What To Do About Bullying

Stories of the school bully extorting lunch money from the kids who were smaller and more timid are common. Parents are also aware of the “mean girls” who start rumors for fun just to make other girls cry. What is a parent to do if their child is the victim? What if you discover your child is the bully? According to experts, these are things parents need to be aware of and here are some tips on how to handle these situations.

Bullying in school is common and widespread. If your child is a victim, reassure them that they are not alone. Let them know that you understand their pain or fear is very real and there are lots of tools available to make the situation better.

A parent needs to honestly evaluate the situation. A certain level of teasing is normal between siblings and friends. It must be determined if the boundary has been crossed between playful and hurtful. Real bullying is an ongoing form of mental, verbal or physical torment. It can take on forms from name-calling to threats, shoving or shunning, or even taking someone’s possessions by threat of violence.  Modern bullying can involve abusive messages or embarrassing photos posted on social media as a way to elicit an emotional response.

As a parent, once you establish a pattern of bullying behavior, it is important to take action. Long term bullying can be damaging to a child’s developing sense of self-worth. Some of the worst case scenarios can be found in the headlines of news agencies that report such terrible outcomes as suicide or school shootings. The time for parents to think this is a normal part of growing up and the kids should just tough it out are over. Now is the time to take bullying seriously.

Why does this happen? Shouldn’t kids be kind and innocent and naïve? Yes and no. Not all kids are raised in homes where good values are taught. Some children learn to value power and strength and respond aggressively to those they perceive as weaker than themselves.

Often, kids are acting out what they have learned by example. These are the children that grow up in abusive home environments. They themselves may be the victim of abuse or they may witness the abuse of others.

Signs to look for if your child is a victim of bullying are:

  • Physical signs such as bruises
  • Anxiety
  • Behavioral changes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Moodiness
  • Avoidance of routine situations (like riding the schoolbus)

If you suspect your child is a victim of bullying, have a conversation on the subject. Explain what bullying is all about. Assure them that it is not their fault. Encourage your child to seek assistance through a school counselor. If they choose not to, continue to monitor the situation and if it seems serious, take the initiative and schedule a conference with someone in school administration who can help. If you believe your child’s safety may be in jeopardy, it is then advised to contact law enforcement to find out if there are local community laws that could offer protection for your child.

The best advice a parent can give their child on how to respond to a bully is simply to not respond. Often, if a bully cannot get the satisfaction of an emotional response from a potential victim, they become bored and move on to someone else. Other tips to offer a child who is dealing with a bully are:

  • Use a buddy system in the halls, riding the bus, or going to lockers or bathrooms. Bullies tend to select the weakest, easiest victim. Running solo ups your child’s chances of being victimized.
  • Remain calm. Bullies thrive on drama. The best reaction is no reaction. Laughing or smiling may actually taunt the bully and make things worse. The best thing for a kid to do is seem absolutely bored with the whole situation and respond in a boring manner.
  • Inform adults. Whoever your child trusts, that is who they should tell. It can be a teacher, the nurse, a counselor or coach.

What if you discover your own child is the bully? First, get over the shock and accept a very difficult and heartbreaking truth. Then, get your child the help they need.

  • Let your child know that such behavior is absolutely unacceptable and there will be specific consequences if it happens.
  • Educate your child on the value of respecting differences, being kind to others and having empathy for those who are weaker or disadvantaged.
  • Find out who your child hangs out with. Play the video games they play to see if bad influences are programmed within the game. Stick your nose into any social media profiles they are active on. Know the parents of your child’s friends and their values.
  • After being clear about the consequences of the wrong choice, also clarify positive consequences of making the right choices.
  • Most importantly, live the right values.

Whether your child is the victim or the bully, don’t hesitate to step in and help your child. If you find yourself overwhelmed, seek the help of a certified counselor. You are taking the steps to help your child develop in a healthy manner and equip them for success.

What Did You Say?

