From Protecting Your Child to Explaining Illnesses

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”Bullies – How To Help My Child Deal with Them?”


Dear Dr. Gelb:

My 8-year-old says he is being picked on and bullied by kids at school. His teacher tells me she will monitor this. My child wants to change schools. I’m not sure what would be best?

Protective Parent

Dr. Gelb says . . .

Dear Protective:

Your question reminds me of some of the reasons why many parents enroll their children in martial arts types of programs — not so that their children can become bullies, but to enable them to build character based on self-worth and self-pride.

Not only can this enable them to stand their ground and defend themselves, even physically if necessary, but typically, confident children do not make attractive targets for potential bullies. This is because mischievous children have a knack for picking on others whom they consider nerds or little cowards. They tend to stay away from children who stand their ground, show no fear and do not cower.

Given that bullies typically pick on people they can frighten and intimidate, when someone appears not to be intimidated by threatening behavior, then there is little basis for attack.

”Illness – How to Explain to Children?”

Dear Dr. Gelb:

My mother (in her 60s) has cancer. My wife says our 4-year-old is too young to understand about serious illness and tells our son that “grandma has a boo boo.”

As a child I was talked to in baby language and a lot of times I knew my parents were covering up and it made me mistrustful.

I don’t think a child should be sheltered from facts of life like illness. Your thoughts?

In favor of the truth

Dr. Gelb says . . .

Dear Truth:

I couldn’t agree with you more. Children need to feel like they are part of the family. In my opinion they need to know what is going on and, in that sense, it is important for children to know if a parent or loved one is ill, what is wrong with them, and what is likely to happen. This can be communicated to them in a language that they can understand.

One parent handled this sensitive issue by telling his 5-year-old that, “Yes grandma has cancer. It is a disease that doctors can’t always get rid of and the doctor says grandma will die. You remember when your little hamster got sick and the vet couldn’t cure it, and when your hamster died we had a funeral and buried it in the back yard. Remember how we cried and missed the little hamster — that’s what will happen with grandma. When she dies then we’ll have a funeral and we will bury her, and we’ll all have nice memories about grandma and how much she loved us and how much we loved her.”

As to baby talk and shielding children from reality, I believe this ought to cease by the time children are able to talk and ask questions about what is going on. This prepares them to be less afraid of life in general.

Children who are shielded from these types of facts of life run the risk of developing timid and fearful tendencies, and some may show signs of hypochondria.

”’Suzanne J. Gelb, Ph.D., J.D. authors this weekly column, Dr. Gelb Says, which answers questions about daily living and behavior issues. Extra articles and additional Q & As may occasionally be posted in response to specially requested topics. Dr. Gelb is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Honolulu. She holds a Ph.D. in Psychology and a Ph.D. in Human Services. Dr. Gelb is also a published author of a book on Overcoming Addictions and a book on Relationships.”’

”’This column is intended for entertainment use only and is not intended for the purpose of psychological diagnosis, treatment or personalized advice. For more about the column’s purpose, see”’ “An Online Intro to Dr. Gelb Says”

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