Helping disabled children cope with bullying

Children with a disability may be bullied. If this happens, it is important that action is taken to stop the bullying. That goes without question. However we  always cannot  protect our children from the bullies  so it is important to help  them build the resilience required to prevent bullying having the devastating impact it can have on a child’s life.

The points raised below may help you in bully-proofing your child

Do

Encourage Positive Emotions – It is essential that we provide o children with opportunities to have positive emotions. This sounds simple, but it’s easy to get distracted by practicalities of parenting so that we fail to provide them with enough opportunities to be joyful. Encourage children to find pleasure and humour in life. Although we should never overlook or fail to discuss their struggles, we should consistently provide children with opportunities to develop positive emotions hope by offering them situations in which they feel confident and encouraged.

Provide Social Support – The more our children feel like they have a social support from their family, the better they will handle negative social interactions outside the home. It’s important to make time to talk to children and to just be with them. Even if a child, particularly a teenager, is resistant to confiding, don’t give up. Try to find ways to let them know that you are there for them when they are ready to open up.

An extended family circle is also beneficial. Many children aren’t comfortable talking to their parents about certain things, but they may have a relative or family friend who they trust. The same holds true for their friendships with children who have a positive influence on them.

Even a child who is isolated from peers will do much better with family support. As he or she struggles to make friends, you can be helpful by exposing them to positive social situations: i.e. volunteering with them, taking them to community events, or participating in activities with friends of ours who have children around the same age. It is important to facilitate the forming of these social connections without being critical or providing too much pressure.

Find an Area of Interest– Helping children to find something that interests them and that they can excel in is a gift that can shape their lives.  Get them involved in activities that help them feel good about themselves. Provide them with a variety of opportunities to find what specifically appeals to the. It is important to support them in their excitement. It is also important not to confuse false praise with encouragement. Children can tell the difference, and they often feel confused when our compliments don’t match their accomplishments.

Teach strategies for coping with stress – Children must be taught how to calm themselves down when distressed or feeling aggressive. We can teach them to be aware of themselves and their emotions, while learning to regulate their reactions. It is important to help them develop the ability to remain calm, even in the face of bullying. The ability to see what is going on in their own minds and the minds of others will help children to recognize their own reactions and understand others better, so they can more effectively cope with bullies.

Promote Problem Solving Skills – To equip children with invaluable problem solving skills, we must show them how to be flexible in their responses. If a child faces a challenging situation, it is important to sit down with them and encourage them to think about the many possible courses of action available and which will yield the most benefit.  If, for example, they endure teasing from a friend, what can they do? Is revenge really the best option? Can they joke back and not “take the bait?” Does ignoring it really solve the problem? Should they talk directly to the friend about how the teasing makes them feel? Is it better for an adult to be present in the conversation?

We can teach our children to always ask themselves, how can I get help? How can I get more l support? And remember, the more adaptive we are in dealing with our own problems, the more adaptive they will be with theirs.

Orient Them Toward Future – Part of ensuring our children stay hopeful involves orientating them toward the future. Helping them plan for their future doesn’t necessarily mean knowing what college they want to get into or how many children they plan to have. It also doesn’t mean helping create a fantasy of a future that could never exist. It is more a matter of helping them focus on their real, everyday goals, such as a desire to visit a certain city or learning to drive a car. It can be a matter of making them aware of a heroic person who inspires them or introducing them to new situations that open them up to new ideas and opportunities.

Columnist Dan Savage started the “It Gets Better Project” to encourage struggling young people to have faith that they can get through bullying and adversity and one day enjoy a happy and fulfilling life. This message is one from which every adolescent can benefit. Teaching children that the future holds brightness and possibility is a lesson that can lift them through low times.

Lead by Example – In each of the previous suggestions, it is vital to lead by example. Telling children what to do and how to behave will rarely influence them as much as showing them how to handle difficult situations. Exposing them to the constructive approaches we take in finding solutions to problems in our lives encourages them to handle matters in a similar way. We should always aim to act in a way that is consistent with our values and provide our children with a model to do the same.

Don’t

Support Maladaptive Thinking – Negative thoughts contribute to a child’s insecurities and low self-esteem. Allowing our children to focus or dwell on a perceived weakness or negative trait is not constructive. Instead, encourage them to challenge their hostile self-criticisms and self-attacks. This form of maladaptive thinking, which is referred to as the “critical inner voice,” will lead a child to feel mentally defeated and victimized by circumstances.