English is not my husband’s first language, although it is mine. He speaks English fluently, however, sometimes I say something that he just doesn’t understand and when he asks me to explain it, I am often at a loss as to how to do this. Idioms are cultural expressions that, to me, it just seems obvious as to what it means. Over the years I have noted some of these sayings as well as recorded expressions from other cultures that I have encountered when traveling or conversing with people from another country.

The Arabic idiom “I do not have a single camel in this caravan” means that a person has no interest in the matter.

A Mandarin expression “seeing the bow reflected in the cup and seeing a snake instead” means you are worrying about nothing.

If a French co-worker tells you that you have “long teeth”, he or she probably means you are too ambitious. And if they tell you that your teeth can scrape the floor, you are extremely, and probably overly, ambitious. If your French co-worker then says that they have other “cats to beat or whip”, don’t call the Humane Society. It simply means they are busy and have other things to do.

My nephew who now lives in Germany told me that he would squeeze his thumbs for me when he heard I had bid on a project. What he meant was that he was wishing me good luck. He also advised me “not to praise the day before night had fallen”. That meant he didn’t want me to run out and spend money I anticipated earning from this project before it was actually in the bank.

As a little girl I would often hear my Italian grandfather tell my grandmother to “stop putting a flea in someone’s ear” when she would be gossiping with a girlfriend. He was telling her to stop spreading rumors that would raise people’s suspicions. If someone did something stupid, he would say that they had “ham in their eyes” which meant they couldn’t see what was obvious. And whereas we here in the United States say “hungry as a horse”, Granddad was always “hungry as a wolf”.

My favorite auntie married a Welshman. As a little niece who visited often, I proved to be a challenging houseguest because of my natural curiosity and spirited disposition. My uncle would often tell me that I was “riding his white horse” which meant I was very mischievous. Eventually, in a very good natured spirit, he would tell me he was going outside to “toss his fiddle up on the roof”. This meant he was giving up because I was just too much for him.

One of my rabbi’s favorite sayings was “don’t chop my teapot!” He would say this when someone was annoying him. I found it so clever and funny.

Some of my sayings that have confused my husband and what they mean:

  • “Don’t bark up the wrong tree.” This means a person is looking in the wrong place.
  • “Burn the midnite oil.” This means you are staying up way too late working.
  • “Where in the Sam Hill is so-and-so?” It means you can’t find something no matter how hard you have looked.
  • “I’m fixin’ to go to the store.” This is a southern phrase which means I will soon be leaving to go to the store.

I find such colorful language delightful. I also find it quite fun to say some of these things in conversation with people I am certain have never heard such a thing before. It always provokes a fun and interesting conversation.






Upgrade Me, Please

This fall my husband and I plan to do some traveling. We don’t have loads of money to book first class accommodations throughout the trip. There are, however, some secrets on how to manage to receive upgrades and get the star treatment.

How can such a thing happen before you even arrive? How can an upgrade at the time of booking happen? How can you score a free room-service breakfast throughout your stay? How can you receive the privilege of late checkout with no extra charge? And a complimentary spa package you say? Yes! It’s possible!

It’s all because our travel agent works for an agency that participates in a “loyalty” program and we reap the benefits! We don’t bother ourselves with keeping track of our miles and points in order to earn perks. That’s our travel agent’s job. With so many people booking their own flights, hotels, excursions and car rentals on line to save the ten or fifteen percent commission fee for a travel agent, they are also losing out on all the benefits that goes along with that service.

Most hotels and resorts happily engage in loyalty programs with travel agencies that generate clientele. And they reward the top producers by rewarding the traveling client. The traveling client in turn is then incentivized to continue to use the service of the travel agency.

Not all travel agencies operate on this level. To get the most out of your travel, book through agencies that are affiliated with high end travel clubs and resorts. Some of the perks and benefits you can potentially receive depending on the agency and travel clubs represented:

  • Priority status on upgrade waiting list
  • VIP welcome
  • Resort credits that could be worth hundreds of dollars
  • Guaranteed upgrade at time of booking or check-in
  • Free room-service breakfast for two
  • Credits for extra amenities such as a spa visit, a round of golf, or complimentary lunch
  • Early check-in and late check-out privilege
  • Meet and greet at airport gate

Aside from the perks and upgrades, the benefit of having an advocate in the form of a travel agent when you are away from home in a strange place is priceless. If my husband and I arrive at an airport in the northeast that suddenly gets snowed in, rather than rattle around the airport like a couple of crazies who don’t know what to do, we simply call our travel agent. We inform her of what has happened, hang up, and calmly wait for an email alert on our smartphone that directs us to a new gate at the airport. That’s it. All we have to do is follow instructions. We do not have to figure anything out.

