We often hear of foster children being bullied. We become familiar with the signs of bullying and do all we can to prevent bullying from occurring in our schools and in the community. A bully would be almost too much for most foster children as they already have so much to deal with being in foster care.
What Does Bullying Look Like?Bullying can be divided into four different categories:
Verbal – Verbal bullying would include such things as teasing, name calling, sexual comments, and threats.
Social – Social bullying would include purposely leaving people out of activities, starting rumors, and public humiliation.
Physical – Physical bullying would include hitting, kicking, tripping, and destruction of property.
Cyber – Cyber bullying would include mean or hurtful text messages, including photos on social media, chat, and websites.
Two Types of Bullies
But, what if our foster or adopted child is the bully? Let's first identify the different types of bullies. According to stopbullying.gov there are two different kinds of bullies.
The first type of bully likes to dominate or be in charge. This child may also be over concerned with the idea of popularity. Children in foster care or those who have recently been adopted often feel out of control as all of their life decisions have been made for them. They may be bossy with peers and feel the need to obtain a bit of social power and boost in status that comes from being in the popular crowd.
The second type of bully is the opposite. This child is more isolated from his peers. He may appear to be depressed, suffer from anxiety, have low self-esteem, and be less involved in school. This child may also struggle to identify with the emotions of others. Much like the list of risk factors of children most susceptible to bullying, this second type of bully seems to describe a typical foster child.
Risk Factors for Potential BulliesThe following list describes risk factors that puts a child at risk for becoming a bully. Again, the list may seem very familiar to most foster parents.
- The child that may become a bully is:
- easily frustrated,
- has less parental involvement,
- has issues at home,
- has difficulty following instructions,
- views violence in a positive light,
- has friends who bully others.
If you are still not sure if your child is a bully, here is a quick quiz from our Guide to Parenting Teens: Parenting Quiz: Is Your Child a Bully?.
What Can a Foster or Adoptive Parent Do When They Learn That Their Child Is a Bully?
It will be important for foster parents to be very watchful to ensure that not only are their foster children not being bullied, but they are also not bullying others. It will also be important to talk with your child about bullying. Here are a few tips when talking with your foster or adopted child about being a bully.
Be very specific. When discussing inappropriate or bullying behaviors with your foster or adopted child be very specific about the behaviors that need to change. Most foster children do not understand that their behaviors are wrong or hurtful. Their behaviors may be survival or coping skills that the child needed to exist in their birth home. Explain to the child that their bullying behavior is hurtful to others. Discuss alternative behaviors that are more appropriate to getting needs met.
Help child understand why. Talk to the child about some reasons that kids choose to bully others. Sometimes kids bully to fit in with others, while other times they may bully to act out their own hurt and pain. It would not be unusual for either reason to fit a typical foster child. The child is probably new to the school and may feel bullying is the easiest way to fit in. Make a plan for change with the child and explore different activities they can be involved with such as sports or clubs. Other foster children may act out as bullies at school due to their past abuse issues or stress. Most foster children have experienced numerous issues at home that may influence their behavior negatively. Speak to the child's social worker about getting the child mental health services. The child may need to process abuse he witnessed, or abuse he has endured at home.
Teach. Don't be afraid to use consequences as a way to teach a lesson about bullying. Have the child research bullying behavior or read a book about bullying. Role play with the child about bullying or how gossip impacts a person's life. Have the child share the role play or what he has learned with the family, his social worker, or therapist.
Taking time to make amends. It's important for children to learn that their behavior impacts others. Have the child write a letter to the child he bullied. If that's not appropriate, have the child do some community service to repay society for causing harm. Make sure the child is responsible for cleaning or repairing any property that he may have damaged.
Advocate to keep the child in school. Kicking a child out of school for bullying does not end bullying behavior. It is also not helpful for foster children who already have gaps in their education due to birth family choices and frequent moves in the foster care system. Do all you can to keep the child in school. Consider getting an education advocate involved or a CASA.
Treatments to avoid. According to stopbullying.gov group treatment of bullying and peer conflict resolution does not work. Conflict resolution may further traumatized those who have been bullied and group work may reinforce bullying behavior among those who bully.