Last time, I shared four reasons some kids always get bullied, including:
- Children with autism spectrum disorders.
- Children with lower social and communications skills.
- Children may take-on the identity or social role of “victim”.
- Children who develop a social symbiosis with one or more bullies.
What can we do about the special case of “always getting bullied”? By now, you’ve probably noticed two themes:
- Don’t live in denial of observable systems.
- Check yourself, and model what you want to see.
We are supposed to be the adults; it’s helpful when we can act like it.
For children with autism spectrum disorders:
Know that many people on the autism spectrum may appear only slightly odd. And, whether you have one in your life or not, educate yourself about this too-common issue — and some of the fascinating ways they experience the world. You may discover that learning about them, and having empathy for their experience of life may inform you about your own in unexpectedly useful ways. It certainly did for me…
Your children should have basic literacy about this syndrome, because their ability to interact effectively, compassionately, and respectfully with people on the spectrum will play a role at some point in their lives. I recommend any books by Temple Grandin, and also the emerging work by autistic teen author Carly Fleischmann.
If you have a child on the autism spectrum, advocate for them without labeling them “victim” or otherwise encouraging a helpless identity. And, don’t let others do it, either. Advocate for education and literacy about the syndrome and about effective interaction with them. Advocate for education of their peer-aged children to understand as well.
For children with social and communications challenges:
Social awkwardness in children is a developmental and learning issue — not a personality, identity, or disability. What is not learned intuitively can and should be taught explicitly — at appropriate ages. Delays in learning will create hardships later.
If you aren’t certain about your child’s development in this area, or if they are having social troubles, seek some professional advice or assistance — from making sure their eyesight and hearing are good — to explicit training in both verbal and non-verbal communication skills.
This is another opportunity to take the lead by modeling: Take a course to enhance your own communication skills and use those skills openly. Consider taking your child to the course, if it’s age appropriate. Share things you learn explicitly, and engage in the activity of “people watching” — eavesdropping on body language from across the park, for instance.
You may find that such a course pays for itself through a raise or even a better job, though improving your child’s life through a shared adventure will be priceless…
For children who seem to identify as “victim”:
Check how you advocate for them. Refrain from using the word “victim” — or from allowing others to name-call your child in that way. Bullying situations are not static — nor are the roles children will be experimenting with as they try to find their place in the social order.
Make like a good stage-parent, promoting your child into a variety of roles so they don’t get — or accept getting — overly type-cast. Seeing it in that light may help you be calmly assertive and creative in how you achieve this. Encourage your child to experience other roles — in other contexts, if necessary. Every child should play roles like “teacher” and “reporter” and even “person in charge”. Facilitate that experimentation to open such possibilities for them.
Make certain you invite your child’s input and expression, and treat their voice as central. Keep meetings and discussions short and to the point — and not the source of drawn-out attention or drama. Make sure opportunities for other rewarding interaction are fully available. Make certain the most reliable way to achieve meaningful attention centers around something other than being victimized — or in trouble.
If any child seems to be adopting the role of victim, seek immediate professional assistance with actual therapy and training (not just pills).
For children at risk of becoming “professional victims”:
Identify the other two participants in the three-part play: The “protector” and the “bully”. BOTH are also socially benefiting from the situation — at the expense of the target.
Notice that people who identify as “victim advocate” and receive their worth from that role require victims for whom to advocate. Realize that for many of them, having “their victim” become empowered and free of a need for their service will not be ecological for them — will cost them their social role...
If you are playing the protector role yourself, get honest. Also, get professional help along with the child. You should probably also recruit someone else to be the official advocate for dealing with the bullying situation.
If the above paragraph offends or scares you, weigh your short-term comfort against the long-term well being of your child — and seek help.
For All Children:
- In all these things, how you personally feel about, learn about, and react to things is more important than what you tell your children to do.
- Discourage labels and name-calling — including “victim”; encourage use of persons’ names.
- Discourage the idea of static and fixed “roles” (labels); encourage the idea of roles shifting with context.
- Discourage the notion that capability is defined by identity; encourage the notion that for everyone, capability is an ever-increasing factor.
Next time: Adult Intervention — When To Act