“Bullying fundamentally represents a problem of broken human connection,” writes Pamela Price in her new book, Gifted, Bullied, Resilient: A Brief Guide for Smart Families, now available from Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Press. Order your copy: Amazon, Kindle, Barnes & Noble, Nook.
Bullying can happen in public schools, charter schools, homeschool co-ops, or anywhere in the community. It’s not just physical bullying, but also relational aggression, such as “Mean Girl” behavior of “we’re not talking to you.”
If your family has experienced bullying, or if you are a concerned parent who is trying to protect your children, then you are facing a daunting challenge: How to learn more without becoming overwhelmed.
Price’s book is concise. She focuses on what you really need to know to protect and heal your children, and to make your corner of the world a kinder place for your children to grow up: “What we crave is a higher standard of interpersonal relationships between peers and within our communities.”
As parents who are guiding our children about how to act in society, it’s important to know the difference between ordinary conflict and bullying. Our children will experience conflict every day; when does it rise to the level of bullying? “Typically the line is crossed when physical or social power—or a perceived imbalance of powers—is a factor and the aggression is repeated (or promised to be repeated).”
Bullying is a special challenge for gifted kids, and that approach makes this book (and other books and posts from Gifted Homeschoolers Forum) so valuable. Being gifted makes you different, and that can make you a target for bullying. Here are some of the many ways that gifted kids set themselves apart:
- Gifted kids may have a deep interest in a topic, and they want to share that knowledge with the whole world, but that’s unusual behavior and other kids may tease them for it.
- Gifted kids may develop their academic skills faster than social skills like listening, taking turns in conversation, and knowing when your audience wants to talk about a different topic.
- Gifted kids may develop asynchronously: for example, a highly verbal kid may have a big vocabulary (or a taste for thick library books) that makes her a target, and also have a weakness in math that provides an opportunity for teasing.
- Gifted kids may have unusual interests in pop culture, and they want to dress to express their fandom. Perhaps you, too, know a young Whovian who wants to wear a bow tie and fez everywhere.
These struggles, unfortunately, have carried on for generations. During her research, Price discovered a story about the early life of Elvis Presley, and she weaves it through her chapter about differences. The relevance is uncanny; you will never look at The King the same way again.
Gifted kids are vulnerable to bullying, but they are not the only group. Bullying is a problem for children with learning differences and special needs, including autism spectrum disorders. It’s a double problem for children who are twice-exceptional (or “2e”: gifted and having a learning difference or emotional or mental disorder), and a triple problem for 2e children of color. Children can also become bullying targets simply for having food allergies or wearing clothing that doesn’t aggravate their sensitivities.
The good news is that the principles that create a safe, kind learning environment for gifted kids are the same principles that create an accepting environment for all kinds of differences. Recently, I’ve been reading Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon, inspired by an interview in Alamo City Moms Blog with Vanessa Lacoss Hurd, CEO of The DoSeum. Solomon has given me a vocabulary for talking about differences as a form of identity to be loved and adapted to, not changed or shunned. There is no room for bullying when we look at each other’s differences that way.
Price opens her heart to talk about recovering from bullying incidents, both in her own childhood and her son’s. She recommends resources for helping our kids (and ourselves) develop resilience to bounce back from bullying, and to build social skills to deal with bullying on the spot. If we can help model calm behavior for our children, then they will be better equipped to handle bullies. For parents to have the mental and emotional resources to stay calm, we need to practice parental self-care, such as having occasional time to ourselves and having an identity beyond being moms and dads.
As someone who visits, evaluates, and writes about school choices, I was especially interested in Price’s discussion how to prevent bullying in our school communities, and I know I will revisit those passages again and again. Bullying is a significant reason why families look for change, whether to a charter school or to homeschooling. I’ve observed wide differences among charter schools in the prevalence of bullying and in the ways the school leadership addresses character development.
Price recommends being intentional about preventing bullying in our learning communities. When setting up a homeschool co-op or microschool, have a conversation at the beginning about how to address bullying: If an incident happens, how should it be reported, and who decides how to handle it? If the people you are trying to team up with are unwilling to have that conversation, then your collaboration is in danger from the start. If you try to ignore bullying or pretend it doesn’t exist, it will probably happen anyway, but your group will be unprepared to handle it and may not survive the conflict.
Gifted, Bullied, Resilient is a toolkit for building “quality interpersonal relationships and positive emotional growth.” It will help you raise your own gifted kids, and you may find solace and healing for your own wounds from childhood. I hope to use the book as a tool to help my communities (i.e., charter schools) become kinder and more accepting of differences.
Order your own copy from Amazon, Kindle, Barnes & Noble, Nook. Keep up with Pamela Price at her main blog, Red, White & Grew, and her blog to support her first book, How to Work and Homeschool, which I reviewed. Follow Pamela on Facebook, at Pamela Price, Author & Blogger and How to Work and Homeschool, and on Twitter, at @redwhiteandgrew. Follow Gifted Homeschoolers Forum on Facebook at Gifted Homeschoolers Forum and on Twitter at @giftedhf.