If we arrive at our destination and something is not just right, we don’t have to argue with management about any misunderstanding at the time of booking or demand a refund or anything. We simply pick up the phone and notify our travel agent. Once again, we simply wait for her to do her magic. We are on vacation. We are not out and about to solve problems, but, rather, to escape them. Our travel agent is our problem solver so we can get on with the very serious business of having fun and putting the real world out of our lives temporarily. Our travel agent is worth every penny of that commission.

What Are Hugs Made Of?

Some time after my mother had been widowed after fifty years of marriage, we talked about some of the things she missed about having her partner. She told me she missed being touched by another human being every day. She missed holding hands and hugs. Although I made it my personal mission after that conversation to give her as much contact as possible, I know I can never make up for the loss of my father. But it made me question just what kind of psychological and emotional stuff are hugs made of?

The effects of skin to skin contact have been studied for decades, beginning with how it affects babies. When someone holds a baby against their chest, interesting biological processes begin to happen. For one thing, neural pathway development within the baby’s brain begins to accelerate. This allows the brain to develop well organized neurological patterns as well as to reduce stress.

Direct skin contact with another human being causes the stress hormone, cortisol, to become lower. This begins to happen within twenty minutes or so. Babies who are held and cradled tend to be babies who display less often signs of stress, agitation and crying.

Not only does skin contact reduce the stress hormone, cortisol, but it also reduces somatostatin. This can help to reduce gastrointestinal distress and aid in the digestive process. Hugs reduce tummy aches.

It is difficult for newborns to regulate their body temperature. This natural regulatory process is still developing. It takes only minutes of cradling a baby to your chest for the baby’s body to respond and adjust its biological thermometer up or down a few degrees.

For moms and dads who are ready to get back to having a good night’s sleep and also desire to provide the best opportunity for their new baby’s brain to develop, they need to spend time holding the baby. For a baby to fall asleep easier and enter into optimum restful sleep, holding the baby helps to lower stress levels so the infant can enter into a natural and deep sleep cycle. It is within this deep sleep that the brain benefits.

Studies have also proven that the human immune system is stimulated by skin to skin contact. Holding, hugging and touching does not “pass” germs, it strengthens immune response.

As a baby’s body adjusts to self-regulation, holding and cradling helps to stabilize heart rate and respiratory patterns. Medical studies have shown than erratic breathing patterns and a slower heart rate improve as much as seventy-five percent through skin on skin contact when the baby is cradled and held closely.

If such wonderful things happen to a newborn who is held and touched, how comforting and healing must a hug be for anyone? It seems benefits continue even into adulthood. By hugging my mother and holding her hand as we shop together, I am improving the quality of her life, her physical health and her emotional well-being.

The reduction of cortisol is a biological response that also occurs in adults who experience skin on skin contact with another human being. So, for adults as well as infants, hugging and cuddling can stimulate the immune system response.

Cuddling and hugging is not just about creating a warm, fuzzy feeling. It actually improves human health. When people touch in a positive way, dopamines and serotonin are released which boost a person’s mood and helps to create a “happy” effect. Just being near someone you have affection for causes oxytocin to be released. Some medical experts consider this hormone to be what is behind virtue, love, affection and trust within the human psyche.

Hugs do seem to pack a wollup of a punch that is only good, and positive and healing. Hug and cuddle in abundance this flu season as a prescription for prevention. Especially hug someone who lives alone.


The Water Wars

In our household there has been the great debate, or Water Wars, depending on who you ask, about what is better to drink: tap water, bottled spring water, bottled purified water, or distilled water. What’s the difference between them all? Do those differences really matter to the average drinker?

