My 11-year old son refuses to socialize with any of the other children in his school. I am very concerned!
MOLLY: This question was submitted by a mother in Ottowa, Canada, and she elaborated that in the 3rd grade her son was bullied every day by another student and it went unchecked by school officials. The bully was very physically aggressive: hitting, kicking, throwing rocks and eventually knocking her son’s two front teeth out. They ended up moving schools but her son is having a lot of difficulties making new friends.
DR. RUTHERFORD: I’m not surprised that he’s feeling reluctant about making friends. It sounds like he was bullied quite a bit with no protection from the school or anyone else. His issues are now beyond using a sticker chart or other small things that we could possibly think of for him to do at home to help him recover from what happened to him.
I’m suspect he may be suffering from PTSD (post traumatic stress syndrome) because of the amount of trauma he experienced. It’s no wonder he doesn’t feel safe befriending kids in his new class.
MOLLY: What do you think the parents can do to help him? It’s a heart-breaking story and seems so unfair to this poor child.
DR. RUTHERFORD: Yes, it is very unfair, but it’s even worse than that because this is the kind of early trauma that can follow him through the rest of his life. That’s why it’s so important for him to get some professional intervention. He needs to see a trained therapist for help processing the trauma that he experienced.
MOLLY: What kind of treatment forms are there for this?
DR. RUTHERFORD: There are several possibilities. One is talk therapy, which will be very, very helpful because recovery from trauma involves talking about it over and over until it stops haunting the person.
Another form of treatment that has been successfully used in treating trauma and PTSD is called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). She’ll have to find an EMDR therapist to perform this therapy but it can make a huge difference for someone with PTSD, and has been used with a lot of war veterans for this reason.
MOLLY: What might happen if his PTSD goes untreated? What types of behaviors might his parents see in him later on in his life?
DR. RUTHERFORD: PTSD can severely influence the rest of someone’s life in negative ways.
For this child, he may continue to shy away from others into adulthood and become even more introverted and lonely. Or, he may end up becoming a bully himself as a self-protective measure. Neither one of these possibilities is a good thing as they will interfere with him establishing a successful relationships as an adult.
I’m really glad that this mom wrote to us now because he should get into treatment immediately, if not sooner.
In general, the closer one is to the time of the trauma, the more effective it can be to get treatment and experience a recovery. While it’s certainly never too late, it’s better to do this therapeutic work now while he’s still a child and the trauma is still fresh. We wish him the very best on this journey.