There’s a reason education professionals strive for as much inclusion as possible for kids with disabilities. Being in a diverse environment is an educational experience for kids of all ages. It lets them learn about people who are different from them and find ways to get along.
At the same time, an inclusive environment will always come with some hurdles. As sad as it is, we tend to see bullying issues any time there’s a large group of kids. It happens even more when we bring kids with disabilities into the mix, though.
How do you face these issues head-on? It’s important to have a frank discussion with all kids about bullying prevention. It might be a challenging subject, but these tips will help.
How to Talk to Kids with Disabilities About Bullying Prevention
As a special education professional, you may be dealing with bullying prevention on a regular basis. Here are some tips to keep in mind while you discuss bullying with your students.
Explain Both Sides of the Coin
Many people assume that kids with disabilities are the ones who get bullied and that neurotypical kids are the bullies. While this does tend to be the most common scenario, it’s not always the case.
While you want to talk to your students about what to do if they’re getting bullied, don’t neglect to talk about why bullying is wrong. It’s just as important to make sure they know not to be bullies as it is to help protect them from becoming victims.
Explain That It Isn’t Their Fault if They Get Bullied
One of the most common problems facing kids who are bullied is the assumption that they’ve brought it on themselves. Too many adults say things like, “If you didn’t act so weird, they wouldn’t bully you.”
The #1 cause of bullying is bullies, plain and simple. You don’t want kids to think that if they want to be themselves, it gives others the permission to abuse them.
Make sure your students know that if they get bullied, it isn’t their fault and they don’t need to change who they are.
Talk About What Constitutes Bullying
Another common problem with bullying is that kids don’t actually know that they’re bullying someone. They might think they’re picking on a friend in a playful way but they’ve crossed the line into bullying.
Make it clear that it isn’t okay to pick on other kids, regardless of what the intentions are. While bullying is defined by a pattern of behavior, it’s a slippery slope from the occasional mean-spirited “prank.”
It’s also important to explain that bullying doesn’t need to be a physical action. Words alone can be a form of bullying that is more traumatic to kids than physical abuse.
Tell Them What to Do if They See or Experience Bullying
When your students have a clear understanding of what bullying is, it’s important to give them actionable instructions, too. Tell them what to do if they see bullying or experience it themselves.
Make sure kids know that it’s important to report bullying if they see it happening to someone else. If they don’t, they’re hurting the victim by allowing the abuse to continue.
Don’t Wait Until Something Happens
Too many parents and education professionals put off “the bullying talk” too long. They tend to think they have more time before their kids have to worry about it.
If you wait until something happens, you’ll guarantee that your students will have at least one situation when they don’t know what to do. The key is to educate kids about bullying before they can form bad habits or get into a situation when they may react in violence.
How to Talk to Neurotypical Kids About Disability Awareness and Bullying Prevention
In some schools, you’ll only spend time with kids with disabilities. In other cases, though, schools may recognize that you’re a resource for bullying prevention with neurotypical kids as well.
If you’re in a position to discuss bullying with neurotypical kids, here are some tips to help.
Educate Them About Kids with Disabilities
One of the largest reasons neurotypical kids bully kids with disabilities is a lack of understanding. They don’t recognize what their disability is or that it may be the reason they seem “weird.”
Education alone will go a long way toward creating a cooperative and safe environment. Talk to neurotypical students about various disabilities their peers might have, from autism spectrum disorders and Down syndrome to physical impairments.
As with your students with disabilities, many neurotypical kids who are bullies don’t realize they’re bullying. To them, it might seem like good fun while it creates fear and anxiety for the victim.
Discuss examples of bullying with the kids and answer any questions they have about it. Explain to them that if they’re questioning whether something is okay, it’s probably not okay.
Talk About the Impacts Bullying Can Have
This is a touchy subject. Some parents and educators think suicide is too heavy of a subject for their students.
The reality is that it’s something they deal with at an early age. The youngest documented suicide victim is a 6-year-old girl. Kids as young as 8 and 9 have committed suicide that we know to be the direct result of bullying.
As unpleasant as it is, kids need to understand the real risks of bullying. You don’t need to get graphic, but you need to explain to them that it can have serious consequences.
In addition to suicide, it’s important to explain the other potential effects of bullying. Discuss the results of low self-esteem, higher risks for drug use, poor academic performance, and more.
Explain What to Do if They See or Experience Bullying
As with your special education students, you need to give neurotypical kids actionable instructions. Explaining what bullying is and why it’s bad won’t help much if they don’t know what to do if they see it happening.
Tackling Bullying Prevention Before It’s a Problem
Total bullying prevention isn’t practical. Still, there are plenty of ways you can cut down on bullying in your school and the tips above can help.
For more advice that will help you with your special education career, check out our online resources.