Do Weak Cognitive Skills Contribute to Bullying?

Bullies tend to prey on kids who stand out or who struggle with social skills.  Oftentimes, the weak cognitive skills associated with several learning struggles (ADHD, dyslexia, general learning disability, for example) contribute to the perception of an individual being “different” or “weak” and can, in turn, contribute to being victimized. In some instances, especially in those diagnosed with ADHD, the symptoms themselves – weak impulse control, hyperactivity – lead to kids being the bully.

How can adults intervene in either case? 

  • Since recognizing and understanding social cues is one of the symptoms of ADHD and other learning differences, help your child recognize them by reading stories and asking how the character might feel.  Use television shows that you’ve recorded (so you can pause!) to do the same.  Talk about things that happened in their day and ask how the other person might have felt and what is an appropriate response.
  • Talk to your child about the difference between tattling and telling.  Tattling is reporting an incident in order to get someone in trouble (“Jack was coloring at the math center.”)  Telling is reporting an incident in order to get someone out of trouble (“Jack was playing in the street.”)  Discourage tattling and encourage telling. 
  • Role play different scenarios and talk about ways to respond to bullying to shut it down.
    • Use humor
    • Agree with them
    • Avoid the bully
    • Use sarcasm to respond
    • Point it out – “Why did you say that?” 
  • Ask about your child’s day in the classroom and during unstructured times such as recess, lunchroom or even passing classes.  If something doesn’t sound quite right, ask clarification questions to help them remember the events and follow up with a teacher or other adult if the story isn’t going together in a cohesive way.  Remembering and retelling can be problematic for some kids, so help them out – even making a crude drawing can help them with sequencing.
  • Alert the school to the locations that bullying is happening and ask them for increased supervision in those areas. 
  • Help your child differentiate between harmful bullying and the more benign teasing that happens to us all.  Help them develop a sense of humor so they can laugh at themselves when situations arise.  Being super critical of any mean remark tends to draw more bullying, so they need to know the difference. 
  • Use media and stories to teach good relationships.  This means you must watch shows with your children.  Talk about how the characters are treating each other and whether that is a healthy relationship or not.  Ask how they might handle the story if they were in it. 
  • Since many learning differences respond favorably to cognitive interventions, seek out an assessment to see if cognitive weaknesses are present in your child.  If so, brain training (cognitive development training) can strengthen the weak areas often present in kids that struggle both in the classroom and socially. 

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