Bullies and Victims

I am on days off and my wife and I went and saw the movie “Benchwarmers”.  As an Evangelical Christian there were some scenes that I had some difficulty with and would never allow my younger children to watch, however I very much enjoyed the plot and the quest of nerds and non-popular kids not to be picked on and simply be accepted for who they are.

When I was a kid I was a member of both groups:  The bullies and the victims.  When I was in elementary school I was an awful lot like I am now, kinda of smart and nerdy.  I did well in school and very much enjoyed it, in fact I even skipped the sixth grade because I was so far ahead of my classmates.  The problem was that I was very tormented by other children.  There was one boy that used to beat me up almost every week.

I was in my first year of the seventh grade, and also the first time in my life when I had zero friends.  The few friends I had were left back in the 6th grade.  The kids I was stuck with now looked at me as some brainiac and I felt really alone.  One day after receiving another butt whoopin, I kind of snapped and decided the only way to stop the torment of me was to become tough and fight back.  The only problem was that not only did I fight against the bullies that picked on me, I also started bullying others that were weaker than I.

I guess I figured the odds of me getting beat up would be less if I displayed my ability for violence on a regular basis.  This went on for about three years, and one day I found myself standing in front of the school principle receiving the one more fight and you will be expelled for a year speech.  I suddenly realized that I could very easily go from being ahead of all the kids my age to being a year behind.  I had already ended up doing 7th grade twice.  I also realized I didn’t like the person I had become and decided that violence was not the answer.  Money was! I got a job and found that I could buy my way out of trouble.

That was about 30 years ago and I never did fight again, I eventually learned mature ways of avoiding physical conflict and today try to pass those techniques on to my children and the children I care for.  I do however wonder how life could be different for the kids we care for if they hadn’t been victims of bullies or felt that they had to be bullies in order to survive socially in school.  It seems that the children we care for tend to be from one or both groups (Bullies/Victims) rarely are they from the much larger group of people that fall into neither group.

If only we all could just get along.

Children’s Days Off

I got the idea for this post partly out of response to another website where the webmaster has written some articles that challenge houseparents to consider their attitudes about their positions as houseparents.  I believe some of his statements are directed primarily at people that complain they don’t get enough time off. His statement goes something like this:  Why should we complain about the lack of days off that we get because the kids we care for don’t ever get days off.  While I generally agree that if we are receiving the days off that were promised to us when we were hired, we really have no reason to complain, I disagree that the kids never get days off from us. 

This brings me to the other part of the inspiration for this blog entry.  Today is Easter Sunday and though my cottage is the exception only about a third are gone on visits, about 70% of the children on campus are gone either with their birth families or with what we call sponsor families (For us sponsor families are families from the community that volunteer to be foster extended families for the children in our care.)

If you are still with me and wondering what the point of all this is let me say this:  I have worked at three different facilities in 10 years and in every one of those facilities the children in care all had opportunities for “Days Off” from the home/program.  And while I am in favor of these breaks for the children, I can honestly say that it is usually a disruption to the daily running of the cottage/program.  I imagine it is similar to the disruption the children experience when we take relief/days off.

Some of the reasons for this disruption I think is:

  1. The children act out more either just before or just after these visits.  This could be attributed to many things like anxiety over the visit, resentment that they have to come back, etc.
  2. While the children are on visits they may have the opportunity to be the center of attention or continually entertained.  The children often find it difficult adjusting back into the reality that at the cottage/home they can’t be the center of attention because there are several other children, and we don’t have the resources to play all the time.
  3. The visit may not have gone like they had hoped.  There may have been situations during the visit that made the child uncomfortable or hurt and those feelings carry over into the cottage/home.
  4. We have to plan the activities for those of us remaining at the cottage around the comings and goings of those that are leaving.
  5. I’m sure a plethora of other reasons.

In the home I work at the children receive several opportunities through out the year for these visits/days off: Christmas, Easter, Spring Break, Summer Vacation, Thanksgiving, etc.  Additionally most of our children get at least one sponsor/family visit each month.  For us that is a lot of disruption.

Some of things you can do to make it easier:

  1. Be flexible.  One of the best things about being a houseparent is that the routine is seldom routine.  With all the variety, you need flexibility.  It took me a long time to realize that.
  2. Be sensitive.  Considering how difficult and stressful taking relief can be for us (working with relief staff, making sure everything is in order, etc.) realize that days off for the children can be difficult and stressful for them.
  3. Be persistent.  The more you do something the easier it gets.

Happy Easter and enjoy the remainder of your holiday.