SPEAKING UP SAVES LIVES!
As adults, it is our responsibility to notice when a child needs our help. We have experience with warning signs, danger signs, and a learned intuition when something doesn’t seem right. Often times, however, a situation arises when such instinct is in the hands of other children, peers of the child needing help. This is where raising our kids with reasonable knowledge of social dangers becomes not just important for their own safety but for their friends and schoolmates, as well.
My daughter, who’s in 5th grade, came home a few weeks ago worried about a boy in her class. “James” was telling other kids that he cut himself, that he stabbed himself in the chest once with a knife, and that he wished he could die. She said she was scared for him because he seemed serious. Other kids didn’t want to get involved.
I advised her to talk to her teacher, but first, I wanted her to be sure of what he told the other kids. I asked for their names – 3 girls I know personally – and instructed her to find out how they felt when he told them.
She returned home the next afternoon to tell me each girl had heard something the others hadn’t. He told one girl he cut himself on the arm and showed her the slash marks. He told another girl about the stab to his chest and said his mom took him to the doctor, where they patched it up and told him not to play with knives because he could kill himself. He had told his mother and the doctor that he was running with the knife in the kitchen as a joke and fell on it. He admitted to the girl that it was a lie but he didn’t want to get in trouble. Another girl sits behind him in class. She said he was sitting quietly at his desk one day when he said in a soft voice, “I wish I could just die.”
When my daughter asked the girls if they thought they should tell the teacher, they said it was none of their business. One of them said she didn’t want to get the boy in trouble.
I asked my daughter what she thought she should do. She itemized the issue like this: “1. He’s cutting himself and stabbed himself in the chest. 2. He says he wants to die. That’s not a normal thing for a kid to say, mom. Someone needs to do something!”
I told her she needed to go straight to her teacher in the morning. I said that if her teacher tells her she can’t talk right now and to sit down at her desk (because it happens sometimes), she is to tell her teacher it’s about a student in the class who is in danger. My daughter isn’t known for exaggerating or causing trouble. In fact, she’s known to be a very caring individual who doesn’t hesitate speaking up for what is right and for talking about what is wrong with teachers. Therefore, I knew that if she told her teacher it was about a student in trouble, she would have her undivided attention.
The next afternoon, the first thing she blurted when coming home was, “‘James’ is going to be okay!” I asked what happened. She said she went to the other 3 girls first and asked them if they wanted to go with her to tell the teacher about the boy. Two of the girls said no, it was none of their business. The third girl said she asked her mom about it and her mom said, “You girls need to mind your own business. It sounds like he’s just trying to get attention from the girls in the class.” My daughter told the girl about the work I do with child abuse prevention and awareness. The girl said she told her mom about me and that my daughter was raised to know warning signs of kids in trouble. Her mother told her, “Well, I’m an expert with kids and I’m telling you nothing is wrong. You shouldn’t listen to that girl [my daughter] because her mom sounds like a worry wart.”
My daughter shrugged her shoulders and said, “Okay, well, I’m going to tell because he needs help and I care about other kids.” She then marched up to the desk and asked if she could talk to the teacher outside so no one would hear. They did and a little while later, the school councilor called for the boy to go to her office.
I had a reason to call her teacher a few days later, and when we were done with the reason for the call, she informed me that she was very proud of my daughter for speaking up. She said she couldn’t say what was going on but that he was going to be okay now, thanks to my daughter. She said she was aware the other girls wanted to keep quiet about it and had been told by another parent not to tell anyone. She said she was going to have D.A.R.E. bring up a situation like that in their weekly class given to the 5th graders.
A few days ago, my daughter informed me that “James” will be leaving the school in a couple of weeks because his mother is moving with him and his sister to another house in another part of the state or possibly out of state. She said he seems so happy now. He’s always talking about going on family outings with his mom and sister, and he hasn’t said one thing about hurting himself or wishing he would die. He smiles more and seems to have more friends on the playground. He didn’t really have close friends before and no one was allowed to go to his house. Since the family was living in military housing and the father is active duty, I am assuming this means they are leaving the dad, which means they have to leave military housing. I’m left to speculate that the boy was being abused by his father and this was the reason for his depression.
As parents, we are responsible for the well-being of our children. Some believe they should only look after their own and let other parents tend to their responsibilities. Such an attitude may sometimes be okay in the fields of politics and religion, but it never ceases to amaze me how an adult can feel that way about a defenseless, helpless child.
Raising our kids with respect for themselves as well as respect for others goes a long way in their lives. Such a character trait makes them productive members of society, valuable assets at work, and guarantees them a healthier social life through their school years as well as adulthood. Teaching caution when proceeding in a dangerous situation is understandable, and knowing when to get involved and when to have an authority get involved instead is perfectly fine. Raising a child to be apathetic, however, is never okay. Such coldness will affect all areas of their lives: school, work, relationships, and parenthood. Such an apathetic attitude from one’s parent could, also, lead to a child to believe their parent won’t care if they are the child in need of help.
I am proud of my daughter for not only caring about that boy and speaking up for him, but for ignoring the apathy of her friends and the negative, cold-hearted attitude of that other mother. She knew what was right and she did it, even if it meant those three girls could make fun of her and even if the boy could be angry with her.
