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Bullying and Your Child with Learning Difficulties

Written By Geoff Nixon . November 30, 2021

Recognizing and protecting your child from being bullied at school

What do Whoopi Goldberg, Stephen Spielberg and Justin Timberlake have in common? They’re all hugely successful, of course. They also each had a reading or learning difficulty at school and have talked publicly about the bullying they suffered there.

If your child has a learning difficulty, there is a chance of a similar problem.  You know that learning difficulties can make them the subject of teasing, taunting or worse. So, what can you do to protect your child? Read on for the practical steps you can take to keep your child safe and happy at school.

Signs That Your Child Is Being Bullied at School

Nothing beats a parent’s instinct when it comes to looking for any tell-tale signs that indicate something’s not quite right with your child. So, what clues should you look for if you suspect your child might be a victim of school bullying? Here are some of the signs:

  • Injuries they can’t explain
  • Lost or damaged gadgets, clothing or jewelry
  • Regular stomach pain or headaches and not wanting to go to school
  • Big variations in eating habits
  • Problems sleeping or regular nightmares
  • An abrupt loss of friends or desire to avoid social situations
  • Expressing feelings of helplessness or displaying low self-esteem
  • Displaying behaviors that self-destructive like self-harming

Sometimes children become experts at hiding painful truths. They might assume they are responsible for this unwanted attention, they want to please you,  or it they may want to try and handle difficult situations themselves to give them a sense of control. They might also fear repercussions from bullies if they make a cry for help.

The 15 Minute Conversation Rule

Often children feel embarrassed about admitting they’re suffering at the hands of a bully. That makes a good relationship with your child even more precious. Your child needs to be comfortable telling you anything.

Children want to know that a parent will believe and support them should they find themselves being a casualty of bullying at school. Communication is key and a major part of it is listening rather than talking.

One way to build that kind of relationship is to take 15 minutes every day to listen to your child.  Acknowledge their feelings, justified or not, they are real to your child.  And avoid going to an educate moment.  Just allow the feelings to flow.

Open questions are challenging for children, but to make progress you need questions with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ don’t work. Here are a few questions to consider that might get to a bullying situation:

  • What did you enjoy and or not enjoy at school today?
  • What happens at lunchtime at school?
  • Who did you sit with at lunchtime and what kinds of things did you talk about?

Discussing the issues around being bullied at school is an important step. That’s because it can help draw out any challenging experiences your child may be having at school. Always give plenty of reassurance that you are not going to judge them.

Questions For Your Child on Bullying at School

Kids need to know that they aren’t alone in having to deal with all the problems that come with bullying at school. Here are some questions to ask specifically related to intimidation and harassment:

  • When someone says the word bullying, what comes into your mind?
  • What are kids who bully like and why do you think they act that way?
  • Which adults do you feel you can turn to for help to defeat bullying?
  • Have you ever been afraid to go to school because of bullying?
  • What do you think parents should do to try and stop bullying?
  • Are kids at your school suffering because of a bully? How does it make you feel?
  • Have you ever tried to intervene and help a kid who suffers bullying at school?

When your child has a reading or learning difficulty, you’re more likely to be sensitive to their chances of suffering from bullying at school. Use this to their advantage by checking in regularly with them and by asking more direct questions.

If you suspect they’re a victim of bullying at school, tell them you’re worried. Ask if there are kids who exclude them on purpose or tease them in a mean way about their difficulty or anything else.

If they admit to you that they are experiencing bullying at school the first thing to do is to thank them for being brave enough to confide in you. Tell them that you love them, that they are not to blame in any way and that you are going to help them.

Actions to Take When Your Child Is Being Bullied at School

You must contact the school if your child tells you they are suffering because of a bully or bullies there. This can be a very tough call particularly when a child tells you they fear any bullying could increase if you take action.

You need to explain the bigger picture because bullying at school is unacceptable. The point to make is that you would be colluding with the bullies if you did nothing.

Talk to their teacher giving specific examples of bullying instances. If you don’t feel satisfied, contact the principal or your child’s guidance counselor. Stay alert as it is at these times that your child may experience further anxiety before things get better.

Your Child’s Legal Rights

If you feel you may need to escalate things further, you should check your state’s anti-bullying law. These laws often offer the greatest protections for students. They can help put an urgent stop to any bullying.

Anti-bullying state laws make certain requirements of schools. These include documenting and investigating instances of bullying within a certain time frame. They can also require a school to take action to stop the bullying in its tracks.

Many state laws have a list of consequences for bullies with some even offering a process that ensures counseling to the victim and the bully.

On top of this, all children must have access to free appropriate public education (FAPE) under federal law. Those who have learning challenges and who suffer bullying at school because of them have the right to federal legal protection.

Encourage Kids to Do What They Love

Many children go on to lead happy, successful lives after suffering bullying at school. They say what helped them most was an encouragement to follow their passions.

This can go hand in hand with tackling the root causes of reading and learning delays.

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