My 16-year-old son changed school this year due to bullying in his old school. I was very worried about him last year and really was at a loss as what to do.
His father passed away when he was eight and I don’t think he has ever gotten over that.
His young brother has needs and he can take a lot of my time.
I’m very worried now, because he doesn’t talk to me about the new school and I think he is finding it difficult to settle in. He was always a quiet child, but lately I find he doesn’t want to spend time with me at all.
He doesn’t come down for dinner and spends most of the weekend up in his room. Any advice would be much appreciated.
I’m very sorry to read about the death of your husband. I can’t even imagine how difficult that has been for you and your children. When we are growing up, we generally come to view our parents as a colossus, they are infallible and indestructible.
So, the death of a parent can really shake those fundamental truths that a child holds, and can make them far more uncertain about the world.
I wonder has your son ever talked to any professional about what he felt when his father passed away? It is very important that a child expresses their feelings, you would be surprised how children internalise death — they can blame themselves.
So a conversation with a professional trained in this area could help your son work out some of those complicated feelings and emotions he has about his father’s death.
Bullying is such a destructive experience for a child. Especially when that child has experienced a tragedy like losing their father. When a child becomes the target of other children in a negative way, it impacts their self-worth and self-esteem.
It is important that you explain to your child that when someone launches a hurtful comment, it says more about them than the person they are aiming the comment at. A bully is an insecure person who needs to make others feel small so that they can feel big.
Your son needs to understand that point. A bully only has as much power as you give them, never believe what others say when they are trying to hurt you.
I wonder how he has come to understand this episode in his life. Children have a terrible ability to blame themselves. When they become victimised by other children they can often believe that it’s their fault, they wrongly view the bully as someone who is strong while they view themselves as being weak.
Nothing could be further from the truth, but perception is a child’s reality. So helping your son to change how he internalises that experience could be a very important first step in improving his mood.
It might be helpful if that advice comes from a family member like an uncle that he respects or a family friend. Your son is 16 years old; during adolescence, children move away from their parents as the main source of support in their life, they generally tend to rely on their peer group more.
It doesn’t sound like he has a huge circle of friends, so a family member might be very effective here. When you tell him positive things about himself, he might think you are his mother and you have to say those things. So an outsider might help here.
Your son might be carrying around all this self-blame that has yet to find expression, and that may be the reason he is up in his room all day. It does sound like he is labouring with something.
His father’s death, and being targeted by bullies could be interpreted as something that he has caused. And that is a very dangerous thought process for your son to get into. So a conversation with a health professional could help shift this negative viewpoint he may be forming.
It also sounds like you have a lot to deal with yourself. The death of your husband, your child having needs and your eldest child struggling with his new school. It is very important that you find an outlet for all that you are going through.
It is all too easy to become consumed by our children and their needs.
But we must always stay in contact with ourselves and what we need. Our children will grow up and leave — remember that. So don’t cut yourself off from the possibility of building your own life again while you meet the needs of your children.
If you are only concerned with your children, you will burn out and you will not be able to support them at all.
So look after yourself. You deserve to be happy, too.
A new school can be a daunting place for a teenager. The newness can be challenging.
Find a time that your son is more likely to talk, and ask him about it. Don’t force it, but offer him the opportunity to talk about what it is he is experiencing.
You could ring the school and ask have they noticed anything about your son and how he is settling in. A joint approach is always the most effective.
But remember, don’t lose yourself in all of this.
Your son will find his way, he is a lucky boy to have such a strong and resilient mother.