Preventing School Bullying and Protecting Your Child

Learning about School Bullying Can Help Prevent It

Child Injured by School Bullying in School
Child Injured by School Bullying. Getty

Bullying at school is a long-standing problem, and students with disabilities are more likely to be targeted than others. Fortunately, schools are now doing more to address the problem. The problem may involve physical aggression, abusive language, threats, or social or psychological abuse. This form of violent behavior should always be taken seriously.

Bullies often seek power over others and can achieve it through physical aggression and intimidation tactics.

They may use their physical size, age, social status, gender, gang members, acquaintances, families and other means of influence to gain power over others.

It is a sad reality. Bullies in schools often target special education students. When your child is the victim:

  • Both of you may feel anger, fear, sadness, and frustration;
  • There is a real risk of psychological trauma and injury;
  • Your child's grades may drop; and
  • Both of you may feel isolated and powerless to change the situation.

Recognizing Acts of Bullying and Aggression?

Bullying can take several forms. It can be observable or secretive behavior.

Observable Behavior:

  • Intimidation and threats;
  • Name calling, insults, and comments about disability, gender, and race;
  • Teasing about personal characteristics or sexual harassment;
  • Physical assault, tripping, hitting, pinching and other physical abuse; and
  • Destruction of property, demanding money or other possessions;

    Secretive Behavior:

    • Rejecting, excluding, and isolating victims from others;
    • Spreading rumors and other public humiliation;
    • Manipulating friends and relationships, passive aggression;
    • Passing damaging notes or posting threatening or damaging emails or web material; and
    • Blackmailing, harassment, and dangerous dares.

      What Can Happen if Bullying is not Stopped?

      Left unaddressed, bullying over time can cause depression and lasting psychological damage or injury to the victim. It can result in poor attendance or psychosomatic illnesses. Violence can escalate into serious property damage, and injuries to students and adults.

      Fortunately, catastrophic incidents of bullying and school violence are not frequent. In our society, however, it is critical that all these incidents be addressed by your child's school and parents and that preventative measures to protect the children are in place before the problem escalates into serious injury. Because school culture and climate are important in maintaining safe schools, it is best practice for schools to implement bullying prevention programs as primary prevention, before a problem emerges.

      Bullying at school also affects others who are not involved directly but who simply witnessed or were aware of mistreatment of another student. These students may suffer from fear and concern about their schoolmate who is targeted.

      They may feel guilt but also may fear the bully so much that they do nothing to help. Worse, they may become offenders themselves because they fear the perpetrator will target them if they do not become accomplices.

      For the bullies themselves, the longer they continue the behavior without consequences, the greater the possibility their behavior will worsen. They are at higher risk for committing serious crimes against other students and even the adults in a school. The severity and frequency of their behavior may increase and spread to other students. They may influence other students to participate in their bullying and may attack additional victims. They are more likely to become involved in crimes outside of school. Some may eventually be jailed. Later in life, countless bullies develop the ability to remain in mainstream society while continuing their behavior and even committing crimes, which may or may not be caught and prosecuted. The cost to society is immeasurable but substantial.

      Special education students are often targeted by bullies who seek to intimidate and gain power over others. Consequently, bullies choose students they believe they can dominate. Most of us can recall from our own school days that some students always seemed to be picked on. The perpetrators choose their victims deliberately:

      Bullies seek out victims who appear to:

      • Be unable to defend themselves;
      • Have little social support, few friends;
      • Be uninvolved in extra-curricular activities;
      • Be among the low achievers in academics or sports;
      • Not be popular or focused on by adults in the school;
      • Have less developed social skills;
      • Have difficulty communicating, especially in stressful situations; and
      • Avoid being noticed or be unassertive.

      While any student has the potential to show these characteristics that attract bullies, special education students, as a group, may show more of these characteristics to a more pronounced degree, depending on their disability.

      Some children will readily tell adults in the school or at home that there is a problem. To encourage students to be open about problems such as this, schools and parents should keep communication lines open by making time to ask students how they are doing on a regular basis. Establish trusting communication, and students will likely respond.

      Some children may not confide in anyone about the bullying.

      It is not uncommon for them to withhold information or even deny the problem. Children do this because they fear that the adults will not be able to help them or that they may make the situation worse. They may also believe the bully will retaliate against them or their friends. In these cases, it is likely the bully has threatened the student. If you suspect your child is being victimized but will not talk about it, some examples look for include:

      • Unexplained bruises, cuts, or damaged clothing or school supplies;
      • Sadness, difficulty sleeping, temper or emotional outbursts, picking on younger siblings;
      • Fear of school, refusal to go to school, or cutting class;
      • Dislike of recess and avoidance of unsupervised school areas such as the bathroom, despite the need to go;
      • Withdrawal from friends and family, fear of parent communication with teachers;
      • Complaints of physical problems without a medical reason;
      • Any abrupt behavior change.

      What to Do if You Suspect a Problem - Finding Support for Your Child

      Encourage your child to talk with you about the problem. This may require some coaxing on your part. Some children will speak more freely when the two of you are engaged in a project. Try discussing it after story time, as you both work on household chores, or as you play a game.

      It may help to use "I statements." Say, "I feel concerned when you are so quiet." Then add, "Let's talk about it so we can work together to help." This approach often helps kids begin conversations that are difficult for them.

      If your child will not open up, make some notes about specific behavior or signs that concern you. Call his teachers to discuss your concerns, and ask if they have noticed any problems at school. If they hasn't, ask her to watch for problems, and make a date and time to call again to follow up with her on her observations.

      If you discover that bullying is a problem, talk with the teacher and also the principal or counselor at the school. If your child has a special education teacher, be sure to call him as well. Ask the teachers what they can do to help your child.

      Most schools will welcome the opportunity to address the problem to ensure their school remains a safe place to learn for all children. In rare instances when the staff is not responsive, do not hesitate to call the district superintendent.

      If you do not find the help you need, contact your state's department of education. Your state's office that deals with special education issues often employs specialists in dealing with behavior and safe school issues. They can connect your school with the resources they need to deal effectively with bullying.

      If your child has been injured or threatened with violence, always take this seriously. Contact the school and the local police department to report the problem. If you have any reason to believe your child's safety or life is in danger, do not hesitate to remove him from school until the problem is resolved. If necessary, you may want to consider other safer options, depending on resources available to you. Home-schooling, placement in a private school, and requesting that your school district to place your child in a different school, if one is available, are examples of alternatives that may work for you. Your local school counselors may also have additional suggestions and resources for you to consider.

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