Social Issue

Bullying 101: Signs and What You Can Do About It

Bullying is defined as repeated, aggressive behavior by one child to another. There are three types of bullying:

  • verbal bullying: name calling, teasing, threatening
  • physical bullying: pushing, hitting, shoving, kicking, taking personal property
  • relational/social bullying: spreading rumors about someone, excluding a person from an activity, convincing others to not be friends with someone

Risk Factors for Being Bullied

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 64 percent of children ages 12 through 18 have been bullied at school (Institute of Education Sciences, 2011). Bullying happens because of an imbalance of mental, social, or physical power. Bullies usually target children who are perceived as weak, different, or less popular.

Risk factors for being bullied include:

  • having low self-esteem
  • poor peer relations or weak social networks
  • being learning disabled or physically handicapped
  • being perceived as annoying or attention-seeking
  • having anxiety or depression
  • being perceived as different (for example: underweight, overweight, wearing different clothes)

Bullying and ADHD

Children with ADHD are often perceived as “different” because of their impulsivity. They also have trouble developing social skills, which places them at further risk for being bullied. One study conducted in Australia found that girls with ADHD were more likely to be victims of bullying than girls without ADHD (Sciberras, 2012). 

There is also some evidence that children with ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) are more likely to bully others. ODD is characterized by a lack of respect for authority and disruptive behavior. Children with ADHD and ODD who have difficulty following rules, are aggressive, have low self-esteem, or were previously bullied are at risk for becoming bullies themselves (Frankel & Feinberg, 2002).

Signs that Your Child Is Being Bullied

There are many warning signs that can indicate a child is experiencing bullying. Because children don’t always ask for help, it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms. A child being bullied may:

  • display a noticeable change in everyday behavior, such as eating less or more than usual, have nightmares, or have trouble sleeping
  • seem to have few friends or want to avoid social situations
  • seem sad, anxious, or feel sick more than usual
  • lose personal items and not be able to explain how these items were lost
  • have physical injuries
  • have low grades or little interest in school

What You Can Do About Bullying

Bullying is serious and can have lasting consequences. If you suspect that your child is being bullied at school, talk to your child immediately about the situation. If you child is reluctant to talk about it, which is common, contact your child’s teacher, school counselor, or administrator to address and correct the problem. If the situation still isn't rectified or you feel that your child is in danger of being hurt physically, contact the police. Counseling and therapy are also recommended for anyone experiencing bullying.

Anger and ADHD

Some experts call ADHD a “disorder of anger and aggression.” Children with ADHD have trouble following directions, listening well, and maintaining conversations. Their symptoms are often mistaken for laziness or a lack of self-control or motivation and can frustrate those around them.

Teachers and parents who aren’t equipped to deal with the symptoms or don’t understand ADHD are more likely to react to this behavior in a negative way. They may yell, threaten, belittle, or even use physical violence. In addition, children who have trouble controlling their impulses may be egged on by their peers to react aggressively. This can lead to further pent-up anger because the child knows that they’re being manipulated and will feel helpless to stop aggressive behavior or curb reactions.

ADHD, ODD, Bipolar Disorder, and Anger

Other disorders that are sometimes present with ADHD can further exacerbate anger. For instance, children with bipolar disorder and ADHD display more verbally aggressive behavior than children with only ADHD. Children with ODD are more physically and verbally aggressive than children who only have ADHD.

Anger in Boys and Girls with ADHD

Both boys and girls with ADHD can have anger management problems. Boys are more likely to express anger through physical aggression. Girls are more likely to be socially or verbally aggressive by taunting, name-calling, or excluding others from activities.

Helping Your Child Cope with Anger

Anger is the result of frustration and negativity, so make sure that you create a warm, supportive, and positive home environment. Affection, especially maternal affection, can be a buffer against bullying and anger in children with ADHD.

You can help your child build self-esteem and social skills by teaching strategies for dealing with anger such as breathing exercises or counting to 10 when they feel angry. Ask your child’s mental health professional to incorporate more anger management techniques if necessary. 

One of the best ways to manage anger and ADHD is to educate teachers and school counselors about the condition and its symptoms. Stress the importance of using positive reinforcement in the classroom. If you have an IEP or Section 504 plan, make sure to incorporate strategies for dealing with anger and discipline.

Cultivating Healthy Social Skills

Friendships can help relieve stress and build self-esteem. However, children with ADHD are often isolated by their behavior, and they miss out on the benefits of friendship. Students with ADHD have trouble reading social cues and resolving conflicts, which makes forming and maintaining friendships difficult. A lack of friendship means a weaker social network and fewer opportunities to practice social skills, which can lead to further negative behavior. Luckily, there are several ways to help reverse this trend and strengthen your child’s social relationships.

Modeling Appropriate Social Behavior

Practice appropriate social behavior at home so that your child can follow a good example. Take time to discuss which behaviors are appropriate and why. For example, discuss why it is rude to interrupt conversations or cut in line. Tell your child when you’re following appropriate social cues, so that they can witness it first hand and learn from the experience.

Parental Training

Studies show that parental training and education can also help children improve their social skills. Because ADHD runs in families, it is likely that at least one parent also has ADHD. If this is the case, get the help you need. If you don’t have ADHD, a parental support group can teach you ways to manage your child’s inappropriate social behavior.

Set Rules and Follow Them

Have clear rules for behavior in your home and enforce them. Make sure the rules are simple and positive (for example, say: “Wait your turn” instead of “No interrupting”). Then, use positive reinforcement and rewards 

One effective way to reward your child is to give them a token or poker chip every they follow the rules. When your child has earned a certain amount of tokens, they can “buy” a reward, such as a new toy or fun outing. 

Support Positive Behavior at School

Chances are, your child’s classroom has a list of rules governing behavior. Know what those rules are and support them at home. Some parents find that a daily behavior chart passed between the teacher and parent works well. This way, you can reward your child at home for good behavior in school.

Practice Reading Social Cues

Children with ADHD have trouble identifying what others expect of them and knowing how to act in social situations. Try playing games with your child that build awareness. For example, spend time people watching at a park or other public place. Ask your child to identify the emotions they see. For children who need help with conflict resolution, try role playing or discussing hypothetical situations in which a problem needs to be resolved.

Provide Opportunities for Making Friends

Arrange play dates and give your child opportunities to interact with other children. Don’t sequester your child just because they have trouble behaving appropriately or because you fear bullying. If your child is older, encourage them to join a team sport or after school club where they can meet other children and get experience working with peers outside of the classroom.