Many children with special needs experience school bullying. Some experts, teachers, and other students blame the victim because they are different. The world has gotten the message that blaming the victim in cases of rape or domestic abuse is wrong. It is time the world gets the message that it is equally wrong to blame the child who is different for the behavior of those who bully him.
School counselors, teachers, administrators, psychologist, psychiatrist, news media, parents and peers all need to take heed. Victims need support not blame.
Often, adults decide to meet with the victim to help him “fit-in.” While they are doing this, the bully typically receives some kind of short-term punishment that does not really help the bully to change. And in the end, this does not help the victim. Instead it sends a message that victims are flawed and that they brought the abuse on themselves. This has to change if we want to change the school climate to eliminate bullying.
Support the Victims
The victims need to know that the school is working with the bullies. They need to know that they are not at fault for the meanness the bullies inflict on others. Having differences is not an excuse for being abused. Differences that do not harm others should be accepted and respected. Some differences will even need to be accommodated.
Yes, there are times when we can work to help children “fit-in” better in social situations, but please do not make this your first response when you hear about bullying. Here are some suggested things you can do in response to bullying.
- Ask the victim how you can support him and help him to feel safe in school. You must assure him that you will actively investigate the incident and follow-up by really doing this.
- Contact the parents of all of the students involved including the bystanders. Explain the role their child played and ask for their help.
- Make sure that you help the bullies learn to be more respectful of others and to be kind even if they do not like someone. Please note that bullies are also at risk and they need your help too.
- Victims of bullying may need long-term support and understanding. Bullying can cause PTSD without adequate support. Support is not just about meeting with a counselor. It should involve the entire school culture including peers, teachers, parents, and school administration.
Work on Bullying in Your School
There is no easy solution. The extent of work needed will depend on the population of your school. There are multiple options available including purchasing established programs or starting your own program. Most good programs include a character education component. Reforming the bullies and supporting the victims should be included. Teacher education to help identify bullying and at risk children is important as well.
Regardless of what program you establish, it is essential that the hard work be done. Bullying impacts learning. Addressing and preventing further bullying helps prevent suicides and homicides of our youth. Let’s protect our children, so they can learn in a safe classroom.