Both Sides of Bullying Affect Children with Mental Illness
My children start school this week, so I'm back to worrying about both sides of bullying. As a parent of a child with mental illness, who is not going to be mainstreamed this year, the fear is real. Will he be bullied for being "special ed", or will his behaviors make him the bully? I tell myself that, if I can just get him through adolescence, he'll be okay. In the meantime, though, how do I manage when I understand that both sides of bullying could affect my child's school year?
Types of Bullies
Most of us know what bullying looks like. If you want examples, though, you can look as close as the response to my last post. The comments supported the decades-old adage that one should never read comments sections. They also demonstrated, however, that parents of the Internet continue to model bullying behavior for their kids.
There are multiple types of bullies. The sadistic/narcissistic type lack empathy and may bully to satisfy personal needs, like counteracting low self-esteem or silencing emotional fears. An imitative bully, meanwhile, is following their friends' examples. Once removed from a bullying culture, they may not be a bully at all. An impulsive bully lacks control over his or her behavior. He or she may regret the bullying later.
Both Sides of Bullying and Mental Illness
Based on the above examples, one can already see how children with mental illnesses or developmental disorders can land on either side of the bullying relationship. A child on the autism spectrum, for instance, may miss social cues and say something hurtful without knowing it. While this could look like bullying, it usually results in other kids bullying that child for being socially awkward.
My son has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which includes a lack of impulse control. If provoked, he will respond without thought. There's a particular boy in his class who knows this. This boy will sit next to my son and start tapping pencils or whispering insults. My son's response is to go straight to shouting. The teacher punishes him (and not the bully), and so he has an angry outburst because of the perceived unfairness. During outbursts, he swears, intimidates others, and throws things.
To someone not paying attention, my son looks like the aggressor in this situation. I've tried to explain to him that he should calmly ask the other child to stop bugging him. He should ask the teacher for help, I say. My son knows this intellectually, but he lacks the impulse control to follow through in the moment. In the moment, he's simply angry.
How to Combat Both Sides of Bullying
First and foremost, model appropriate behavior. Don't be a bully. If you witness bullying, do something. Talk to your children about their experiences outside the home and help them process complex social situations that can be hard for us, too. Don't be afraid to feel uncomfortable. Be aware of what your child is doing on the Internet. Talk openly about mental health, including acknowledging that anxiety and depression are normal responses to stress.
If your child is experiencing suicidal thoughts, get help.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 1-800-273-8255.
People can also text CONNECT to 741741 from anywhere in the USA. Maybe you're afraid your child won't tell you if he or she are suicidal. There's no shame in posting these numbers in your home.
If your child has an individualized education plan (IEP), add bullying concerns to the plan. Whether this means structuring a classroom so that your child doesn't have to sit next to their bully, or coming up with a behavior intervention plan for your child to stop bullying, the school can do something to address the issue.
Lastly, be strong. Having children already make us stronger than we thought we could be before parenthood struck. As a parent of a child with a mental illness, I feel like I have to be a full-on superhero sometimes. So be that for your child. Be a superhero.
David, M. (2017, August 28). Both Sides of Bullying Affect Children with Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/parentingchildwithmentalillness/2017/08/bullying-and-children-with-mental-illnesses
Author: Melissa David
Things were better for while. However a friend of his who had been in his classes and in his school based therapeutic groups and social skills group recently committed suicide after being the victim of severe social media bullying by kids and parents in our community following him making the bad choice to vandalize the local elementary school and write messages about death on the buildings. Instead of people saying-hey this kids is probably really depressed we should help him- they blasted him on social media, begged for him to be looked up and world throw away the key, and some even made hate speeches and wrote hate mail to his family about how they were horrible people who couldn't control their child. On the community facebook page some people tried to help but the bullying was tremendous. Two weeks into this the boy committed suicide and his suicide contributed to by sons hospitalization for being suicidal just a week after his death.
Now my son is petrified that when he goes back to school, the very place where he was declared a danger to himself after disclosing his grief to a grief councilor and taken by ambulance to the hospital in front of a crowd of onlookers, that he will be next inline for the bullying. I feel like I am at my wits end. I have an appointment with the IEP team to set a safety plan for when he returns but what do I do about the possibility of bullying? I can hope that the kids and their parents have learned from the tragedy to not bully people but how can I be sure that its going to be ok.
Best wishes to you. I'm glad you could find something to relate to in my post! It's a tough world out there, and it's nice to know, at the very least, that you're not alone in going through it.