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August is "Don't be a Bully" Month — let's make it year round

Updated: Jan 8

August has arrived. Store aisles are filled once again with kids and their parents picking out the perfect folders, notebooks, backpacks, and – do schools still require a compass? A compass that I never used once and still don’t know how to use. Don’t forget the demands for the too expensive shoes (or whatever is “in” this year) — that they must have or everyone will make fun of them.

In some cases, kids are being dramatic in their need for the latest trend. In others, this is all too real. We are not saying you should give in and buy that too-expensive thing they’ll forget about shortly after, but if you were never bullied, you might not understand the why, what, or how. The problem is even if they have the latest and greatest, kids can still fall victim to bullying.

Why some children?

Why are certain kids targets and others bullies? Research has shown that many victims of bullying do tend to possess certain common traits. Often, bullies target those who look or act differently from themselves or the rest of the class — from how short or tall they are, the color of their hair, the style of their shoes, their mannerism, their speech, or how they act socially.  

If you are a parent of a neurodivergent child, your child might exhibit behavior that unfortunately could make them a target, and is not their fault. In some instances, the condition is apparent; in others, it might be a slight difference, mannerism, skill, or one that the child and the bully don’t even entirely know what it is. Researchers have set out to understand, but the trust is there are a lot of reasons, and often it doesn’t make sense. What matters is seeing the signs and addressing these with your kids. Your support is what matters and can make all the difference. 

Warning Signs for Bullying

There are usually warning signs you can look for to find out if your child is being bullied. Recognizing the warning signs is an important first step in taking action against bullying. Not all children who are bullied ask for help. Please also note some bullied children may not exhibit any signs. Constant communication is critical in helping your child come to you when they need help. 

Some signs that may point to bullying are if your child: 

  1. Comes home with unexplainable injuries.

  2. Has lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry.

  3. Complains of frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness to get out of school. 

  4. Changes their eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch.

  5. Seems tired, are having trouble sleeping, or suffering from frequent nightmares.

  6. Begins to have declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school.

  7. Avoids social situations and suddenly loses friends.

  8. Presents self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide. Begins having feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, or decreased self-esteem. Take self-harm actions and conversations seriously and get them help. 

If you know someone in serious distress or danger, don’t ignore the problem. Get help right away.

Why don't kids ask for help?

Only 20% of school bullying incidents are reported. Bullying is personal, and reasons why kids don’t report bullying can vary, but common reasons are they:

  1. Feel socially isolated, like it is their fault, that no one understands or cares.

  2. Worried they may be seen as weak or a tattletale.

  3. Want to handle it on their own to feel in control again. 

  4. Fear backlash from the kid who bullied them, being rejected by their peers, and losing friends. They also may fear adults will judge or punish them.

  5. Want to hide what is being said about them, whether true or false, these things are often humiliating. 

It is essential to have an open dialog with your kids. And watch for the warning signs of bullying. You may need to speak to their teachers if you feel something is wrong and your child is not opening up. These warning signs can lead to other issues or problems, such as depression, substance abuse, failing in school, risky behaviors, and other problems that may not appear until adulthood. 

Along with constant communication, guiding them toward developing better social skills can help a neurodivergent child. Things you can work on are how to read social cues better, understand their meaning, and solve social conflicts. It’s also vital to help them develop a network of supportive people and help them understand how not to isolate or withdraw. These life lessons can help prevent bullying, teach coping techniques, and set them up for lifelong success.

Talking to your child can help identify the root of the problem and give you the foundation you need to support them as you work through their trauma together. Bullying can have lasting effects. If you can, therapy is also a great resource for a bullied child to begin healing. We might not be able to end bullying today, but together, we can help make the journey easier. 


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