Unless your one of the lucky few that escaped adolescence unscathed by bullying, then you were no doubt put in the scary position of being a target of someone or a group of peers. The feelings of isolation and fear can be debilitating and may lead to increased insecurities, amongst other issues, as the person bullied gets older. Even as adults we still have to deal with bullies, those people who learned that provoking fear in others equated to power and made them temporarily feel good about themselves. The past few years I have been helping my students and my own daughter navigate being bullied. This is hard enough to deal with when you're a neurotypical child, but as a child with Special Needs, it’s even harder to learn to stand up for yourself. So what can we do to help support our children?
Having a child tell you they are being bullied can be incredibly difficult for them, so help them know that you are there to help. Creating a “safe space” for them is paramount, and using this type of language with them on a consistent basis will show them that you care and are there for them. Let them use their own language to describe how they are feeling in their own words, be patient with them as they get more comfortable explaining what’s going on. You can use scenarios that mirror what they are going through and give them support in how to describe the feelings they are having. Validate what they are saying and let them know it’s wrong. So many kids feel they are to blame for the bullying because they aren't “good enough” or “cool enough” or just plain “enough” so they turn the tables and start to feel that they deserve to be treated this way.
A lot of the time bullying can come from a fear of the unknown, or what someone doesn’t understand. What is the climate of the school? Does it foster an understanding that all children are different and bring their own unique gifts to the school community? If not, how can parents help the school implement a program for this? I am lucky enough to know many motivational speakers that readily go into schools to talk to the children about bullying. One speaker was actually a bully and speaks from that perspective. When a child is bullying others there is something missing or they might feel things are out of their control (ie home life) so foster a better understanding of them and help to support what they might need as well. I am in no way saying we need to coddle children who are bullying, they need to understand that their behavior is absolutely wrong. But we should be trying to figure out why they are doing it and if we can help them feel that school isn’t a place where they have to carry their burdens.
Talk to the administration. What is their policy on bullying? Has this been an ongoing issue at the school? If so then there needs to be a change in their protocol for how bullies are dealt with. Are there other parents concerned with this? See if you can start a program at the school to discuss with classrooms how to handle bullies using age-appropriate books, games, and cooperative play. Can you help create a program where students have other, older “safety partners” who they can seek out when someone is bullying them? I’m sure you can think of many more opportunities to create for students to help foster a climate of friendship rather than fear. These types of programs work with all students, General Ed and Special Ed, and helping students to have “safe” people that they know and trust is something all our children deserve.
If you're still noticing that nothing is being done or effectively don’t be afraid to go to the school board. Showing that the concern is serious enough will put pressure on the school's administration to take action. Get other parents involved, as well as staff that is trying to make a change for the better. Trust me, you’ll have people who are willing to help!
Remember that the internet is a great place to find resources or other advocacy groups to help. Some good resources are:
National Bullying Prevention Center (http://www.pacer.org/bullying/resources/)
Resources to Stop Bullying and Harassment (https://www.edutopia.org/article/bullying- prevention-resources)
NEA- Teaching Student to Prevent Bullying (http://www.nea.org/tools/lessons/teaching- students-to-prevent-bullying.html)
Pinterest; many boards on anti-bullying ideas.
As much as we would all love to be able to protect our children from the big, bad things that can happen out in the world, we know we can’t. And some of these struggles they go through are really just learning experiences we all have to go through for us to decide what kind of person we want to be and what kind of choices we want to make. But bullying is not a rite of passage and is NOT one of those things that our children have to go through. We can all work together to build an environment of tolerance and understanding for all children. I hope you have a wonderful weekend!