Parents can’t stop insensitive comments, but they can teach their children to better handle them, says Harry Gewanter, MD, a pediatric rheumatologist in Midlothian, Va. He advises parents to talk directly about bullying, perhaps even role playing with their children, so they feel more in control when they encounter questions or comments.
Sometimes questions are more curious than mean-spirited in nature, particularly those from younger children, he says. The child with arthritis can then simply explain why their joints hurt or why they walk differently in the morning. “By putting the facts out there, it doesn’t give the bully much to do.”
A bit of humor also may throw a taunting classmate off track, Dr. Gewanter says. Some possible responses, he quips: “I walk like a grandmother because my joints have aged early.”
Or: “If you had to get shots every week, you would walk like this, too.”
For other information about bullying prevention, federal officials have posted numerous resources at www.stopbullying.gov. Among their tips:
- Encourage your child to describe the harassment, including timing and location.
- Stress that it’s not their fault.
- Alert the teacher and, if the bullying persists or becomes severe, the school’s principal.
- Keep a written record of all school-related conversations.
- Watch out for aggressive behavior in your child – sometimes the victim later becomes the bully.
- Be persistent. Verify that the harassment has ceased.