Bullying affects millions of students. Over seven million incidents of bullying are reported every school year, and 30% of school-aged children have experienced bullying from someone else. Statistics regarding special needs children reveal they’re at an increased risk of being bullied for several reasons and are two to three times more likely to suffer from bullying than their peers without special needs.
If your child is a victim of bullying during school or their social activities, there are some tips you can follow to help them overcome these issues and build their confidence and communication. Let’s explore how to deal with bullying for your child with special needs or disabilities and what you can do to empower them.
How Bullying Can Impact Students With Disabilities
Being bullied at a young age can negatively affect any child, particularly those with disabilities. Many young kids who have special needs may already feel excluded during school or social activities, and bullying will only make them feel worse. Some of these effects include:
- Low self-esteem.
- Anxiety and depression.
- Physical symptoms such as headaches, loss of appetite and fatigue.
- Thoughts of suicide.
- Social and emotional distress.
- Poor academic performance.
- Disinterest in school.
- Mood swings.
- Inability to concentrate.
While bullying is already a frightening and humiliating experience, these effects can have long, lasting consequences, such as a child’s access to education and socialization. If your child has been bullied, they may endure the effects long after the bullying stops.
Your child may fear going to school or socializing with new people because of bullying related to their special needs or disabilities. Missing days of school due to bullying can cause your child to have lower grades and make it difficult for them to catch up with their peers academically. Children who have experienced bullying at a young age are also more likely to have substance abuse and addiction disorders during their teenage years and adulthood.
1. Tell Your Child to Reach Out to Someone They Trust
Unless you homeschool your child, they likely spend their day apart from you in the care of other professional educators and administrators. If they experience bullying, they need to have a trusted adult they can talk to and feel safe with. Whether it’s a teacher, coach, counselor or another member of staff at their school, your child should feel comfortable communicating about any issue they experience, especially if they’re bullied or made fun of.
Encouraging your child to seek support when something bothers them or if they’re mistreated can help you learn if they’re getting bullied before it escalates. Bullied children rarely speak up about their experiences because they may fear retaliation from the bully or feel embarrassed about being victimized.
It’s critical to let your child know that finding a trusted adult right away is the right thing to do. When children better understand what bullying is, what it can look like and why it’s important to speak up, they might be less likely to suffer in silence.
You can also let your child know that it’s OK to express their feelings with their teachers or counselors and that doing so can help them feel less alone when they’re away from you. It’s a good idea to have regular talks with your child about why they always need to report bullying to an adult.
2. Join Your School’s Bullying Prevention Program
Many schools have a bullying mediation or prevention program that focuses on teaching kids the signs of bullying and how to put a stop to it if they witness these types of interactions. These programs are helpful for parents to join to stay aware of any bullying behavior that occurs during the school day. These programs can also help create and enforce new rules and policies that cover the different types of bullying, including:
- Physical: Kicking, tripping, hitting, pushing or throwing objects at another student.
- Verbal: Teasing, insults, mocking, name-calling or any form of verbal intimidation.
- Social: Spreading rumors, lying, encouraging others to exclude a student or playing tricks or jokes to purposefully humiliate someone.
However, these programs should focus on cultivating a positive, accepting school culture. Advancing social and emotional learning to help students understand the differences among their peers and how to be supportive and kind may be more effective than simply enforcing consequences. An anti-bullying program could focus on bystander intervention or buddy programs that encourage students to speak up about bullying and promote positive friendships, particularly among vulnerable students.
Because children with disabilities or special needs are more likely targeted by bullies, these programs can help students feel empowered to seek help because they know they have school support. These programs will also give you, as a parent, some peace of mind that the school is looking out for your child and will take action if bullying occurs.
3. Keep an Open Line of Communication
While it’s critical your child feels comfortable seeking support from any adult about bullying, you should also have those types of conversations with them at home. This is one of the best ways to help your child overcome bullying because they will learn how to express their emotions, fears and experiences.
If you and your child maintain a strong relationship and talk consistently about emotions and social situations, such as what goes on at school and within their friendships, you may be alerted more quickly if anything goes wrong or your child is mistreated.
While teaching your child how to express themselves through their verbal and nonverbal cues, you can also show them support by listening and asking questions to learn as much about their situations as possible. If your child’s disability prevents them from speaking or makes it difficult, you can use communication devices or Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices that help them better express themselves.
If your child recounts an experience about getting bullied, assure them that they are not to blame and they’re doing the right thing for speaking to you about it. It’s important to emphasize how crucial this communication is — if you don’t talk about it, your child could suffer in silence or feel they have no one to turn to.
You should avoid telling your child to ignore any bullying because this can become a habit and escalate the bullying. Always make your child feel they can speak to you about anything, no matter how embarrassing or difficult it is.