When I suggested to her that he may be angry or upset for telling his secret, I let her know that it was okay if he was mad. At least she would get him help and he would be thankful later on. She said she felt like he was telling the kids in class because he was hoping one of them would tell the teacher so he wouldn’t get in trouble for asking for help. She’s a smart girl because that is precisely why many kids don’t tell. So isn’t it up to us as good parents to teach our kids to help their friends who can’t ask for the help they need?
I have a couple of links about childhood suicide, depression, and childhood cutting. If you are a teacher or professional caregiver, please keep this information handy. If you’re a parent, please remember that even if you raise your child with love and kindness, it doesn’t mean his or her friends and classmates are being raised the same way. This information will help you talk to your kids about what their friends may be going through at home or elsewhere and how they can help.
Dr. Jane Pearson on Warning Signs for Childhood Suicide… http://www.nimh.nih.gov/media/audio/jane-pearson-on-warning-signs-for-childhood-suicide.shtml
Dr. Pearson: So the children who attempt suicide can have many types of problems. It could be depression, anxiety, conduct disorder, substance abuse and it’s typically a combination of things and there may be some events that are precipitants as well… so it’s usually not just one simple cause.
Announcer: Dr. Jane Pearson is with the Division of Services and Intervention Research at the National Institute of Mental Health. A great deal of her research focuses on how to prevent suicide. When it comes to reaching out to children and the adults who care for them, the most critical action step may be- listening…
Dr. Pearson: Kids often do talk about what they’re feeling. And people talk about gestures- being something that’s just- oh, they’re just trying to get attention. Well, they’re trying to get attention for a good reason and it would be good to not ignore any kind of comment about “oh, I just want to die.” It should probably reflect some type of distress and its worth evaluating.
Announcer: In addition to listening to our own kids… it’s important to listen to their friends…
Dr. Pearson: Kids still prefer to talk to other kids. They’re still reluctant to seek help from adults. So we’re… we see the research moving towards how do you get kids to help kids more. Usually, there is some distress and some comment about not wanting to be around. Other friends might notice this and you should take those comments from the kid’s peers very seriously and try to get some kind of evaluation as soon as possible.
WebMD Cutting and Self-Harm…. http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/features/cutting-self-harm-signs-treatment
“They may have a history of sexual, physical, or verbal abuse,” Lader adds. “Many are sensitive, perfectionists, overachievers. The self-injury begins as a defense against what’s going on in their family, in their lives. They have failed in one area of their lives, so this is a way to get control.”
For many kids, it’s the result of a repressive home environment, where negative emotions are swept under the carpet, where feelings aren’t discussed. “A lot of families give the message that you don’t express sadness,” says Conterio.
It’s a myth that this behavior is simply an attention-getter, adds Lader. “There’s a [painkiller] effect that these kids get from self-harm. When they are in emotional pain, they literally won’t feel that pain as much when they do this to themselves.”
David Rosen, MD, MPH, is professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan and director of the Section for Teenage and Young Adult Health at the University of Michigan Health Systems in Ann Arbor.
He offers parents tips on what to watch for:
Small, linear cuts. “The most typical cuts are very linear, straight line, often parallel like railroad ties carved into forearm, the upper arm, sometimes the legs,” Rosen tells WebMD. “Some people cut words into themselves. If they’re having body image issues, they may cut the word ‘fat.’ If they’re having trouble at school, it may be ‘stupid,’ ‘loser,’ ‘failure,’ or a big ‘L.’ Those are the things we see pretty regularly.”
Unexplained cuts and scratches, particularly when they appear regularly. “I wish I had a nickel for every time someone says, ‘The cat did it,'” says Rosen.
Mood changes like depression or anxiety, out-of-control behavior, changes in relationships, communication, and school performance. Kids who are unable to manage day-to-day stresses of life are vulnerable to cutting, says Rosen.
Signs of Depression in children: http://aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/the_depressed_child
The behavior of depressed children and teenagers may differ from the behavior of depressed adults. Child and adolescent psychiatrists advise parents to be aware of signs of depression in their youngsters.
If one or more of these signs of depression persist, parents should seek help:
Frequent sadness, tearfulness, crying
Decreased interest in activities; or inability to enjoy previously favorite activities
Persistent boredom; low energy
Social isolation, poor communication
Low self esteem and guilt
Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
Increased irritability, anger, or hostility
Difficulty with relationships
Frequent complaints of physical illnesses such as headaches and stomachaches
Frequent absences from school or poor performance in school
A major change in eating and/or sleeping patterns
Talk of or efforts to run away from home
Thoughts or expressions of suicide or self destructive behavior
Kids Health: Understanding Depression.. http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/feelings/understanding_depression.html
At the bottom of that page are tabs for parents to click, kids to click for help, and teens to click. Each tab has information on depression, cutting, suicide, bullying, etc..
In this month of National Child Abuse Awareness, we must remember that sometimes, the hero to an abused child isn’t always an adult. Sometimes it’s another child who has been taught to listen, speak up and speak out.