One Kind Word: Anti-bullying week
As we start the week with a nationwide focus on anti-bullying, it is important to remember that children and young people living with chronic health conditions are more likely to be victims of bullying than their peers (1).
It is often reported that the feeling of exclusion is one of the most damaging effects of bullying. That sense of not being part of the group, being made to feel different, not getting invited to the party or outing. Bullying can be subtle and hidden; the cruel comments are labelled as "banter". The victim gets told, "it is not serious, it’s only a joke, just ignore it and it will go away".
Many young people living with chronic health conditions report feeling excluded from the mainstream at the best of times. Interrupted learning and school attendance can make a sense of belonging more difficult. Not being able to keep up with the in-joke or being part of the social scene adds to the vulnerability of appearing different. A change in appearance as a result of treatment is a starkly visual sign of difference too. When all you want to do is blend in and be part of the group managing the difference can be a struggle.
So, as you focus on raising awareness around bullying in school this week, reflect on your practice in supporting those children and young people living with chronic health conditions. This could be just the right time to check-in and review what you do to support these students when they return after a hospital stay or how you support them to be part of the school community when they have long absences, how you make reasonable adjustments to ensure they can get the very best out of school. The one kind word might be ‘welcome!’ or in fact a phrase, ‘We’re really glad you’re back!’
These things will make a difference to the sense of exclusion, there’s protection in belonging. Schools are at their best when all members feel part of the school community.
The Well at School Team
1. Systematic Review: Bullying Involvement of Children With and Without Chronic Physical Illness and/or Physical/Sensory Disability—a Meta-Analytic Comparison With Healthy/Nondisabled Peers
Martin Pinquart, PhD
2. Sentenac M, et al. Victims of bullying among students with a disability or chronic illness and their peers: a cross-national study between Ireland and France. J Adol Health online, 2010.