ADHD: Breaking the Bully Loop Kids with attention disorders can find themselves on both ends of bullying. Fortunately there are some skills they can learn to break the cycle. BY MARK JULIAN, CPCC
Teaching kids how to deal with their behavior through action and small steps will help.
“ The bully loop is a learned behavior modeled around roles and experience.”
Children with ADHD often suffer with impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactivity, making it difficult for them to perform well in school and to establish positive, long-term peer relationships.
Of particular difficulty is the role that ADHD can play in bullying. Because of the behavioral symptoms, many children with ADD find themselves either being bullied or being the bully themselves. Often the source of bullying is the very impulsivity that characterizes ADHD, and that is a source of struggle for many children, teens and even adults.
Children with ADHD often find themselves caught up in a bullying loop because of impulsivity, either perpetually being bullied or being the source of bullying. The bully loop is a learned behavior modeled around roles and experience. Most bullies are or have been bullied themselves, but they may not recognize themselves in such a role. I admit that, when I reflect back on my own life experiences, I can find moments when I would have fit into one side or the other. I expect most people can.
Some of us with ADD are bullied because we stand out as quirky and different. On the other hand, some have to work much harder at self-control and emotional regulation, a lack of which can lead them to act out as either bullies or victims.
First, let’s examine some current types of bullying:
* Physical bullying includes any behavior including punching, pinching, slamming, kicking, etc.
* Verbal bullying includes name calling; this type of bullying is when bullying often originates, and it advances quickly if not stopped immediately.
* Cyberbullying is bullying through any electronic methods, such as social media, text, or email.
* Emotional cruelty often takes the form of relational aggression like spreading gossip and rumors, purposeful isolation, lies, and ridicule.
* Sexual harassment which is being reported more frequently by elementary-aged students, particularly girls.
In learning the varieties of bullying, one can look to strategies that assist them from being prey to bullies or from becoming bullies on their own. Though we may think of these as polar opposites they are also just two sides of the same coin. The key lies in empowering individuals with choices rather than patterned reactions.
Because ADHD contributes to both ends of the bullying cycle (the loop), it can be a daunting and lengthy task to work with students with ADD to help them better understand their behavioral reactions to bullying, regardless of what side of the issue they are on. Developing objective awareness and learning ways to view their circumstances as observers, are key to such understanding.
Children with ADHD may find themselves bullying others or being bullied themselves because of poor impulse control, lack anger management techniques and misunderstandings. Feeling disrespected is often magnified for those of us with ADD and our response to that perception is apt to be magnified too. There are ways to train kids with ADHD to understand and work within these challenges, and for this training to work, parents and teachers must point children where to look, and not just tell them what to do.
Here are some key methods that can be used to help a child with ADD manage their behavior to help prevent being bullied or becoming the bully in social scenarios:
Children and teens benefit by having behavior changes modeled for them. Just telling them what you want them to do or how they need to approach a situation is not enough for change to happen. If you want a child with ADHD to adopt anti-bullying behaviors, then the actions are best demonstrated.
Present a "Replacer Skill"
Kids benefit when given a "replacer skill" to substitute for their unwanted or unacceptable behaviors. Identify what skills the child needs, observe their interactions with peers, and use "replacer skills" to help the child learn appropriate alternative actions.
Don’t overwhelm a child with ADD by teaching an entire set of new skills to them all at once. Start with one small skill and build from there. The child should master this one skill before moving onto a more complex or layered one. Each skill takes time to learn, so allow the child plenty of practice.
Enlist the other adults in the child’s life to work together and provide regular feedback to the child on a daily basis. Receiving the same message from all the adults in their life will assist your child with ADD to recognize and change behaviors.
With proper modeling and guidance, children with ADHD can learn strategies to make them less likely to be victimized by bullies or to become bullies themselves. This process may take time, consistency, and patience, but breaking the bully loop is possible and can radically alter a child’s experience at school, on the playground and in later life!