Making Friends

In This House, We Don’t Tolerate Bullying

Bullies prey on kids who stand out or who struggle with social skills. Too often, children with ADHD fall victim — and some are even guilty of bullying themselves. Learn how to help your child stop the cycle of bullying with this advice.

A dictionary with bullying highlighted, emphasising the connection between ADHD and bullying.
A dictionary with bullying highlighted, emphasising the connection between ADHD and bullying.
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Beating the Bullies

Sometimes, our kids' attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) symptoms — hyperactivity, impulsivity, weak social skills — put them at greater risk for bullying. When the teasing and torment take place at school, we often feel powerless to stop it. But there are ways to intervene — whether your child is being bullied or doing the bullying — to squash this behavior once and for all.

happy laughing kids student girls at school classroom
happy laughing kids student girls at school classroom
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Bullying Risks

Kids with ADHD often exhibit behavior that increases chances of social rejection and bullying, like:

  • Impulsive remarks
  • Clumsiness
  • Poor understanding of spatial boundaries and personal space
  • Being overly affectionate

The biggest problem for kids with ADHD is accurately reading social cues. Kids have to tune into the world around them, interpret behavior, and then respond appropriately — a tough task!

Sad Girl
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Are Bullies Targeting Your Child?

Often, our kids won't mention bullying — perhaps they feel they brought it on themselves, or feel powerless to stop it. Gently question kids about the social scene at school to discern whether they're a target for bullies. Some kids have difficulty remembering or understanding their role in the social sequence of a story, which can feel like lying or withholding information. Piece together the story with help from teachers, neighbors, or a bus driver. Different sides of the story can make the picture clearer.

[[Self-Test] Could My Child Have ADHD?]

portrait of a school boy (8-10) pulling a girls hair in class
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Bullying vs. Teasing

Talk to your child about the difference between destructive bullying, and more benign teasing. Demonstrate examples of friendly teasing where your child is in on the joke, and teach kids how to laugh at themselves in situations that pose no threat. Kids with a sense of humor are much less likely to be bullied than are kids who take everything to heart.

Girl with ADHD is teased by her classmates
Girl with ADHD is teased by her classmates
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Boys vs. Girls

Boys and girls exert social control differently, which means they bully differently. Girls use relational aggression, while boys are more frequently physically aggressive. Girls often control or dominate by social exclusion, withdrawing friendships, not inviting to birthday parties, or giving the silent treatment. Boys tend to be more direct in expressing anger. They can be verbally aggressive, calling names like "stupid" or "idiot." Boys tend to be over it more quickly while girls tend to carry anger longer.

Mother holding daughter (13-15) eyes closed, smiling, close-up
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How to Help

The most effective way parents can buffer against bullying is by helping kids manage their ADHD symptoms through medical, educational, and behavioral interventions – acting as a social coach to help improve skills.

Schoolboy and Schoolgirl Sitting in a Classroom Sticking Their Tongues Out and a Teacher in the Background
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Helping at School

Let teachers and the principal know that bullying is happening, and let them intervene. Suggest that the school establish or more stringently enforce anti-bullying rules. Keep in mind that some kids are savvy bullies — friendly and popular students who conceal their taunts and teasing from adults. Teachers might not notice because they consider them “nice kids." Find out where the bullying occurs — the playground, bus, or cafeteria — and then arrange for appropriate supervision.

[Free Friendship Guide for Kids with ADHD]

A child cries
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Helping at Home

Explain to your kids how bullies typically pick their targets. There are two main types of bullying scenarios. The Vulnerable Target: kids who are sensitive, anxious, insecure. They may overreact and become tearful to teasing, which can result in more teasing. The Rejected Aggressor: kids who are unaware of their own roles in the bullying situation. They may impulsively escalate a situation by being provocative, or are bullying themselves to deal with feelings of powerlessness.

Boy being bullied in elementary school
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Ask and Explain

Ask kids what they were doing right before the bullying started. Then ask what they might do differently next time to avoid the bully. This might help your kids figure out what triggered the bully's attention. Don’t excuse the bully’s actions, but identify behaviors that could draw negative attention (e.g., talking too much, clowning around at the wrong times, blurting out odd remarks, being too affectionate) and discuss alternatives.

portrait funny expression of ADHD two years old blonde happy smiling child sticking out tongue at garden
portrait funny expression of ADHD two years old blonde happy smiling child sticking out tongue at garden
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Avoid Bad Attention

Teach your child to avoid bad attention by going with the flow. If kids are playing kickball, don’t steal the ball and start a soccer game. Teach kids other ways to show their affection like asking kids to play, and giving compliments. Practice friendly teasing, and role-play what being annoyed looks like to make kids aware of how peers are reacting. Teach kids not to tattle, or get involved in other kids' business–like announcing Jack is on page 22 when we’re supposed to be on page 26.

Upset ADHD child being teased by another child on the elementary school grounds
Upset ADHD child being teased by another child on the elementary school grounds
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Practice How to React

If bullying continues, work on strategies to ignore or shut it down. Teach kids to:

  • Use humor.
  • Agree with the bully.
  • Answer back: sarcasm can shock or silence a bully. Say, “Oh really?” in an exasperated tone.
  • Avoid the bully if you don’t have a comeback ready.
  • Call him on it – Say, “Why did you say that?”

These strategies can defuse the bully's mission to inflict pain.

Blonde, short hair, blue eyed, mid 30's woman having a phone conversation. She is well-dressed and looking serious for work or parenting. The shot is indoors and could be home or office.
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Get the Parents Involved

Call the bully’s parents, as a gesture of good will – since you’d want to know if they were complaining about your child to the school. Parents are the best ones to stop bullying, but they can’t stop it if they don’t know about it.

Unhappy Girl Being Bullied In Class
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Help Kids Recover

Teach kids to use positive self talk when a bully is making them doubt themselves. They should remind themselves, “I got an A on my math exam!” so it's not the bully's voice inside their heads. This can thwart the bully’s main goal of destroying confidence. Have kids participate in individual rather than team sports to avoid locker room bullying, and build their strengths. Connecting your child with kids who don’t tease can be a huge buffer against bullying for self-esteem.

Boys Throwing Wad of Paper
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If Your Kid's the Bully

When you hear about bad behavior, don’t accuse your kids of bullying. Instead, ask about behavior, and how they felt last time someone was mean to them. Gather the facts. Then, arrange to give kids a job when they usually act up, like leading a playground cleanup crew. Use role-play to help teach your child to regulate feelings without teasing others. Don’t feel like a bad parent, instead, focus working with your child to find solutions to problems besides aggressive behavior. The more secure your child feels, the less likely he’ll bully others.

Girl with ADHD being bullied with text
Girl with ADHD being bullied with text
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To lessen the chances that your child is exposed to it, reduce screen time. Keep the computer in the open at home, where you can casually pass by and see what’s on the screen. Let kids know that you’ll periodically be checking their friend list, history and profiles. Help your child develop good online etiquette, so you know she isn’t acting in a hostile way. If your child is being cyberbullied, and you know the offender, get school personnel involved and solicit help from the cyberbully’s parents.

[Free Webinar Replay: “My Child Is Being Bullied at School!”]