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Back-To-School Bullies (9/6/06)

Dear Zelda,

I really need your advice.  My 7-year old son is being bullied by a boy twice his size. Every time he rides his bike to school he's jeered for wearing a helmet. When he takes it off, this bully then teases him about his weight and glasses. It tears me apart to see my son's feelings being hurt.  I'd like to see him fight his own battles, but this harassment needs to stop. What steps should I take?

Stymied Mom

Dear Stymied,

Give a heads-up to the adult playground monitor about this bulldozing.  If that doesn't help, call a bull session with the school Principal, teacher, and parent(s), and charge on from there. I'd suggest that your PTA Board appoint a Bully-Busters Committee. Maybe this will start a running of all the bullies right off campus. A few years back people called me "fat" and "ugly".  I've learned to ignore their insults.  It's been much healthier for me to feel good about myself and to stop worrying about what others are saying. Advise your son to tough it out and keep wearing his helmet (along with some cork-size earplugs). The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander: From Preschool to High School--How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle of Violence by Barbara Coloroso would be a useful book to read and pass on to the school resource center. It's up to you to take the bully by the horns.

Zelda

Dear Zelda,

My daughter gets off the bus in tears and has nightmares because she is regularly bullied by other girls in her junior high school.  Her grades have dropped, and some days she even pleads to stay home. These mean girls tease her about her accent and her clothes.  How can I help my daughter so she won't be so miserable?

Clueless

Dear Clueless,

Your daughter joins more than 160,000 students who miss school on any given day because of the fear of being bullied. At home you might role-play with her to teach her assertiveness and avoidance tactics like...life is tough, but you're tougher. Invite friends over to play the board game Block the Bullying Cycle (Franklin Learning Systems), which teaches children to stop bullying, whether they find themselves the target, the bystander, or the bully. I'd suggest that the school's Principal might set aside a Bullying Stops Here Awareness Week, as the first step in transforming the campus into a Bully-free Zone.  The book, Bullies & Victims: Helping Your Child Survive the Schoolyard Battlefield by Suellen Fried and Paula Fried might be a valu-a-bull resource. I used to get depressed when I'd hear people making fun of the fact that I dress up in silly outfits, drool, and have an under bite orthodontists dream about.  I've learned to like who I am and to be happy with it. Comfort and listen to your daughter. Tell her how wonderful she is.  This will be the first step in helping your daughter bully-proof herself. She deserves your help. Beat the bullies!

Zelda

Dear Zelda,

I have a two-year-old English bulldog named Stanley. Whenever I take him for his daily walk, he barks ferociously and yanks his leash when we pass other dogs. I've even come close to losing control of him when he goes berserk. His unruliness is embarrassing, and I don't feel I'm being responsible. Would it help if I had him neutered, or put him on doggy Prozac? 

Master of Distress

Dear Master,

You need to take the bully out of your bully.  What a drag that your bulldog has been taking YOU for a walk. When my owner and I walk, we walk together.  I recommend you try training and conditional response before resorting to drugs for him. The way you  train a dog is the way you  train your children...be consistent, be loving.  Neutering might neutralize his behavior, and an obedience class might provide him opportunity for socializing and becoming accustomed to one-word commands. Whatever the roots or type of his aggression, you need to establish your dominance and leadership. Once you do, if he again displays  aggressive behavior while on a walk,  you might try shaking a large noisy can of coins to grab his  attention, and then firmly say, "No!"  Never scream or yell. (My owner used to scream and yell, but it just annoyed me.) If Stanley calms down, reward him with praise or a treat. If this doesn't work after a few attempts, simply can that idea, remove the coins and use them as down payment for a personal trainer for the two of you.   A little canine advice for Stanley: turn aggressions into attitude.  Works for me.

Zelda