1. Educate your child about his or her disability and model age-appropriate ways of explaining it in social situations.

2. Teach your child confident body-language in front of a mirror: stand or sit up straight, put your shoulders back, make eye contact.

3. Practise different responses to teasing: asking the bully to stop in a firm voice; educating the bully about the disability; ignoring the bully; seeking out caring peers; using a humorous comeback. For example, a child who is teased because he has no hair can say: “You’re right, I don’t have any hair. I hope it doesn’t grow in for a while because I’m going out as Michael Jordan for Halloween.”

4. Find out if the school has a bullying-prevention program. Put bullying on the agenda of your next PTA meeting.

5. Suggest a disability-awareness program be introduced at the school, see if your child would like to do a classroom presentation on his or her disability, or invite an older student with a disability to address the class.

6. To promote inclusive behaviours, teachers must: educate students from a young age about differences, put the disability in perspective as being one part of the whole child, recognize a variety of strengths, give all students opportunities for leadership, and make it clear that all students are to be respected.

7. Collaborative learning that fosters cooperation is the best way to minimize peer-group prejudice against students with disabilities. Programs that create a sense of belonging to the classroom and school (such as mentoring of younger children at recess by older children) are valuable. Praise children daily for expressing empathy and kindness.

8. Have all students agree to tell the teacher if a child is being bullied. To encourage reporting and minimize blaming, children can be taught to say: “Johnny isn’t feeling safe.” Students need to be reminded that they aren’t tattling, but making sure that everyone is safe.

9. Victims need to be monitored by school staff who they can seek out when afraid. They can also benefit from assertiveness and social-skills training; involvement in activities where their strengths shine; and opportunities to be mentored or act as a mentor.

10. Bullies need support too. Educate about the impact of their actions. Consequences that promote learning — such as reading a story about someone who abused power and discussing it with the class — help. Suggest the bully and victim meet with the teacher and parents so the bully can apologize. Emphasize that this is a serious problem that will be monitored. Encourage class responsibilities and activities where the bully can be a leader without being aggressive. When bullying is chronic, a mental-health referral for both parties is helpful.

These tips were developed by the Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network and Bloorview.

Your child may be a target. Here’s how you can prepare and protect
Photo Masterfile.com
When her daughter Sequoiah graduated from Bloorview’s primary school to a regular Grade 2 class in Burlington, Kerene Wallace was shocked to learn that Sequoiah was being bullied.

“I expected that this might happen in the older grades, but these children were in Grades 1 and 2,” Kerene says.

Sequoiah was singled out because of her unusual walking gait, chronically teased on the playground, and made to hand over her snack everyday. “She was totally overwhelmed,” Kerene says.

Children with physical and developmental disabilities are at greater risk of being bullied by peers, say the authors of a 2007 Canadian article that reviews the international literature on the topic.

Bullying is a form of aggression where one child seeks power over another through physical abuse, verbal taunts or social exclusion.

“Unequal power between the child who bullies and the child who is victimized is the defining feature,” says Debra Pepler, a professor of psychology at York University, psychologist at SickKids and one of four authors of the paper — accepted for publication in Exceptionality Education Canada.

Physical or developmental differences can marginalize children and make them vulnerable to others who have more status and social power, Debra says. Other students play a critical role: they may watch or join in with the bullying, or they may intervene to stop it.

Debra heads the Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network — a new Canadian network of researchers and organizations that’s developing a national strategy for addressing bullying in children.

“It’s important to remember that there is no easy answer to bullying and that it is a community issue that requires parents, schools and families to work together,” says Barbara Fishbein-Germon, a social worker at Bloorview Kids Rehab who runs KidTalk, a peer support group for children with cerebral palsy.

“There are resources that can help parents prepare.”

Bullying statistics

A 2007 review of international literature by Canadian authors finds kids with physical and developmental disabilities are at greater risk of being bullied.

In a 2003 Canadian Council on Social Development study, 11 per cent of children with special needs aged 10 to 11 reported they were bullied ‘all or most of the time,’ versus 5 per cent of peers without disabilities.

A 1998 British study of 55 children with hemiplegia and 55 classmates without found that 45 per cent of those with hemiplegia were moderately or severely victimized, compared to 13 per cent of peers without disabilities.


Bloorview Kids Rehab | Bloorview’s Resource Centre