It’s impossible to watch or listen to the news these days and not hear about bullying. Maybe your child’s school has an anti-bullying policy or task force. But what exactly does bullying mean? And how can you protect your child from it? Learn more about this problem, and how it specifically affects kids with learning and attention issues.
Causes of Bullying
All kids argue sometimes. It’s normal for them to sometimes feel angry and show it to the person they’re mad at. But bullying goes beyond everyday conflicts. It’s a serious, negative behavior that happens repeatedly. It’s done on purpose. It can be physical, verbal or social.
Kids bully for different reasons. Sometimes they do it because they want to get what other children have. That’s the classic “Give me your lunch money!” example. Other times they bully to make themselves feel more powerful. That can mean picking on someone more popular or less popular.
Bullies may choose victims who look or act differently than they do. They may choose kids who are weaker or less able to defend themselves. They may even believe their victims deserve it.
Kids may also bully because it causes a strong reaction in their victims. This kind of bullying is especially dangerous. The bully thinks about what would hurt a particular child the most, and feels proud and powerful for doing it.
Types of Bullying
Not all bullying leaves a mark you can see. Bullying behaviors include:
- Fighting, shoving or kicking
- Name calling and teasing
- Socially isolating other children: Not letting them sit somewhere at lunch, for example, or spreading rumors about them
- Harassing others on social networks, through text or email, or over instant messaging—sometimes called “cyberbullying”
Bullying and Kids With Learning and Attention Issues
Kids of all backgrounds and abilities are bullied. But when they have specific issues that set them apart, they’re at special risk.
Kids with learning and attention issues often get supports and services at school that make them stand out. They may also have low-self esteem or experience feelings of powerlessness. Bullies notice these things. And they use them against other kids.
Not all bullying victims are meek and mild. Some kids with issues like ADHD are bullied because they:
- Cause irritation and disruption around them
- Are both anxious and aggressive
- Are easy to upset
- Will prolong the conflict even when they’re losing
No matter what a child’s behavior or personality, being the victim of a bully can affect his learning, self-esteem and social life.
Why Some Victims Become Bullies
Kids who are bullied often learn to get what they need by becoming bullies themselves. Some kids with ADHD who are aggressive and impulsive are perceived as bullies, simply because of their behavior. These kids are easily provoked by bullies—or “egged on” by their peers—to act out and cause trouble. If they are punished but those who provoked them are not, they become victims all over again.
How Bullying Affects Learning
Many kids with learning and attention are already all too aware of how different they feel from other children their age. So when bullies draw attention to their weaknesses in skills and abilities, their self-esteem suffers even more.
“Parents, schools and communities can help children protect themselves against bullying.”
How might that affect your child’s learning? Let’s say he has communication issues. If every time he reads aloud in class a bully snickers, he might not volunteer to read anymore. What if your child has speech issues and a bully makes fun of him each time he is pulled out of class to go to speech therapy? Your child might start to resent going to these sessions and be distracted during his work with the specialist.
Bullying can have serious consequences on school success. Kids who are bullied tend to have lower GPAs and standardized test scores than kids who aren’t. They participate less in and outside of class. And they’re more likely to miss, skip or drop out of school.
How Bullying Affects Emotions and Socializing
Bullying can take an emotional toll. And that can ruin kids’ interest in spending time with others, especially if they already have issues with social skills. Kids who are bullied are susceptible to:
- Depression and anxiety
- Increased feelings of sadness and loneliness
- Changes in sleep and eating patterns
- Loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy
- Low self-esteem
- Risky behaviors, like drugs and alcohol
- Suicidal thoughts
These problems don’t just go away when the victim leaves the school: Kids who’ve been bullied may have social and emotional issues that persist well into adulthood.
Bullying “Below the Radar”: How Bystanders Can Help
Bullying often takes place where adults can’t supervise kids. School hallways, the school bus, the playground and the cafeteria are just a few examples.
In these situations, it’s important for other kids—the bystanders—to step in and stop the bullies, or report them to school authorities. Some people refer to this as being an “upstander” instead of a bystander.
How Teachers and Parents Model Bullying Behavior
Teachers and parents need to be mindful in the example their own behavior sets for kids.
A teacher who makes critical gestures or comments about a student who struggles undermines that child’s confidence. When other students witness this, they may get the idea that it’s OK to bully others.
The same thing goes for parents. When kids see their parents make fun of someone who looks or acts “different,” they may think it’s fine to act the same way toward their peers.
How Families, Schools and Communities Can Help
Luckily, schools, parents and kids are beginning to take the bullying epidemic very seriously. Many communities offer local resources to help combat bullying. Schools are rapidly becoming bully-free zones.
As families become more aware of the problem of bullying at school, they’re more likely to take action if they suspect it. You are your child’s best defense against bullying—but you’re not alone. Learn more about who can help with bullying.
The problem of bullying is everyone’s responsibility—the bullies, the victims and the bystanders. Until everyone does their part, the problem is not going to stop. Find out how you can organize a school or community screening of the documentary Bully.