Supporting your child through the anguish of bullying

It's almost the end of Anti-Bullying Week and as we started the week talking about bullying and SEND young people, I thought it would be fitting to end it with one too and how to help your child, particularly if they do have a learning difficulty or disability.

Bullying can be such a tricky subject to navigate around, and it's not always child-on-child. Bullying can come in all sorts of guises and therefore dealing with it can be all the more problematic. One of my son’s experience’s with bullying was very covert and almost impossible to prove to anyone. Trying to get somebody to listen to me left me feeling exasperated and wondering whether I was imagining the whole thing.

What is bullying?

So, what is bullying? There is such a wide range, from the obvious to the sneakily underhand, but one thing all types all have in common is that the act is designed to have a detrimental effect on the target(s) in a physical or emotional (or both) way.

A bully can be the overt playground brute that other kids avoid because they know they’ll be tripped up or have their lunch money pinched (that was the general representation in my school days). Today, however, for our kids, the more prevalent kind of bullying is the covert type, showing itself surreptitiously, causing the victim to question whether it is bullying or not and give the perpetrator plausible deniability in a sort of, "You're just taking it the wrong way, aren't you?" kind of way.

It's also worth noting that children with additional needs can themselves display bullying behaviour, often because they don’t understand social complexities or are caught up in their own range of interests and may lack an awareness of the needs of others.

Our experience

My son experienced a very surreptitious type of bullying that involved a cleverly persistent way of wearing him down. His disability was used to ‘set him up to fail’.  Even now, my son will say he wasn’t bullied. But I saw the fall out when it happened and I am still seeing it now.

By "setting him up to fail" I mean that his so-called 'friends' used his ADHD (maybe unwittingly, maybe not) to constantly get him into trouble with teaching staff and despite my attempts to explain this at school, I couldn’t make myself heard. The bullying children’s emotional intelligence was much more advanced than my son's in primary school. This meant they understood the social cues from others about when the teacher may look around the room or when to stop doing something to avoid getting caught. My lad didn’t, and, as a result, he was that child who was constantly getting punished.

You can imagine the effect this must have had. The other children would dig him in the back with a pencil or throw things at him, hide his sports bag and then tell him what they'd done, knowing he would react impulsively. This gave the bullies a great laugh and it slowly but surely, layer by gut-wrenching layer, stripped away his confidence and self esteem. It created extreme anxiety and school phobia in my son and destroyed his relationship with those educating him. He didn’t feel he could trust any more. He didn’t know who to trust anymore. This is what bullies do!

What can we as parents do to help?

So what can we do to help if we suspect our child is being bullied?

Keep the channels of communication open: Use any way possible that your child feels comfortable with in communicating with you. This might be verbally or it might be by text, email, messenger, Skype even hand signals – be creative! If your child has communication difficulties then has a great range of resources to support you.

Tell them you believe them: A child may feel that if they tell an adult they won’t be believed. Even if there is nothing else you can do at that particular moment, believing them will help them to trust and potentially share some more information with you.

Stay calm: If your child feels you will react rather than respond to them, they may not share their experience with you. They may confuse your reaction and feel that you are mad at them. Take a deep breath, count to ten if you need to and listen, just listen.

Reassure them: Being bullied is not the fault of the victim. They will possibly be already doubting themselves or feeling that they are in some way to blame. Reassure them that they are not at fault and praise them for being courageous.

Keep a diary of when the bullying has occurred: This will help enormously when going into school or wherever the bullying is happening and reporting what has happened. Evidence will be key (if your child is experiencing cyber-bullying, keep print outs or screenshots of the messages or just don’t delete them (unless this is too painful for the person being bullied) and will help to put in place a plan to stop it from happening again.

Check out the anti bullying policy: If the bullying is happening in a school or club environment, then most of them will have an anti-bullying policy. This will help to ascertain how they will approach and deal with any reports of bullying and will give you a head start in knowing what they are likely to ask you.

Make a plan: Don’t rush in. Think about what you have just been told or have found out and plan your response. Shouting will only create another hostile situation and possibly make the situation worse. What do you want to happen. What will help your child, How can the situation improve. It’s unlikely you will be told anything about the child who is doing the bullying and that’s OK. It’s your child you are interested in, no-one elses and as long as the school/club are dealing with it appropriately you won’t need to know the other child’s circumstances. If you feel the situation has not been dealt with then ask what the organisation’s complaints procedure is.

Use the internet and find support groups or websites that can offer further support advice and guidance: Despite the amount of publicity out there about bullying, it continues to be a big problem, even leading to tragic suicides like Izzy Dix. This also means however, that there are lots of valuable resources available to help and support you, your child and your family through what can be a very difficult time.

And lastly, as always with many of my posts, be kind to yourself. Blaming yourself won’t help. You didn’t know and that’s that.   Now you do, you can do take action and help and support your child!

Useful links

Angela Kelly
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  1. This is a heart-wrenching but vital post Angela, thank you. I have witnessed very subtle bullying with my eldest, things going missing, whispered cruel comments that noone hears. And the ‘egging on’ of our youngest with SEN, to make her say or do things she shouldn’t has also begun to emerge. Great tips and links for all.

  2. Angela Watts Kelly

    Thanks Hayley, I didn’t mention in the post about how my eldest has also encountered those cruel comments about his siblings SEND. So clever were the bullies that they got away with there nasty comments whilst my lad regularly was caught retaliating, trying to protect his brother. Hope the links will help others who encounter bullying of any form.

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