October is National Bullying Prevention Month, Down Syndrome Awareness Month and Dwarfism Awareness Month–an opportunity to educate and take pride in our unique differences. This is an ideal time to address bullying with your child and learn how to speak with him or her about how we are all different, and that is something special that should be celebrated.
“It is important to teach all children that bullying is never OK and encourage your child to help support other children who are being bullied and inform a trusted adult such as a teacher,” explains pediatric emergency medicine physician, Joseph Perno, M.D. “If your child is being bullied, they should be encouraged to stand up to the bully. Teach them to ask for help if they are being picked on.”
Here are some signs that your child is being bullied:
- Poor performance in school
- Withdrawal from friends and activities
- Sadness and hopelessness
- Lack of enthusiasm, energy or motivation
- Anger and rage
- Overreaction to criticism
- Poor self-esteem or guilt
- Lack of concentration or forgetfulness
- Restlessness and agitation
- Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
- Substance abuse
- Problems with authority
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
An avid anti-bullying activist is Dr. Jen Arnold, M.D., medical director of the simulation program at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and star of the TLC series The Little Couple. While she is an expert in medical simulation, the physician was also born with a rare form of dwarfism and faces daily challenges as a little person. She inspires others to embrace adversity while encouraging them to join her in her fight against bullying.
“It’s important for parents to understand that bullying is a major life situation and can make kids feel like an outcast,” Arnold explains. “Children and teens may keep these encounters inside and not tell anyone, so it’s crucial we stay vigilant when it comes to monitoring our children’s behavior and take action if we notice any red flags. Keeping in touch with your kids and reminding them we are here to help them talk about these difficult issues is important.”
One of her most important roles in life is being a mom and raising her two young children, who also have dwarfism and are up against similar life challenges. She takes pride in guiding them along the way.
“I tell my kids that being different is what makes each of us so special,” Arnold says. “My husband and I read a book to them about being a little person, which helps them to understand and love their individualities.”
It’s also important to be a support system for your kids, as children who are bullied are more susceptible to toxic stress, an experience in which stress hormones flood the body and produce a variety of different responses in children. These include symptoms of depression, aggression, sleeping problems, behavioral problems, obesity and even symptoms that mimic attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
“The opposite of toxic stress is resilience,” explains Zach Spoehr-Labutta, M.D., a pediatric resident at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. “Resilience can be created by a stable, caring adult in a child’s life. You can be that adult.”
Open communication with your child and pediatrician is key. Visit Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine for more guidance on the topic of bullying and embracing differences.