The fact that bullying is prevalent enough to warrant this article disheartens me. So many children and teenagers are bullied, shunned, or otherwise mistreated in school, in the community, in their own neighborhoods every day. While this problem is serious amongst the general population, it seems that children with disabilities are targeted more frequently.
According to PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center “Only 10 U.S. studies have been conducted on the connection between bullying and developmental disabilities but all of these studies found that children with disabilities were two to three times more likely to be bullied than their non-disabled peers.”
Many of us parents of children with disabilities live in dread of the horrors that our children may suffer at the hands of their peers. I know that we have been very lucky, my son attends a great school, he is treated kindly by most of his classmates and his teachers generally like him.
However, even knowing all of this, I worry.
My amazing, intelligent, kind, creative son, is also a little quirky and socially awkward. I have seen other kids avoid him, roll their eyes or just ignore him. Limited social awareness can be a blessing and curse. In my son’s case, he doesn’t notice these slights and rejections, so feelings aren’t hurt.
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However, the slights and rejections aren’t any less real. As an onlooker, they signal to me a lack of understanding. As his mom, it’s heart breaking to watch.
I’m writing this with the goal of sharing some ideas to help you help your child deal with bullying and general peer conflict. In a perfect world, the bullies would be the ones learning to change their behavior. However, this world isn’t perfect and since we can’t always make the bullies be responsible for their behavior, you can teach our children ways to adjust their behavior and respond differently to the bully. It is entirely unfair that good kids who aren’t bothering anyone should need to adjust their behavior (I just had to say that), however, if it decreases incidence of them being bullied, it’s worth it.
1) It’s not their fault.
Start by making it clear to your child that this isn’t their fault, that they aren’t at all responsible for the maltreatment, and that you are just providing some ideas of ways they may be able to disrupt the bullying.
2) Talk about the problem.
Remind kids to talk about the problem, talk to you, talk to a teacher they trust, talk to their friends. If we don’t know about it, we can’t help.
3) Avoid the bully.
If a child is being bullied regularly, whenever possible, have them avoid the location where the bullying usually occurs. Odds are that the bully won’t come looking for your child, they are more likely a target of convenience. So make it less convenient to pick on your child, talk to them about taking alternate routes, sitting in a different place in the lunch room, or moving to a different seat in the classroom. Make sure to block the cell phone number and email address of the bully, and do not maintain contact on social media.
4) Don’t give the bully the reaction they want.
Tell your child to ignore the bully and leave the area. Bullies thrive on the reaction they get. By walking away or ignoring hurtful messages, you show the bully that you do not care. Eventually the bully will get bored with trying to bother your child. It may take several attempts, but if at all possible, keep up the ignoring routine. If you backslide and let them know it’s bothering you, your back to square one.
5) Encourage your child to handle it on their own.
Encourage your child. While we may be tempted to swoop in to call the principle, the teacher, the bus company and fix this for our child (and sometimes this is certainly the right thing to do, especially when physical violence is involved), for more minor issue, let your child know that you believe in their capacity to handle the problem. Check in regularly about their progress and offer suggestions of ways they can handle situations.
6) Build confidence.
It may help your child to practice confidence. Work with them on ways to respond to the bully verbally or through behavior, roll play different scenarios and practice reacting to them. Have your child practice feeling good about themselves. Tell them to hold their head high and move with an air of confidence. Using this type of body language sends a message that they are not vulnerable.
7) Use humor to diffuse the situation.
Bullies want to know they have control over their victims emotions. Using humor can throw the bully off guard and provide your child with an opportunity to get away from the situation.
Of course, you will need to choose the advice that best suits the situation your child is dealing with. However, I hope these ideas will be a good starting point for you. PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center has a host of great resources for dealing with bullies as well. By all means, please share any tips that you have used to help your child deal with challenging peer situations! Dealing with a bully is never easy and we can all use all the help we can get!