Bullying is defined as the act of trying to cause suffering and to frighten another individual by means of verbal, physical, or virtual intimidation. According to the National Bullying Prevention Center, about 20% of students report that they have been bullied.
Children who have a colorectal diagnosis can be subjected to especially cruel forms of bullying. It can be difficult for other students to understand a colorectal diagnosis because there are often no outward signs of a colorectal condition. For a patient who must go to the school nurse often because of stomach pains, bullies may physically target a patient’s stomach region and could use physical violence to cause the patient pain. The bully may say things like the patient is “stinky” or “poopy” or use other mean words to describe the patient. A bully can also use social media to start rumors and spread misinformation about the patient’s medical diagnosis.
If your child is being bullied, here are some suggestions to attempt to remedy the situation:
Get the school involved so they can best understand your child’s colorectal medical conditions and can assist with the bullying. Our social work team can assist with educating the school by writing a letter for families to provide the school about the medical diagnosis.
Allow your child a safe space to vent their frustrations, anger, and fears surrounding the bullying and any emotions surrounding their medical diagnosis. Be careful about your reactions to what your child says. Make sure you know enough about your child’s diagnosis to have open and honest conversations about what they may experience. It will be helpful to validate your child’s feelings about the situation and acknowledge the frustration, pain, or anger they feel about the bullying.
Have your child speak with a therapist, counselor, or guidance counselor about the bullying and about their medical condition that may be causing them stress. These mental health professionals do not necessarily need to be well acquainted with your child’s diagnosis because they are typically equipped to assist with any type of concern.
Get your child help if they express a desire to harm themselves or others. This could be taking them to their local emergency department, texting a crisis phone number, or calling 911.
Create a short phrase for your child to tell people who are questioning their medical symptoms. For example, if asked why they are always going to the nurse’s office, they could simply reply “when my stomach hurts, I have to go see the nurse.” This answers the other child’s curiosity while also keeping the patient’s medical diagnosis safe. This response also allows the patient to feel comfortable and in control when it comes to what others know about them.
Talk with siblings so that they understand what they should and should not share at school and with friends about their sibling’s medical condition. Since it is not their diagnosis, they might be more open with providing details that they should not be sharing. Allow the child with the diagnosis to inform family members of what they are comfortable with others sharing.
Having a colorectal diagnosis does not automatically mean that bullying will occur, but it is a possibility and something that families should be talking about to be prepared if it does happen. The most important action a family or child can take is to get others involved to help sort out the bullying situation. There are many resources online that can help families cope, like Taking a Stand, Stop Bullying, Cyberbullying, and Safety at School.
Holly Deckling, MSSW, LISW is a Clinical Medical Social Worker Center for the Center for Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstruction.
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