Bullies often target kids who are slightly different and alone. Bullies are not often the most secure individuals, they gain their acceptance and self esteem by putting others down. They will look for anything to tease another child about such as; their ethnicity, race, disability, looks etc.
3 STEPS TO CONQUER THE BULLY:
STEP 1: LISTEN.
Give your child a safe place to vent and express their emotion. Actively listen to them without trying to solve the problem. Empathize with them about how frustrating and angry they must feel, cry with them and hug them. This is obviously easier said then done. Your child is the victim and although they may have lashed out and did or said things you may wish they hadn’t, refrain from correcting their behavior initially. By being an active listener your child will feel safe to express exactly what happened and having a safe outlet is so crucial for their emotional health.
STEP 2: CREATE A PLAN OF ACTION.
It is extremely hard to just walk away from a bully and to try and ignore them. In theory the idea goes, if you ignore the bully’s behavior and he doesn’t get a rise out of you then he will eventually stop. Although this is probably true it takes amazing self control that many grown adults don’t even possess to do so. Here is why it is so difficult to “just walk away”: Our emotional brain is active first whenever we experience something. You see a snake on the ground and immediately jump back in fear, then your “logical brain” (frontal lobe) tells your emotional brain “hey calm down its just a garden hose.” In the same way when the bully says something unjustified he sparks your son’s emotional brain that is yelling inside “that’s not true” or “that’s not fair” etc. Learning to restrain from immediately reacting with emotion (which escalates the encounter) is a very difficult skill. This skill starts to develop as we get older and our executive functioning skills become stronger.
Meeting with the principle and with the teachers your child is in contact with is a very beneficial plan of action. Together you can review what research says about children with ASD (Autism spectrum disorder) being bullied, how this is affecting your child’s well being, academics and also what can be done to solve this issue. This may prompt the teachers to be on watch for your child and even better still they may decide to start a bullying awareness movement. They may play a video in the classroom and start an open discussion surrounding bullying. This might sound grandiose but believe me it can be very effective. When the entire school rallies behind educating kids on bullying and how to not be an innocent bystander, everything changes.
STEP 3: WHEN BYSTANDERS STAND UP
Bullies, like every other child, experience an intense need to fit in and belong. At every stage in life we as humans are good at hiding the parts of us we are most ashamed of. Our insecurities are guarded in a number of ways. We become excellent at hiding characteristics we personally deem embarrassing. For example a child who comes from a low income home may demand to have the nicest apparel to convey to his friends “we’re not poor”. Or a popular girl who loves science may talk and dress a certain way to convey to her friends “I’m not a nerd”. Bullies are no different, instead they have learned to deflect attention by focusing everyone’s attention on someone who doesn’t perfectly fit in. This continues because many bystanders do nothing. Most kids watch on or even join in, making things much worse.
All it takes is for one person to stand up for the victim. When this happens the spotlight is immediately reflected away from the victim and onto the bully. When bystanders stand up it creates confrontation and lets the bully know that this person is not alone. When one person takes a risk and stands up for another it is contagious. This happens by educating the students on the harmful effects of bullying. By doing this you begin to change the culture and the environment of the school or after school program. When it becomes “not cool” to pick on others and the bully stands in the spotlight, exposed of their own insecurity, you have conquered bullying.
David Gainforth has a degree in Music Therapy from Berklee College of Music. He has worked with multiple populations including hospice care, severe/ profound cognitive delays, physical handicaps, Alzheimer’s disease but mostly children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. David has worked as both an autism support worker and a client supervisor at Stepping Stones as well as creating social skills programs for school aged children. Currently he is apart of the business development team at Fundy Professional Clinic and Stepping Stones Fundy Region Inc. http://fundyprofessionalclinic.com/