Son Scared to Make New Friends After Being Bullied


My 11-year old son refuses to socialize with any of the other children in his school. I am very concerned!

@thinkstock/iStockDR. RUTHERFORD: I share her concern about this 11-year old boy.

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.

My Child is Being Bullied at School. What Can I Do?


My first grader is being bullied at school. How do I address this and with whom?

MOLLY: The reader also asked if she should be talking with the teacher or the principal, or even the parents of the girl who’s bullying her child.

Dr. Susan Rutherford (MOM):  I think there are a couple lines of approach with this. First of all, as a parent she should recognize that being bullied can be a really hard thing for a child to deal with, and unfortunately, not that unusual for a child to encounter at some point in their schooling. I think it’s not uncommon to see bullying behaviors in 6th, 7th and 8th grade among girls, for example. I’m not sure what goes on during that those years but girls can be terribly mean to each other and gang up on each other.

One of the things she will want to do when her child comes home and tells her about the bullying, is to be sympathetic to her child, and not blow it off. She’ll want to share some understanding of how difficult this is and talk to the child about avoiding those kids, if possible, or finding new friends, if that’s the issue.

If the bullying behavior continues, the teacher needs to be made aware of what’s going on in the playground. The kid might be able to tell the teacher herself, or she might be uncomfortable telling her teacher, so that would be the time for the parent to step in and have an informal conversation with the teacher to ask if the bullying behavior has been noticed.

MOLLY: I think a lot of this stuff happens on the playground and out of the teacher’s sight.

MOM: You kind of have to take this step by step. The next step would be for the parent to talk to the teacher about what’s going on so the teacher can start watching for inappropriate behavior in the classroom and alert the playground aides to watch for it outside, too.

Sometimes the bullying occurs after school, like on the bus or while walking home from school, in which case the teachers would have no knowledge of what’s going on and wouldn’t be able to step in to stop it. At that point, I would contact the parent of that other child.

I saw a case like this in my office where the child was being bullied on the bus ride home after school. The child was about 9 years old and another 9-year old boy would approach him and inform him of the horrible things that were going to happen to this boy. The boy went home and told his mother and the mother spoke to the parents of the bullying boy. Those parents denied that any of that could have happened, so the mother had no choice but to go to the school and talk to the teacher and also to the principal. That actually worked: the school administration called in the parents of the bullying boy and it was taken care of on that level. The bully had to sit directly behind the bus driver in a seat by himself because he wasn’t just bullying this one 9-year old boy, it turned out that he was bullying other kids on the bus, too. So you have to take it step by step, and you have to be fairly dogged about it in support of your own child.

MOLLY: Yeah, you gotta protect your kid.

MOM: Bottom line: you have to protect and advocate for your child.

MOLLY: What can happen if you don’t address this at the time and the bullying continues?

MOM: Duke University recently released a report about the effects of childhood bullying and how they last into adulthood. The study found that victims of childhood bullying were more likely to suffer from anxiety disorders and panic attacks as adults. Interestingly, they also found that the adults who were doing the bullying as kids were more likely to be diagnosed later with anti-social personality disorders and show lifelong patterns of blatant disregard and violation of the rights of others. We can see that bullying behaviors can have lasting effects on both the bullied and the bully. Clearly, it’s important to address this issue early on before it leaves a permanent impression on a child’s personality.

Experience this? Comment below if you’ve had success dealing with bullying in elementary school using other strategies. Or Contact US if you have other parenting questions you’d like to see addressed