Guest blog by Ann Douglas

Ann is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting and the creator of The Mother of All Books ® series, which have sold over half a million copies in North America to date. Her most recent book Parenting Through the Storm: How to Handle the Highs, the Lows, and Everything in Between, a guide to parenting a child who is struggling with a mental health, neurodevelopmental, or behavioral challenge.

It’s not your imagination: children who are struggling with mental health, neurodevelopmental, and behavioural challenges are more likely to be bullied—and/or to bully—other children.  

Not only do they tend to exhibit behaviours like depression, anxiety, and excessive aggression that are likely to make them targets of bullying: they have fewer opportunities to play with other children and work on all-important relationship skills like cooperation, empathy, and perspective taking—skills that make them less likely to want to bully others.

So what can parents, teachers, and other caring adults do to reduce the likelihood that a child will bully or be bullied? 

  • Give your child the opportunity to work on his relationship skills. These skills don’t fall into place easily or naturally for every child. Some children need some extra help with relationships skills, including the art of relationship repair. (Things can and do go wrong in relationships. Children need to know what to do in order to fix those problems.) 
  • Help your child to forge some key alliances. Relationships reap tremendous dividends when it comes to protecting a child against bullying and reducing the likelihood that a child will bully others. Children who have a strong relationship with a teacher are less likely to engage in bullying or to be bullied; and children who have a strong relationship with at least one peer are less likely to be bullied. 
  • Teach self-advocacy skills. Children who are being bullied can be taught how to ask for help in a way that strengthens relationships, minimizes conflict, and encourages the other person to want to help. At the same time, it’s important to let the child know that he has your support. Your child needs to feel the strength of your caring: to know that you’ll do whatever you can to make things better, starting right now. 
  • Model the behaviours you wish to see. Join forces with other adults to create communities that are characterized by kindness and mutual respect so that children grow up knowing how they should expect to be treated and how they should expect to treat others.  

Bullying by the numbers

According to PREVnet (Canada’s authority on research and resources for bullying prevention)

  • 75 percent of people report being affected by bullying
  • One in five teenagers reports being victimized electronically
  • 78 percent of Canadians believe that not enough is being done to tackle bullying in their community.

Ann Douglas is the author of Parenting Through the Storm: How to Handle the Highs, the Lows, and Everything in Between (a guide to parenting a child with a mental health, neurodevelopmental, or behavioural challenge).