#StopBullying: What Parents Need to Know

Dr. Robert D. Keder, developmental-behavioral expert at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center shares how to address bullying with your child not just during National Bullying Prevention Month but all year round. #stopbullying 

Sad pupil being bullied by classmates at corridor

What are some signs your child may display at home if he or she is being bullied at school?
Who is at risk?
All children are at risk to be involved in bullying.  We refer to children who are bullied as targets of bullying.  Children who stick out or are perceived as “different” than others are at more risk of being the target of bullying.  Children with special needs are 3-5 five times more at risk for being the target of bullying.  This includes children with ADHD, learning disabilities, medical problems, food allergies, autism, an IEP and/or  a 504 Plan.  Children who are overweight, from families that do not speak English at home, who identify as GLBTQ, and children who are of racial, ethnic, and/or religious minority in group are also at risk.

What to look for. Children who are targets of bullying may have sudden changes in their behavior.  Here are some of the things to look for: grades going down,  sudden changes in friendships, suddenly losing interest in things they like to do, coming home from school upset or wanting to be alone, lower self-esteem, changes in habits like eating or sleeping, changes in mood, feelings of loneliness or sadness, anxiety.  They may suddenly not want to go to school or skip school.  They may have vague complaints of headaches, stomach aches, or other ache/pains.  You should be concerned if your child comes home with unexplainable injuries or lost/destroyed belongings.  Some children may even hurt or injure themselves; if this is the case call your child’s doctor or 211 right away.  For cyberbullying, keep an eye out for children who pull away from technology like their phone or their computer.  If you notice any of these things, talk to your child.

My child is being bullied. How should I speak to him or her about it?
Children usually do not want to talk about bullying.  It is an uncomfortable topic to talk about especially for a child who is being bullied.  Bullying is a traumatic experience.  The best way to handle talking about bullying is to help children understand what it is, that bullying is “not okay,” and to check in with them.  Keeping lines of communication with your child is important.  Checking in with your child every day is important.  Children who feel “connected” to their parents are more likely to ask them for help and to talk about tough decisions.

If you are worried that your child is being bullied here are some strategies that can help.  Start general.  Let them know that how they are feeling is normal.  School in general, especially middle school when bulling can be at its worst, is challenging.  Ask how school is going.  You can then say, “I hear kids get teased sometimes, have you been teased at school? Has anyone been a bully?” Let them know if you are worried and give them permission to talk about it.

How can I best explain what bullying is to my child?
There is a difference between teasing and bullying.  Brother and sisters (and even parents) tease children.  If it is done in a friendly, playful, and mutual way it can be fun.  When teasing becomes unwanted,  mean,  hurtful, and constant it becomes bullying.

In 2014 the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recognized bullying as a public health problem and published a definition of bullying to help understand it better and prevent it.  Bullying has 4 key elements: it is an unwanted aggressive behavior,  it happens between people with a power imbalance, it is repeated or likely to be repeated, and may inflict harm or distress.  For example, bullying is technically not making a mean joke once.  That is still not okay but also not technically bullying.  If someone makes a mean joke every day about someone every day, then it is bullying.

Helping children understand the difference between things like having an argument with someone (not bullying), accidentally bumping into someone (not bullying), and intentionally mean behavior that happens more than once (definitely bullying) is important.  You can also let them know that bullying can happen in 4 different ways:

Verbal bullying This is saying or writing mean things.  It includes things like repeated teasing, name calling, taunting, and threatening.
Physical bullying.  This is when behavior hurt’s a person’s body or belongings.  It includes things like hitting, kicking, spitting, pushing, tripping, and taking or breaking another person’s things.
Relational or Social bullying This form of bullying focus on hurting someone’s relationships or reputation.  This involves things like spreading rumors, telling others to not be friends with a child, leaving someone out on purpose, or publicly embarrassing someone.
Cyberbullying.  This is when any kind of bullying (usually verbal or relational) happens on line.  It can happen on social media (Facebook , Instagram, etc.), text messages, e-mails, and in chat rooms.

If your child is being bullied:
If your child is being bullied, let your school know.  Talk with his or her teacher or counselor.  You can also stop by the main office.  Connecticut state laws require that every school have a way to anonymously report bullying and have a policy with how to treat it.

