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ADHD Kids Are Likely to Be Bullied or Become Bullies

The elementary and high school experience is rarely without social pressures and academic stress.  A number of experts believe that bullying is a major source of school stress among kids of all ages.  Bullying was once thought to be an annoying but inevitable rite of passage, but now parents and teachers understand that it can inflict lifelong emotional damage on its victims.  Although no child is exempt from being bullied, children who are considered different are at higher risk for being victims. For kids with ADHD, bullying can affect them two ways. Their quirks and learning difficulties increase the possibility of being bullied, but current research shows that children with ADHD have the potential to become bullies themselves.

Who becomes a bully?

The stereotyped image of a bully is an overweight boy who torments younger, skinnier boys. However, bullies come in all shapes, sizes, and genders. While girls aren’t as aggressive and violent as boys, they can use gossip, online bullying, and ostracism to bully other girls.  According to the United States National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center, bullies tend to be:

  • Confident with high self-esteem
  • Easily angered, physically aggressive, and displaying impulsive tendencies
  • Easily frustrated and impatient
  • Experiencing academic difficulties, disliking school, and getting into more trouble than their peers

Some bullies shy away from others, but many also have friends who also engage in bullying behaviors and violence

ADHD and bullying

A recent study by Swedish researchers discovered a link between ADHD, bullies, and bully victims. The researchers followed 557 fourth-grade children from a municipality outside Stockholm for a year. Through interviews with parents, teachers, and the children themselves, they determined which ones had ADHD symptoms. These children were then taken to a neurologist for diagnosis.  According to the findings, kids with ADHD are four times more likely than others to become bullies, and ten times more likely to be bully victims, even before they develop their symptoms. The researchers believe that the bullying might be an expression of ADHD, or the attention problems they experience might be caused by the stress of being bullied.

Before the Swedish study was published, a paper in the Ambulatory Pediatrics journal showed that kids diagnosed with ADHD and autism are more likely to become bullies than their peers.

Preventing bullying

Bullying is still a common problem in many schools, and it seems like children with ADHD face some limitations that make them targets for bullies or bullies themselves. While taking medication does not seem to minimize bullying behaviors, there are some steps parents and teachers can take to prevent bullying.

  • Bullying usually occurs when there are no adults around. Tell your child to sit near others during lunch or stay in crowded places in the hall. If a bully approaches, leave the scene and go towards a crowd, a teacher, or older kids.
  • Talk to a teacher who can help your child.  The teacher must take the problem seriously, watch out for your child, and remain confidential about the role as protector.
  • Teach your child confident body language.  Research shows that children are less likely to be bullied if they appear confident and assertive.  Standing tall, developing a poker face, and responding to bullies using a strong firm voice may reduce the instances of bullying.