Simple gal that I am, as well as cheap, I’m all for tap water. I believe our local municipality is doing its job to provide clean water for consumption as well as to be used in personal hygiene and cleaning. I tell everyone that if they are so paranoid about the city being involved in some kind of conspiracy to turn us into social zombies through our water supply we can always invest in one of those purifiers that attaches to the sink or sits in a water pitcher.

Tap water is specially treated to remove harmful chemical compounds and contaminants. It is also adjusted to be a particular pH which is more compatible with human biology. My kids freak out if the tap delivers a cloudy glass of water and point to it as proof that we are being poisoned. I tell them, “Be quiet! We are not being poisoned!” Then I explain to them that the cloudiness is not an indicator of impurities, but rather because of air bubbles or temperature or pressure changes. This often happens seasonally and if they just wait, it will pass and the water will look normal.

The general consensus among experts is that tap water in modern cities is just as safe as bottled water. The rare instances of contaminated tap water is about on equal footing with contaminated bottled water. Both sources of drinking water are highly regulated and monitored with strict guidelines testing water quality on a regular and frequent basis.

Now, with tap water, there is little choice. What pours forth from the faucet is what you get. However, there are many choices among bottled water. What is significantly different between all of the options?

Distilled water is basically water that is boiled with the steam being collected as impurity free water. This process can even make drinking water from sea water. Distilled water could be considered the purest of available commercial water sources. Its total lack of corrosive minerals is what makes it so widely used in automobiles and small appliances.

If distilled water is so pure, does that mean it is the best choice to drink? The World Health Organization determined in their own study that drinking distilled water can actually deprive the human body of essential electrolytes and minerals that can contribute to nutritional deficiencies. So, for drinking water, we have scratched distilled water off the list.

When my husband reaches for a case of purified water, I read the label that tells me it has been purified through reverse osmosis. I then wonder, “Am I just drinking tap water that has been bottled? Am I paying for something that my taxes have already paid for?” Purified water is treated by being forced through a membrane that removes particles and impurities. It too becomes demineralized like distilled water. However, purified water is enhanced by having essential minerals added. So, purified water is about as clean as tap water and healthy. To me, it seems a waste of money if the same product is flowing from my faucets at home for free.

My health conscious daughter finds spring water appealing, although my environmentalist son argues against it. I throw up my hands and ask, “Is it really that important?” Bottled spring water is usually sourced from underground reservoirs, then treated and purified. This may sound like a naturalist’s dream or an environmentalist’s nightmare, but, the reality is that most of our tap water is sourced from underground reservoirs as well, then treated and purified.

I find myself getting on the bandwagon with my local government as they try to convince the populace to drink tap water and toss the bottles that are quickly becoming the stuff of landfill horror stories. It does seem that bottled water is nothing but a clever marketing ploy to suck a little more money out of my pocketbook to buy a product I already pay for in my local taxes and get delivered right to my home. I think I will simply buy a case of whatever anyone wants. Then, I will fish the bottles out of the garbage, sterilize them, fill them from the tap, and put them in the refrigerator. No one will ever know the difference. With the money I save, I plan to buy a new pair of shoes for our family Christmas party.

The Sky Is Falling

The other day I was driving home in a rainstorm and it began to hail. I pulled over under the protection of a bridge to wait it out then continued on home. Arriving late, my husband had been worried. I told him about my experience. He informed me that the news reported golf ball size hail. I commented that it certainly couldn’t have been any worse if it had actually rained golf balls. That’s when my youngest son, the king of trivia, then schooled us on all sorts of interesting things that have rained down from out of the sky, including golf balls.

Back in 1969, Florida residents experienced not golf ball sized hail, but honest to goodness golf ball rain. The local meteorologist’s best guess was that a nearby tornado must have sucked up all the balls from a pond that was filled with them and deposited them on the heads of the people of that town.

If you ever scoff at biblical records of plagues of locusts and frogs, consider that frog rain is actually possible and common. Scientists explain that when a tornado forms over water it creates a waterspout. This phenomenon then becomes a handy-dandy frog vacuum redepositing the critters as rain somewhere else.