The critical inner voice can contribute to stress, anger, and depression. It can make children gravitate toward activities that leave them feeling bad and avoid those that make them feel good. It may, for example, encourage them to be isolated, “Don’t leave your room. No one out there wants to see you.” It can encourage them to act out, “Why even go to school? You’re too stupid to learn anything anyway.” Allowing children to indulge in reflecting or acting on these critical inner voices can have harmful effects. Instead, encourage them to identify these negative thoughts and challenge them in their actions. Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice, a book I co-authored with Dr. Robert Firestone and Joyce Catlett, provides exercises for identifying and challenging this critical inner voice.

Be Critical, Coddling, or Ignore Issues – We all know the importance of supporting our children in new challenges. However, when our children take on something new to them, it is often hard to find a balance between pushing them too hard and doing too much for them. Ideally, we should try to put them in slightly novel situations in which they’re slightly uncomfortable and we’re there to back them up. We don’t want to over-push our children, leading them to feel abandoned or afraid. In this same way, we don’t want to overprotect them by speaking for them or stepping in too often, which teaches them to feel dependent or helpless. Most importantly, we should never pretend not to notice that there is a problem. Ignoring the fact that our children are struggling will only leave them feeling more alone than ever.

Dwell on the Negative – When a child goes through a negative experience, it is important to give them the platform to talk about it. Encourage the child to express what happened and how it made him or her feel. We can help children resolve any traumas they experience by reframing the experiences, so they can learn from them. This is not to say we should attempt to alter reality or ignore the fact that they were hurt by something. However, the more people mull over painful events or tell themselves stories about being victims, the worse off they are in terms of building resilience.

It is really unhelpful to promote the idea that the world is unsafe or that change is not possible. Instead, we should tell our children positive uplifting stories about our own challenges. “I used to be so shy that I sat alone every day at lunch. Then one day, I made a friend at school, and slowly I started to feel more and more comfortable talking to him. Then I grew more comfortable talking to other children. Eventually, I had a close group of friends who never made me feel embarrassed or shy.”

Avoid Dealing With Painful Events -When a traumatic event occurs, we shouldn’t encourage children in engaging to simply steer clear of anything that reminds them of the occurrence. For example, if a child was once bullied on a certain street, while carrying a certain backpack, we should help them to talk about the experience and help them process their reactions to it. Having them just take another street or throw away the backpack won’t resolve the experience in their minds. In fact, avoidant coping strategies will make them less resilient.

Never avoid talking about painful events. One of the biggest challenges in stopping bullying is that many children fail to disclose incidents in which they were abused. When we encourage our children to talk about bad things that happen to them, we help them make sense out of these experiences. Memories that are not made sense of by being expressed as a coherent narrative can have negative effects on children later in their development. They may start to show behaviour problems, increased fears, stress or anger, and become less social. Creating a coherent narrative helps make meaning out of experiences and form a sense of personal agency and closure.

So even if we are not able to protect our children from the bullies we can help them build the resilience required to not allow bullying to have the devastating impact it is capable of having on a child’s life. And this will provide them with an essential coping tool they can take with them into adulthood.

 

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Helping people with learning disabilities stay safe

 

People with learning disabilities can often be victims of hate crime and harassment, whether this is in their home or communities or online, because they are seen as ‘different’ or ‘vulnerable’. . The Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities has created two easy read guides to help people with learning disabilities know how to keep safe. Staying Safe Out and About has information about keeping safe when people are out in their communities. Staying Safe on Social Media and Online tells people how to keep safe when using facebook, twitter and emails. 

 

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People with learning disabilities and forced marriage

British councils have had to create policies to tackle the rise in the number of people with learning disabilities entering forced marriages. They issue guidance for social workers and other staff to raise awareness and spot potential victims. It is unlawful in the UK to give permission for a marriage on behalf of a person if they cannot consent themselves. The Forced Marriage Unit says it is dealing with a “growing number of referrals” involving people with learning disabilities and has produced a booklet to help professionals prevent forced marriages.

