I have a mother who brought her 8-year-old in for counseling due to her excessive acting out and anger outbursts. She is taking her anger out on her little brother and baby sister. Both physically and verbally. The mom said it is escalating and anytime she asks the child why she is so angry the child will not tell her. She has been saying she hates her family and she hates her life and throwing things and breaking things. During her first session of the diagnostic assessment it was evident this child had severe issues. She was hurting her brother, yelling about her baby sister crying and running around the tiny office, she was redirected several times and the rules of the office were explained to her through the voice of a puppet. She calmed down and wanted to play with the puppets as mom and I completed the assessment.
The next time the child came in with mom and her baby sister it was suggested mom wait in the waiting room; however she insisted to be in the session. The focus was completely on the child. I asked her if she liked to draw and her eyes lit up and she said yes and color. I popped open my TV tray for a table for her, my office is small so folding TV trays do the trick for a table. I gave her a some poster board, crayons, and colored pencils.
I asked her what she knew about a volcano. She said they are big and lava explodes out of them. I explained to her how we all are like volcano's because we all have things that make us angry, mad and sad and if we don't talk about these things or let the anger out in healthy physical outlets then we can explode just like a volcano and just like she explodes when she comes home from school. She said she understood this and drew a very big volcano, and was asked to write or draw inside the volcano all the things that make her mad, sad, or angry. She was very careful in her drawing and made lava flowing down the sides of it and mom said for her not to color the inside of the volcano so she can put what makes her angry in there.
The child disregarded mom and colored inside the volcano. It was evident she was defiant and doesn't listen well to mom. Then when she was putting in things that made her angry she hesitated. I told her if there is anything she didn't want us to know about she could draw a symbol or something to represent what makes her angry and she doesn't even have to show us her volcano. Mom told her she can put mom in there if she wanted and the child got a sinister smile on her face and wrote mom big and then she said she was more mad at dad than mom and put him in there. Mom because she yells at her and dad because he picks on her.
The volcano was very revealing, she wanted to share it and she explained that she gets teased and bullied at school. They tease her because she was held back in her 2nd grade class, she was told she can't sing and she loves to sing. And she said people push her and call her fat and ugly and she tries to be nice to the other kids but they aren't nice to her. She said when she comes home she is angry about all that and is afraid to tell mom because she is afraid she will get in trouble because mom yells at her and pays more attention to her baby sister than to her. Mom was floored, she said she didn't know about this and was going to talk to the school about the bullying. The child continued to color her volcano and used markers to color out the angry words.
Bullying is so prevalent in the schools nowadays and it affects children in different ways. Sometimes the children present as oppositional defiant and unruly children but the root of the problem may be bullying. This child admitted to hitting another child because that child was bullying her brother and she got in trouble instead of the bully. It's important to get the whole story. However it is also very important to explore the bullying thoroughly before drastic measures are taken because some children, like this child, like to lie and get other children in trouble and are actually bullies themselves.
I did a presentation on bullying to a group of 7th and 8th graders and when asked who had been bullied almost every hand went up and when asked who bullied others, again almost every hand went up again. Bullying has gotten out of hand lately and kids are killing themselves because of it. It is important to listen to the children and not dismiss their behaviors as just being defiant or angry but to find out the reasons behind the defiance and anger. Every counselor should inquire about bullying to open up the dialogue among their child and adolescent clients.
Kimberly Beck is a counselor and a doctoral candidate with a special interest in Self-injury. Other interests are PTSD, trauma, and Borderline personality disorder