1969 was the year for strange rain. In South Carolina, the folks of Chester were routinely blessed with coffee creamer storms. Borden had some faulty vents at their plant that would become clogged then cough out clouds of the powdery stuff. It would mix with rain or dew and become one big goopy mess. Readers will be pleased to know that Borden eventually fixed the problem but not until the town slapped them with a stiff fine.

If you’re a fisherman, the spring of 2001 would have been your year for great rainfall, well, wormfall, I should say. This happened in the United Kingdom over an unsuspecting crowd at a soccer field. It had been a clear day so to blame it on a freak weather occurrence didn’t seem to be the explanation. Being a practical joke was also ruled out when, across the pond six years later in Louisiana, another woman was deluged with worm rain. So, the intercontinental worm rain mystery has yet to be solved.

Vegans may want to skip these next two tales of strange rain. In 1876 a little town in Kentucky experienced meat rain. Yes, that’s right. Meat rain. And we’re not talking about fresh, slap it on the grill and cook it up for dinner, meat rain. No, it was a regurgitated, stinky mess of meat rain. Presumably it was the result of a fly-by attack from a flock of vultures who left behind them a trail of horsemeat mayhem.

Chunks of horsemeat falling from the sky is nothing compared to the 1997 experience of Japanese fisherman who had to be rescued by a Russian patrol crew. The Japanese vessel sent out a distress call after a cow fell out of the heavens and destroyed the seaworthiness of their boat. The Russians didn’t believe such a tall tale and tossed the poor fisherman into the gulag. The Russians would have to later apologize and release the Japanese after it was discovered that a Russian crew member of their air force had rustled a cow and brought it on board the plane. The cow began panicking mid-flight, putting the safety of the entire crew at risk, so the poor creature was tossed out as they flew over the Sea of Japan and a ship of innocent fishermen.

Now, I told my son that these were all very interesting stories. I, however, would really like to get caught out in a storm that was raining down money. He assured me that was entirely possible. Such an event has been recorded several times in rather recent history. It happened in France in 1957. It was never explained how thousands of bills fell out of the sky. Ten years later it occurred in England when pennies rained down on the heads of passersby near a store in the town of Ramsgate. They seemed to fall in sudden bursts that would last for about fifteen minutes. Although it was almost impossible to see them, people could hear them clinking when they hit the sidewalk or feel them plonking when they landed on their heads.

I remain hopeful that one day, I will make the bank in a rainstorm. I travel with cup and slicker at the ready.



The Astronaut Swimming Pool

Astronauts and swimming pools. These two don’t seem to be a match, huh? Well, on any given weekday astronauts arrive at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, don their spacesuit and slip into the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL). The “laboratory” is a six million gallon swimming pool that is kept at a constant 86 degrees Fahrenheit. I recently got to see this baby when I chaperoned a field trip my eight-year-old granddaughter took with her school.

Astronauts train here for their space walks. The pool is 200 feet x 100 feet wide x 40 feet deep. First they descend to a submerged deck at a depth of twenty feet. Stage two takes them down another twenty feet to the bottom of the pool. The underwater laboratory contains models of the components within the International Space Station. The environment underwater simulates the loss of gravity experienced on the space training.

When you see a NASA video of an astronaut floating around in space, tethered to the station, and repairing something like the space station’s solar array, they rehearsed their task in this pool. Such rehearsals familiarize astronauts with how microgravity will affect how their body moves and manipulates tools as they work in space.

When a crew is training in the pool for future missions, they could remain underwater for as long as six or eight hours. They cannot emerge until their mission is complete. To begin their mission, they are first lowered the submerged deck by cranes. From there they descend underwater to the bottom of the pool and begin practicing routine maintenance procedures they will eventually perform on the space station.

The space station currently performs many biological studies regarding the long term effects of microgravity on humans and animals. This helps astronauts prepare for future missions and also helps NASA doctors anticipate health complications when astronauts return to Earth. This research will help determine if it will be possible for humans to live in outer space on a long term basis.

