What parents can do if their child is being bullied.
Bullying is a problem that no parent wants to deal with, but it’s one that can’t be ignored. No one wants to be the parent of a bullied child or even worse be the parent of a bully.
But too often the bully and the bullied are the same person. Andnew research spotlights how that can happen both at home and at school.
Additionally this behavior may be more frequent if a children has been diagnosed with being on the autism spectrum.
Researchers at the University of York, Manchester Metropolitan University, and the University of Warwick used data from more than 8,000 children in theMillennium Cohort Study, which tracks the lives of about 19,000 young people born in the United Kingdom beginning in the year 2000. Of those children selected, 231 had autism.
The study was published this week in the journal Autism and Developmental Disorders.
Two-thirds of 11-year-olds said their siblings had intentionally hurt or picked on them or they had done the same to a sibling. Those rates went down as children with or without autism reached the age of 14, but researchers noted children with autism were more likely to engage in “two-way sibling bullying,” or being both a victim and a perpetrator.
Umar Toseeb, PhD, with the department of education at the University of York and lead author of the study, said children with autism experience difficulties with social interaction and communication, which may impact their relationships with their siblings. Another issue at play as that children with autism may receive more affection and attention from their parents, accentuating their basic evolutionary need to compete for those basic needs with other siblings. That can lead to conflict and bullying.
"Parents should be aware of the potential long-term consequences of sibling bullying on children's mental health and well-being,” Toseeb said. "Persistent conflicts between siblings may be indicative of sibling bullying and this should not be viewed as a normal part of growing up."
Nor should it be considered a normal part of going to school.
Previous research has shown that children with autism are more likely to be bullied at school than students without developmental hindrances, and that likelihood increases when a student has difficulty controlling their behaviors, among other factors.
A 2015 review of research, published in the journal Autism Research, found that 44 percent of children with autism reported being bullied, 10 percent were perpetrators of that bullying, and 16 percent were both bullies and the victims. Verbal abuse was the most common, but physical abuse and affecting a student’s relationship with others through behaviors like exclusion, manipulation, and rumor spreading occurred in about a third of the students’ cases.
This is a concern for children who are bullied at school and at home, as it doesn’t give them any relief from it.
Experts say if the bullying occurs at school, parents should contact their school, detail the bullying while expressing concern for their child’s safety, and develop a plan to have it stop.
But if the bullying occurs at home, parents have to step in the second it begins.
Mayra Mendez, PhD, licensed psychotherapist and program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John's Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California, said parents should respond immediately and directly by setting clear limits with the sibling or siblings doing the bullying. Parents also have to model a no-tolerance model themselves.
“Addressing and expecting an attitude of acceptance, respect, and caring is essential action by the parent in setting limits on bullying behaviors in the home,” she told Healthline. “Parents should speak clearly, openly, and concretely with the child being bullied and reassure them that you are listening and will take action to stop the bullying.”
Mendez says that includes assuring the children being bullied that they are not to blame, but working with all siblings to develop and implement a plan to resolve it is also important. That shouldn’t include telling the victim to “fight back,” as it could escalate the problem and “encourages inappropriate problem solving and self-regulation,” she said.
Kiti Freier Randall, PhD, a pediatric neurodevelopmental psychologist and medical director of the Inland Empire Autism Assessment Center of Excellence in San Bernardino, California, sayswhile most children squabble on occasion, all children should be taught how to handle differences without harming or demeaning others.
“The sibling relationship is a unique and intimate one,” Freier Randall told Healthline. “Siblings share both physical and relational space in much of their daily living.”
That includes vying for their parents’ attention and resources, a learned process in development that can be triggering for children with autism.
“When the child with ASD is the one bullying the sibling, identification of triggers will be important,” she said. “Often the child may resort to physicalness due to limited communication strategies.”
But Freier Randall stresses parents must be on the watch for frequent tension, any physical harm, or behaviors that are belittling.
“Every child should be taught to recognize what bullying is and know that being bullied is not acceptable,” Freier Randall said. “Further they should be provided tools on how to respond and where to report these behaviors.”
And parents must speak for those who can’t speak for themselves, she said.