Friendly Fire

With so much talk of bullying today it’s little wonder that us parents stress about how our kids will fare when inevitably faced with what appears to be a regular part of modern school-life.

It’s a prospect that has certainly bothered me but when Rhapsody came home from pre-prep recently to tell me about one of her friends teasing another friend I wasn’t initially sure how to react. She wasn’t directly involved but she was obviously uneasy about it.

Without thought I told her that if it happened again to tell the person who was picking on someone else that name-calling/teasing wasn’t nice and to hold your friend’s hand.

It wasn’t till afterwards I wondered whether I’d thwarted a bully only by creating another one. Especially given Rhaps’ rather . . . um . . . ‘forceful’ style of communication (a bluntness inherited from her mother).

And could standing up to a bully only make her a target as well? Or further antagonise the bully?

Oh, the paranoia that went through my brain. Concerned, I sought out Steve McLuckie – a fellow regular panellist on ABC Radio’s Parenting Panels (Thursdays after 10am) – who just happens to also be the principal of Southport State School for some advice.

What he had to say was truly heart-warming. He reminded me of when we were at school and how, when someone was being bullied, most people stood behind the bully. Not because they supported them directly but mostly because they were happy to be out of the firing line. This silent assent was part of the problem. In contrast, Steve talked about anti-bullying programs, such as at his school where students stand by the person being bullied and point out that the words or behaviour used by the bully aren’t nice or acceptable.

By robbing the bully of support it not only discourages bullying but often helps foster more social behaviour in the child who was doing the bullying (and while it’s not an excuse, we should remember that sometimes these behaviours demonstrate that the child needs help). It was a wonderful concept and, more
importantly, it appears to be working. A few weeks later I saw it firsthand in my daughters and their friends during a tennis lesson. One of the girls became frustrated and, after another mistake, lashed out in an all-too human way.

What I didn’t expect was the other girls coming together to politely chide her and tell her that it wasn’t nice to yell at the other girl. It wasn’t aggressive and didn’t alienate the initial girl. Quite the opposite – it included her and she calmed down amongst her friends.

It was an incredibly poignant scene as you have to remember we’re talking about four year old girls here. At that age, they’re emotions on legs and don’t easily respond to reasoned words (or any words for that matter). But within seconds a potential explosion was defused.

It made my heart soar and also realise that maybe I needn’t worry quite so much. I won’t always be there and they will inevitably come across bullying or criticism from their peers but maybe, just maybe, they’re not as powerless as my protective brain thinks.

First Aid for first-time parents

Part of having very active kids is the inevitable accidents and incidents. And first time parents panic easily when faced with injuries and potential harm.

But fear not, you can learn from my experiences (and the fact my best friend Paul is a respected medical professional).

ELBOW – I once inadvertently dislocated Rhapsody’s elbow. I was walking hand-in-hand when she protested about wanting something, threw her feet up in the air and dead-weighted herself. I felt terrible and like an abusive parent despite not actually having done anything other than hold on to her hand while she threw a tantrum. I’m assured this is very common in young kids and, as I learnt, pretty easily fixed in seconds once medical staff are confident it’s just a radial head subluxation.

FOREIGN OBJECTS IN THE NOSE – Barbie shoes are hard to remove from the nostril. Trust me. If you can’t easily remove a foreign object from the nose go to the Emergency Department. The stories they tell . . .

AND THE MOUTH – Kids will inevitably swallow things. Most, such as small coins, rocks and marbles will pass but medical experts will always want to ensure there is no blockage to the airways. The photos they have . . .

BUTTON BATTERIES – Having said that, there are some things that require immediate urgent medical attention if swallowed. Small button batteries (such as watch batteries and toy batteries) represent a VERY high risk of serious harm. Do not delay seeking assistance. AND KEEP THEM AWAY FROM KIDS.

DISLODGED TOOTH – If a tooth gets knocked out then there is a chance – even if it’s slight – it can be saved. Immediately immerse it in milk or saliva. There’s no guarantee, but it will increase the odds.

BURNS – Burns can be common but need to be dealt with properly. The burn needs to be exposed to cold running water for at least 20 minutes. Do not ice a burn and do not bath it – cool or cold running water only.

HEAD KNOCK – If it’s a bad bump go straight to hospital where they will observe the child for a period of time. Do not expect an automatic CAT scan as there are very good reasons they will avoid scanning unless necessary.

POISON – One of my twins once came from her bedroom in the middle of the night glowing in the dark. She’d been chewing on a glow stick. Panic ensued in the parents. If your child swallows something you’re unsure of, ring the poison hotline (13 11 26). They’re incredible and their advice is invaluable.

TICKS – There is a lot of misinformation about how to remove ticks and most of it is NOT for Australian conditions, which are indeed different. The current line of thought highlights freezing them off, which is done by a medical professional. Not you with an ice pack. Or a stubby.

SNAKE BITES –  Do not wash the wound as hospitals have venom kits that can identify the venom, do not tourniquet (put a clean hankie over the bite and immobilise the rest of the limb with a compression bandage) and do not try to suck out the venom (Hollywood movies have taught you poorly – this doesn’t work and you could actually end up envenomating yourself).

POSSIBLE SPIDER BITES – Marks, scratches and pricks from running through the grass? No Emergency Department will ever be upset you’re checking, so don’t worry about ‘wasting their time’. This is a child’s life we’re talking about. So if in doubt, check it out.

Which is actually the recurring theme: don’t be afraid to get professional advice. Don’t worry about appearances, embarrassment or seeming paranoid. Ring 131 HEALTH or go to your Emergency Department. They are here to help.

And if the Barbie shoes in the nose becomes a regular thing then perhaps you need to buy the board game Operation. Or stop buying Barbie dolls.