A forced marriage in UK law, is one to which the individual has not consented. For people with learning disabilities this may mean that they do not have the capacity to consent to marriage or that they do not understand the nature of the marriage contract. It does not necessarily imply force, coercion or intimidation. In fact the person with learning disabilities may be happy to comply, and enjoy the idea of a wedding or of being married, although they do not fully realise what they are agreeing to, or they may not understand what is happening at all.
The majority of cases of forced marriage reported to date in the UK involve South Asian families; this is partly a reflection of the fact that there is a large, established, South Asian population in the UK. However, it is clear that forced marriage is not solely a South Asian issue and there have been cases involving East Asian, Middle Eastern, European, Gypsy and Traveller and African communities. Some forced marriages take place in the UK, while others involve a partner coming from overseas or a British national being sent abroad.
In 2009 nearly 1,700 incidents of suspected forced marriage were reported to the Forced Marriage Unit. Research also indicates that the forced marriage of children and adults with learning disabilities is likely to be vastly underreported and can differ from the way in which forced marriage presents generally. It is therefore difficult to obtain any figures for the number of people with learning disabilities who are forced to marry.
Many families are not aware that organising marriages for their relative with learning disabilities could potentially be forcing them into marriage. Parents who force their children to marry often justify their action as protecting their children, building stronger family ties and preserving traditions. They often do not see anything wrong in their actions and indeed when this involves a person with a learning disability they often believe it is the right, or only, option and therefore may be open about their intentions. In addition to the motives for forcing people to marry generally, there are other factors which may make someone with a learning disability more vulnerable. For example a lack of suitable day centres and day time activities may isolate a potential victim. Some key motives for forcing people with learning disabilities to marry include:
• Obtaining a carer for the person with a learning disability.
• Obtaining physical assistance for ageing parents.
• Obtaining financial security for the person with a learning disability.
• Believing the marriage will somehow “cure” the disability.
• A belief that marriage is a “rite of passage” for all young people.
• Mistrust of the “system”, mistrust of external (e.g. social care/health) carers.
• A fear that younger siblings may be seen as undesirable if older sons or daughter are not already married.
• The marriage being seen as the only option or the right option (or both) – no alternative.

Anecdotal evidence also suggests that young women with learning disabilities can be married to young men who have in some way “disgraced” family honour and are now regarded as “unsuitable” to enter any other marriage. Marriage with a woman with a learning disability may be seen by the family as their only option. Some prospective brides and grooms who come from abroad may not realise that they are marrying a person with a learning disability and that they may be expected to become a carer.

A booklet for people with learning disabilities  has been produced by Respond with funding from the Forced Marriage Unit.

Well meaning PANTS booklet is too difficult for many children with learning difficulties

A new version of the NSPCC’s successful campaign the Underwear Rule was recently launched to help parents teach children with a learning disability about sexual abuse. The NSPCC and Mencap have joined forces this Child Safety Week to make the popular guide accessible for both parents and children with a learning disability.With more people than ever before contacting the NSPCC helpline (0808 800 5000) about sexual abuse and research indicating that disabled children are three times more vulnerable – both the NSPCC and Mencap are encouraging parents to talk PANTS with their children to help keep them safe.

 

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However, my view is that the booklet is too complex for many children with learning disabilities, The booklet – the PANTS guide – opens with the PANTS  acronym  and an explanation as to its importance:

How to remember the Underwear Rule There is an easy way to remember the Underwear Rule.
Remember the word PANTS.
The first letter from each of the rules makes up the  word PANTS.

P  Privates are private

A  Always remember your body belongs to you

N  No means no

T  Talk about secrets that upset you

S  Speak up. Someone can help

The concept of an acronym is too complex for many children with a learning disability.

Concepts such as  an adult you trust are also too difficult for many children as is the ability to telephone Childline. The concept of the right to say No is also problematic as  children cannot say No to many things such as going to school; having a bath and their hair washed; having their ails cut; washing their hands; or wearing a seat belt in the car.

Children with more severe learning difficulties, particularly those on the autistic spectrum, need simple, straightforward and unequivocal  rules, such as:

  • Someone can only touch you between your legs (or your willie)  if  its Mummy (or other main carer  or Mummy (or other main carer) says it’s OK. (This covers bathing, medical examinations or treatment or similar)
  • If someone tries to touch you ors touches you  between your legs (or your willie) you  must say no and you must tell Mummy (or other main carer) straight away.
  • If someone shows you his willie or ask you to touch it, you should say no and you must tell Mummy (or other main carer) straight away.

It’s important to use words that the child understands for their private parts and to name the person of people that they should tell. And to go over the rules many times.

I’m delighted that efforts are being made to protect children with learning disabilities from abuse; but  something less complex  is needed to give the more vulnerable children, who have least language, least ability to understand and fewest means of making themselves understood. They need simple clear rules – and to be protected by adults.