Some effects long term exposure to microgravity has upon human immune systems needs to be understood because NASA hopes to have a team on Mars and that very well could be a one way trip. At some point it is a realistic consideration that an astronaut on Mars would get sick or have a nasty injury. Scientists at NASA and on the space station are exploring how to develop the basic building blocks to create self-sufficient medicine in outer space.

Since most pharmaceuticals have origins in plants, the goal is to develop enclosed ecosystems. If humans were to colonize other planets, they will need to successfully cultivate crops and small livestock in artificial environments.

My granddaughter was under the impression that astronauts were just up there having a really cool camp out. For her to learn that they are actually developing the methods needed to inhabit another planet as “home”, she is now more fascinated than ever. It has ignited a desire to take mathematics and sciences seriously. Grandma has serious dreams of a granddaughter astronaut in the future.

The American ADHD Phenomenon

According to the Centers For Disease Control, over five million American children are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder with boys being diagnosed  twice as much as girls. Caucasian children are disproportionately represented in these cases at a rate of almost four times as many as other ethnicities. Is this disease a serious epidemic in the United States? If so, why is it not so prevalent in European countries? Could the lack of ADHD cases in European children be evidence that, rather than a medical condition, ADHD is actually a symptom of a cultural dysfunction?

For comparison, I will use France as an example. France reports less than half the number of ADHD cases as the United States. Of these cases, the typical French patient receives a completely different treatment approach as compared to the American counterpart. American ADHD patients are almost universally treated as having a biological dysfunction that is treated with powerful prescription stimulants such as Adderall or Ritalin. French psychiatrists approach the condition as resulting from psychological distress within a social situation. Typical treatment involves psychotherapy that is often paired with family counseling.

The French medical community considers this to be a more effective approach because a pharmacological treatment is only a band-aid that masks symptoms rather than treat the underlying behavior that is the cause. French treatment strives to provide a lifetime cure through effective counseling and therapy.

Also, some children who would be diagnosed in the United States as having ADHD would not be diagnosed with the disorder in France. A child’s need to be very physically active and have natural high energy levels resulting in busy behavior and short attention spans is considered normal childhood behavior in France. In the United States it is considered dysfunctional.

Another consideration explored by French doctors that American doctors often ignore is the diet connection. The French medical community sees a link in behavioral reactions with certain foods and food additives like preservatives and artificial colors. Often, by eliminating such things from the French child’s diet, significant behavioral improvement is achieved.

One other factor that could create aggressive and dysfunctional behaviors typical in American children diagnosed with ADHD could simply be the parenting style used at home. Distinct cultural differences affect the parenting techniques used by French parents as compared to the average American family.

A typical French family practices a strict routine and regimen which creates an environment that fosters a sense of safety and expectation for children. One example is in their meal planning. The French family usually prepares four meals daily and there is no snacking.

Within French households, the hierarchical roles of parents over children is distinct and obvious. French children learn from a young age to respect the authority of their parents as well as other adults. This results in French children learning self-control at a young age by learning to accept being told no and to respect boundaries and limits that others set for them. Often, in U.S. families, discipline is inconsistent if it exists at all. Many parents, rather than be strong leaders at the head of the family chain of command, actually fulfill the role of servants to their children who are deceptively in charge in the form of making demands with the consequence of tirades and tantrums if not fulfilled by the parents. In order to avoid conflict and maintain peace, American parents often take the easy way out and concede to the demanding child. If a child does have a temper tantrum, American parents are often unresponsive to the bad behavior or are ineffective in their response.

This flip-flopped social order makes it very difficult for the American child to transition to a classroom environment where the child has to follow the leadership of a teacher and respect the rights and freedoms of other children. Rather than be conditioned to follow leadership, the child is conditioned to create conflict if they do not get their way.

I will run the risk of making many American parents angry by saying that I think the French ADHD patients are probably getting better treatment than American ADHD patients. The French children are getting treated with the idea of a cure in mind and that cure is training the child to modify their behavior. American ADHD patients are being treated from the point of view of creating a lifelong pharmaceutical customer who is not responsible for their bad behavior because they are “sick”.  If it were my child, I would want a cure.