Need more help?
General resources: https://www.stopbullying.gov/
Connecticut bullying laws: https://www.stopbullying.gov/laws/connecticut.html
Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center: http://www.cpacinc.org/hot-topics/bullying/
Connecticut State Department of Education: http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/cwp/view.asp?a=2663&q=334608

Still need more help?
Call us and make an appointment.  Dr. Keder is a Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician who specializes in working with children with special needs and helping children and their families who are involved in bullying.

We Are the “Heart Twins”

Shared by Kristin Muraca, CHD Survivor and patient of Connecticut Children’s Adult Congenital Heart Program

14625487_10211130005074938_770223217_nIn anticipation of the New York Congenital Heart Walk this weekend, Kristin shares her story and that of her “heart twin” Jennifer, who together are raising awareness and funds for Adult Congenital Heart Defects.

Twins; neither identical nor fraternal, not born on the same day or to the same parents. Cardiac twins; single ventricles, Fontans, Pacemakers. Young children, born 3 months apart, with young parents, living in the same Connecticut town, and seeing the same doctors. Their pediatric cardiologists introduced their moms to each other – fostering an early CHD connection. Not yet aware of their special bond, Kristin moved one small town over from Jennifer, their mothers lost touch, and their lives moved in different directions.

Fontan, pacemaker, Blalock-Taussig shunt, thoracotomy, liver cirrhosis. Pulmonary stenosis, atrial septal defect, cardioversion, accelerated junctional rhythm, Heterotaxy syndrome, dextrocardia, atrial fibrillation, heart failure all faced by Kristin and Jen long before last years’ Congenital Heart Walk (The excitement from which may or may NOT have caused Jennifer’s fluttering this past summer.) Their medical and surgical stories running parallel but never crossing for over 30 years until Kristin needed an endoscopy to screen for possible complications of her newly diagnosed cardiac induced liver cirrhosis.

When she woke up from the procedure, there was Jen standing by her side.
Jen had been told that she may be seeing adults with CHD come to her unit for endoscopies. Doctors were starting to see ties between the Fontan Procedure and cardiac induced liver cirrhosis and knowing Jen had an almost identical surgical history, her colleagues picked her brain for insight. They assigned Jennifer as the nurse in charge of Kristin’s recovery. When Kristin opened her eyes that morning, Jennifer was taking her blood pressure. It was a set-up. Even in her 15 year nursing career, Jennifer had only cared for one other patient with a single ventricle. There was an instant connection, and inherent desire to get to know each other better.

14694768_10211130004794931_229615300_nThere have been years where they both could pretend they were “normal.” Their parents treated them that way. Neither was raised to feel self-conscious or less capable. They were surrounded by a community of support. Friends sometimes thought Jen’s blue lips were a fashion statement. Jennifer had her Blalock in 2nd grade and a giant paper bag filled with cards from her classmates was waiting for her when she got home. Kristin, whose 4th grade teacher was a former nurse, did her best to explain the Fontan surgery to classmates and other faculty. In turn, most kids were quite protective of Kristin, and as she got older, she would return the favor. Jennifer had her drivers’ license for 2 months before her Fontan surgery. She drove everywhere except to the hospital for surgery, knowing recovery from open-heart surgery would prevent her from going behind the wheel for several months

Kristin and Jennifer spent their entire lives making regular visits to the same pediatric cardiology office. When Connecticut Children’s Medical Center opened in 1996, the young ladies were 22 years old. Despite being adults, the young ladies continued to be followed by the pediatric group. However, they had “out-aged” the hospital, as at that time Connecticut Children’s could not admit patients over age 18. These women were incredibly fortunate though. Their doctors had been preparing for Kristin and Jennifer’s adulthood for a lifetime by planning for an Adult CHD clinic.

Four years ago, the pediatric practice created a continuity of care for Jennifer and Kristin and all of their patients surviving into adulthood. Their pediatric cardiologists Dr. Felice Heller & Dr. Shailendra Upadhyay became accredited Adult Congenital Specialists, and Connecticut Children’s began admitting adult patients with congenital defects. The “Heart Twins” epitomize the importance of appropriate life-long care with suitable and accredited doctors in hospitals that can manage their medical requirements.

