Gifted children may be at a higher risk for being bullied than their more neurotypical peers. The risk factors for bullying victims are similar to many traits prevalent within the intellectually gifted population.
Risk Factors for Bullying
First, let’s look at the risk factors for being bullied. According to StopBullying.gov, a website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, children are more likely to be bullied when:
- They are perceived as different from their peers, such as being overweight or underweight, wearing glasses, being new to school, or otherwise considered “uncool.”
- They are perceived as weak or unable to defend themselves.
- They are depressed, anxious, or have low self-esteem.
- They do not get along well with others, or are seen as annoying or provoking, or antagonize others for attention.
- They are less popular than others and have few friends.
Bullying in Gifted Children
Now, let’s compare the risk factors above to some of the attributes commonly found in gifted children.
Gifted children are usually perceived as different from their peers. They often stand out as “quirky,” “strange,” or “weird,” and they may have unusual interests for their age (such as a 7-year-old who seems obsessed with DNA sequencing). Even gifted children often feel that they’re different and may separate or isolate themselves because of this.
Depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem are also risk factors. Gifted individuals are more often diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety than the general population, elevating their risk of being bullied.
Gifted children may have trouble getting along well with others, or can be seen as annoying or provoking. They might even antagonize others, though not necessarily for attention. In addition, sensory processing issues are prevalent in the gifted population, and responding to excessive (or insufficient) stimuli can be seen as annoying or antagonizing to others.
Twice-exceptional children are described as both gifted and coping with special needs. The special need is usually a type of disability, such as a learning disorder (such as dyslexia or dysgraphia) or a mental health condition (such as attention-deficit hyperactivity/ADHD, depression, or anxiety). This population displays traits that have multiple commonalities with the risk factors for bullying, such as feeling anxious, appearing to be weak (and thus not capable of self-defense), or being annoying, different, or simply viewed as “not cool.”
Parental Involvement Makes a Difference
Parents often feel helpless when they realize their children have experienced bullying. However, being empowered to address bullying is not only excellent modeling, it means you can change the situation. Parental involvement is essential when supporting a gifted child to end bullying.
If your instincts are telling you that your child might be bullied, it’s time to ask some questions.
First, you need to recognize when bullying is a problem. If your instincts are telling you your child might be experiencing bullying, it’s time to ask some questions. For parents who need more than a gut feeling, you will have to both pay attention and have frank conversations.
Not all children show obvious signs that they have been bullied, and if a gifted child doesn’t want you to know something, then they may utilize their intellect to creatively hide the impact of bullying or distract you from asking about it.
Bullying is not typically something a child wants to bring up, nor will they necessarily know how to talk about it. This might be especially true for a tween or younger child.
Is Your Child Being Bullied?
Identification is the first step. Signs that bullying might be a problem include:
- Isolation, avoiding social situations (including play dates), spending time with friends.
- Faking illness in order to avoid school or social activities.
- Showing signs of stress, including a reduced passion for primary interests, headaches, stomach aches, appetite changes, or irritability.
- Being more hungry than usual due to missing lunches or snacks (or eating greater amounts as a way to cope with stress).
- Cuts, bruises, or other injuries that can’t be explained (or your child’s explanation doesn’t make sense).
- Losing personal items, including jackets (or other clothing), school supplies, toys, electronics, or even jewelry.
- Sleep problems, including nightmares.
- Signs of reduced self-esteem, despondency, anxiety, depression, or self-harm.
- Attempts to run away.
5 Steps to Mitigate the Impact of Bullying
Follow these steps to help diminish the effects of bullying:
- Help your child to develop a stronger self-concept and better self-understanding. This will help to counter the damaging effects that bullying can have on self-esteem.
- Use both modeling and scaffolding to teach your child to recognize their strengths and positive traits. Most children don’t know or recognize many of their strengths, and gifted children are no exception.
- Point out positive traits. This is different than praise. Simply describe their strength, such as, “You are a boy who enjoys building complex creations out of Legos.” Even if your child dismisses your words, hearing about one’s own strengths has a lasting, positive effect and increases resiliency.
- Teach your child self-compassion. To be kind to oneself is essential to healing from bullying. A good way to teach self-compassion is to model it.
- Get support when appropriate. It’s both OK and important to seek professional help if a bullying problem doesn’t subside or worsens.
Risk Factors. (n.d.). StopBullying.gov. Retrieved from http://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/factors
© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Grace Malonai, PhD, LPCC, DCC, therapist in Lafayette, California
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