4. Ask Your Child What You and Others Can Do to Make Them Feel Safe
In a situation like bullying, there are many reasons your child may feel unsafe, especially if they have a disability. If they already feel isolated, lonely, depressed or scared to go to school due to bullying, it can be difficult to feel comfortable taking them to school. A great way to help them overcome bullying is to ask them what you and their teachers can do to make them feel safe.
Whether they’re experiencing severe bullying from one person or insults and mockery from several students, it’s important to make your child feel included regarding how you can move forward toward a solution. Some children may express the desire for you to homeschool them after bullying, while others may want to enter a mediation program with the bully to talk about the situation and resolve it together.
Let your child know they have options and their voice will be heard. Your child may even want to have a teacher, staff member or another student escort them to each of their classes so they can avoid interacting with their bully entirely and feel safer at school.
5. Educate the Bully
If you have the opportunity to sit down with your child’s bully, their parents and teachers in a mediation or bullying program, you can educate that student on your child’s disability or special needs and how their differences only make them different, not lesser. You can have an open and honest talk with the bully and their parents about why certain words, jokes or behavior are harmful to your child and how it could make them feel isolated.
The most valuable tool you have is educating the bully on your child’s needs and abilities and how to engage with them properly. Explain to your child’s bully that, though your child may appear different in some ways, they share many similarities with other kids.
It’s also a good idea to let your child’s classmates know it’s normal to be curious and ask questions about those who seem different, but they can do so in a respectful and thoughtful manner. In these meetings, you can encourage your child to speak with their bully about how they feel and how they wish to be treated instead. These types of situations are a great opportunity to give your child a voice and support themselves, knowing you are right there beside them.
6. Encourage Your Child to Find Hobbies
Bullying can feel extremely isolating, especially for kids with disabilities and special needs, who may already feel different from others. Inspiring your child to spend time doing activities they love can help them feel a sense of excitement and joy outside of school and even help them make new friends.
Encouraging your child to partake in hobbies outside of school can help build their confidence in interacting with others and learning how to verbally express their emotions. Whether your child shows an interest in animals, drawing, theater, music or other activities, it’s crucial to support their enjoyment by letting them pursue these in their free time.
Many students who are bullied may feel there is no escape from the harassment or humiliation they feel at school. Helping your child find other ways to engage with those who are kind to them and share similar interests can help them feel included among their peers. These hobbies can also help them learn the social skills and independence they need while at school to better address situations with bullies.
7. Motivate Your Child to Connect With Others
Regardless of what your child’s physical, mental and verbal abilities are, it’s important to find ways for them to connect with their peers and rely on them for support. Research shows that both peer and parental support play critical protective roles against bullying and victimization. This support allows parents, teachers and students to prevent bullying and foster friendships throughout the school for children with special needs and disabilities.
Motivating your child to connect with others and participate in group activities can help them feel they have a circle of friends they can talk to if they’re being bullied, which could help them feel less alone. Showing your child that most of their classmates are likely kind and understanding can make it easier for them to relate to their peers and be more open to building friendships.
Peer-to-peer advocacy is a strong tool against bullying those with special needs because other students are more likely to be present than teachers when bullying occurs. If your child has friends and peers they can rely on, those peers will likely help stop bullying when it occurs or tell an adult what has happened.
8. Teach Your Child to Stick By Their Friends
Just as you’d want other students and peers to support your child if bullying occurs, it’s essential to teach your child the same values. Children with disabilities and special needs are more likely to be bullied, and children without disabilities can experience similar harassment.
Your child should know when to speak up and advocate for their peers by telling an adult what they witnessed. Your child should know their participation and effort to stand against bullying can create a safer, happier environment for everyone.
When telling your child to stick by their friends, let them know that it also means to avoid engaging with their bully and to only interact with peers who are kind to them. Following this advice will help your child find their true friends who will make them feel safe and part of a group.
9. Inspire Confidence
Another way to help your child overcome bullying is to build their confidence within themselves. There’s evidence that bullying significantly affects one’s self-esteem, so your child may struggle with how they feel about themselves after being bullied. While hobbies and extracurricular activities are a great way to build healthy connections with others, try to also inspire their confidence and self-love.
Remind your child of their unique skills and qualities and reinforce positive attitudes and behavior with them. Teach your child to embrace their individuality and uniqueness. If you consistently point out their strengths, interests, skills and positive characteristics, they’ll likely learn to be more confident in who they are. If you show your child they have the power to move on from a negative situation, it helps them better prepare to handle bullying if they experience it again.
Empower Your Child With Tips and Tools From Enabling Devices
Empowering your child with disabilities can help them feel more confident and prepared to go to school after experiencing bullying. At Enabling Devices, we want to continue empowering your child with devices, tools, toys, support and resources that make it easier for them to communicate and gain more independence.
Our diverse and customizable products let us create options that meet our customers’ needs. From our communicators to assistive and adaptive devices to switches, we can find the right technology and products to help your child fulfill more possibilities. Contact us today to see how we can help your child unlock their potential or browse our products and accessories.