These women were able to tackle the real questions of maturity with greater insight. As a child, Jennifer received a strict warning, “Never ever pick up a cigarette! It will kill you.” Or “I could never tell a woman not to have a child, but I’d hate to see all of our hard work go to waste.” She met her husband in high school; they went to the prom together. Her scars and memories of her with blue lips made her feel self-conscious but he wasn’t deterred. They adopted two beautiful children. She often reminds her daughters, “If it weren’t for my heart, we wouldn’t be a family.”

“CHD made me the mature one in my group of friends. It was seltzer for me at every party and I would make sure everyone got home safe” says Kristin. There was the heartbreak in hearing her doctors’ emphatic warnings against becoming pregnant. “It’s like anything else, you freak out for a moment, ask yourself ‘what am I gonna do?’ and live your life.” Kristin embraces other kids as her own giving her an enormous love-filled family.

14694615_10211130014315169_415384426_n“On the day that I was born, the doctors told my 20-year old mom to take me home and love me. How did she do it?” Kristin came to understand that every scar told a story and a possibly grim prognosis is not a sentence. Her parents and family and friends helped her see that. Jennifer empathically understood that. It’s the legacy these women are creating. Spreading and urging awareness. Awareness of congenital heart defects, awareness of our relationship to our own health and the importance of life-long care. Awareness of connecting with one another and knowing that “The Time to Be Happy Is Now.”

You often hear about that weird “twin thing.” The ability twins have to intuitively sense one another. It’s not so different from the CHD community we’re building here. Join The Heart Twins and Team CT CHD at the NYC Congenital Heart Walk on Sunday October 23rd.

Learn more at http://events.congenitalheartwalk.org/site/TR/Walk/General?pg=team&fr_id=1514&team_id=12972

Why I Run

Written by Kim Karr

i-am-running-forThis Saturday, October 8, I will run the 5k portion of the EverSource Hartford Marathon on behalf of Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.

You all know what Connecticut Children’s means to our family, and you are aware of the fact that we have spent a considerable amount of time there with Emily since her diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease twelve years ago. She was nine years old at diagnosis and required emergency surgery and life support of TPN for nearly three weeks. She was there again at seventeen years old to treat more complications of this vicious disease. And then last year she was there again for nearly an entire month … she had two emergency surgeries, the last of which resulted in an ostomy, which she lives with still.

I am very familiar with Connecticut Children’s. I spent almost every night there with Emily, except when Marko would relieve me for a day to spend time with our sons and rest in our own bed. I am so familiar with the stinging smell of hand sanitizer, the squeaky plastic bed, the constant beep beep beep of pulse-ox monitors up and down the hallways. It’s all so familiar that I’ve almost stopped registering the details. It had become white noise. I vaguely remember the 1:00am slipper shuffle, down the hallway and into the “family kitchen” to fix some herbal tea, hoping for maybe even an hour of resulting sleep. Sometimes I would come upon another worn and worried parent who was hoping to do the same. Our shared, tired half-smiles conveyed so much more than words ever could. It’s a blur now.

What has never blurred though, is the memory of the time, the care, and the attention that Emily received while she was there. Whether it was from the top-notch doctors and nurses who saw to her every need, or the child life specialists who made sure that she had access to what made her happy – art, books, movies… Emily and every other child at Connecticut Children’s was, and IS treated like a kid who is going through a bad time … but is still a kid. A kid who is still whole. A kid who is still special.

Please click on this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbAFjZ-4ACU&sns=em because I want you to see more about Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.

And then, if you can, please click on this link https://www.crowdrise.com/team-ct-childrens-EversourceHartfordMarathon2016/fundraiser/kimkaar to support my fundraising efforts for this amazing hospital. The Connecticut Children’s Medical Center Foundation helps make everything that I just described available to all children and families who need it. Fundraising and raising awareness for Type 1 Diabetes and Crohn’s Disease are front and center in my world … but fundraising for Connecticut Children’s helps me to reach all areas of pediatric disease. I am so grateful for your help.

Lastly, if you cannot donate at this time, I understand. I’ve been there. I would like to ask you to please keep these kids and families in your prayers though. I believe that it does make a difference. Thank you.

Wish me luck! It’s a long-range forecast but they’re predicting rain. That’s okay. I won’t melt. I haven’t yet 🙂