band was keeping the crowd alive.

Shortly before half-time, our team had a couple of busted plays and "the moment" occurred.  You know you have heard that moment before, many times, often at every game.  The crowd had silenced for the most part and the words spilled out like a slithering snake ready to strike.  The snake analogy works well in this instance as these "snakes" are waiting and hiding amongst the fans to spill their poison.  This poison was loud and this poison was at first infectious as the initial reaction was a reactionary "snicker" amongst the other fans.  

This "snicker" or more appropriately termed "nervous laughter" is the same problem that occurs among peers in an uncomfortable situation.  Thankfully, the second strike of this snake did not elicit the same reaction.  Again, it was quiet and the words were again directed to the coaching staff of this hometown team.  "What was that COACH?!  What are you doing COACH?! Hey COACH, that was terrible?!"  At this point, the trauma set in and I was forced into the "fight or flight" mode.  To "fight" from six rows up would only escalate the situation with this fan, however, the "flight" mode does not stop the situation from reoccurring.  At this point many people were looking around to see who was spilling the venom, but at the time, no one took a stab at correcting the behavior.

These coaches are someone's husband or wife, someone's father or mother, someone's son or daughter, and someone's sibling.  They put the lives of their families on hold for a very (if you are lucky) large part of the summer and school year.  They are not only molding great players, they are responsible for molding boys into young men.  They are often times the most coveted mentor in an adolescent's life, and these players are guided to respect their coach for the sake of the team.  By disrespecting the coach, you are directly disrespecting a valuable mentor in the life of a child.

I am a firm believer that being a season ticket holder of any organization brings with it a level of responsibility.  I would propose that when you pick up your tickets at the Administration office, you are required to sign a behavioral contract.  You should not be allowed to spew negativity, profanity, and generally unsportsmanlike conduct to any member of a school district.  At a minimum, the first offense should be a one game suspension.  The second offense should be a re-issuing of season tickets to someone more respectful of the hard work that goes into the lives of these children.  I am certain there is a waiting list for that seat.  To the man six rows in front of me…STOP BEING A BULLY.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Lessons from a Gentle Giant

Kids say really mean things now a days! 

I've heard that phrase used many times but it didn't mean much to me until it hit home. One would think that being the tallest kid in their school would be something to feel good about, but this is not so. 
There's nowhere to hide.  
You are a very easy target because who better to be the butt of jokes than the 6ft, overweight, slow, baby-faced gentle giant??? 
Uncomfortable in his own skin and not very confident in what he does because he's always told by teachers and fellow students that he's not good enough...not trying enough...not fast enough...or skinny enough.
Kids do say mean things. 
I hope my son always holds onto the lesson that mean people have taught him: 
 I hope he never makes another kid feel uncomfortable in his/her skin.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Does everything really happen for a reason?

It was 1 month before the start of a new competitive dance season for a 5 year old little girl.  With three team dances and one solo, the rigorous demands for preparation were a bit out of touch with reality.  Nonetheless, the passion, drive and commitment from a tiny heart would persevere. Until….the kindergarten bouncy house birthday party invitation.

It was a complete freak accident, the scream was intense and the first of its nature heard by her mother.  One leap in the air by a much older child and the unintentional "double bounce" next to my little dancer  caused the ankle to roll.  It swelled instantly and I knew it was bad.  Two fractures, a torn ligament, and  a cast could not keep this determined girl from her love of dance.  Because, you see, at dance….she was in control.  

Why? I kept asking myself why?  We were always so careful….why?  "Everything happens for a reason."  I must have been told this 10 times.  For the life of me, I could not find a "reason".  Children don't get hurt for a "reason".  I had convinced myself  "This was an accident, and only an accident."  I have never been so wrong.

By the third day of lifting my casted child out of the car, unloading the wheelchair and rolling her to class, I was informed by the teacher that there is really:  no one to help her at school, no one to push her to the bathroom, no one to help her transfer out of the wheelchair, and nothing for her to do at recess or PE.  This revelation began my days of going back to kindergarten.  For 2 weeks, I stayed in my child's classroom to give her the basic needs to be able to participate at school.  I provided her alternative activities to make up for the "fun" she was missing, and essentially became the "teacher's aid" to the other students as well.   That's what parents do…right?  

During these two weeks, I couldn't help but notice the constant yelling everyday that I entered the school.  There was yelling in the morning, yelling at lunch, and yelling at the end of the day…everyday.  The environment was starting to feel a bit traumatic, but it took a lot more than a few classrooms of out of control kids and "I've lost control teachers" to make me realize that…this was no accident.  You see, the teacher became very comfortable with me and very used to me being there.  The "smile and wave" filter was gone.  When you yell at a kindergartner so loud and forcefully that it causes fear and the loss of bladder control…you have crossed the line.  When you grab a child by the face and yank them over to you to yell at them…you have crossed the line.  

So, which would you choose?  A fractured ankle that will heal in three months vs. a traumatic first year of school that could cause a lifetime of damage.  We'll take the fracture and transfer.  Four weeks post fracture, and dancing in a walking cast…the solo trophy was a bonus.

Friday, 2 May 2014

No Bullies Allowed

Attention: Has your child/grandchild/niece/nephew experienced bullying in elementary school? Please take the time to email us at with your story. We would like to feature your anonymous story (names changed) on our blog as a first step to giving your child a voice. Please include the steps you have taken to stop the bullying.