It seems bullying happens at every school, in almost every grade. Even the most proactive schools with anti-bullying education programs have trouble with bullying. I also have noticed that over generations, the easiest kids to pick on for bullies are special needs kids: the ones who are less able to defend themselves. Even children who are non-verbal can recognize that they are being teased. I’ve seen the tears streaming down these kids’ faces with my own eyes after they were harassed by other students.
Now that I have special needs children myself, I feel hyperaware of the bullying that goes on. I’m afraid my children will be picked on for those wonderful differences that make me love them so much.
During the past school year, I noticed my oldest son has more of an issue with bullying than my youngest son. The only problem is, it’s my son doing the bullying! I can’t tell you how shocked I was.
After I discovered that Thomas went from being bullied to bullying, I could not find any reliable information online to show me what to do about it.
As the new school year starts, I thought I’d share tips on what I have learned:
Be observant. It isn’t always easy to watch your kids with his schoolmates but when you do get the chance, pay close attention to the dynamics. If your child has been diagnosed with something like Bipolar disorder or Oppositional Defiant Disorder, he or she may tell you that they are the ones being bullied (like my son did). And, in their mind, they are. They tell themselves they are just retaliating. Or the case may have been that they were bullied before, in previous grades or by other classmates, but they are the ones doing the bullying now because they feel more powerful after feeling like a victim.
Notify the teacher. If you suspect your child does have bullying tendencies, don’t bury your head in the sand and pretend it is not happening! Sure, it’s embarrassing to us parents to admit when our children aren’t the perfect little robot children we seem to expect; however, how can your child be helped if you ignore the problem? Enlist the help of your child’s teacher(s). Teachers have usually gone through an education program on bullying and can provide great tips on how to specifically work these problems out with your child.
Talk with a therapist. If your child does not already have a therapist, consider getting him one. Therapists offer a safe space for children to say anything about their feelings without the fear of reprisal from other kids, their parents, the teachers… no one is judged for their feelings in therapy. We may judge the actions that result from those feelings, but the feelings themselves are not the problem. A therapist can teach your child other coping skills that he or she may be lacking that has them resorting to bullying.
Talk with your child. This conversation can be difficult, especially if your child is being adamant about not being the one who is doing the bullying. For some children, even if you point out that you saw it happen with your own eyes, they will deny it still. It does not matter at this point if your child owns up to past bullying behavior; it is important that he or she recognizes that it is not acceptable behavior, no matter who is doing it. Tell him or her the plans to make sure it doesn’t continue.
Talk openly with the other students’ parents. If another student’s parent has come to you about your child’s bullying, be open with them. Tell him or her that you do not approve of the behavior either and tell of the plan to make it stop. If the other parents know that you are working on the problem behavior, they will be less aggressive and defensive of their child (which they have every right to be). He or she may have other ideas on how to help your child.
Has your child been bullied? Has your child been a bully? Have any other ideas I didn’t list here? Please share them in the comments section below!
About Heather E Sedlock
Heather is a mom of two special needs children and has spent over a decade working with them and other children who present challenging behaviors. She has been writing for over 20 years.