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ADHD and Bullying: How to Help

By — Bullying Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Mar 19, 2012

Children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have challenges with being accepted by their peers. Often, they’re disliked by other kids, and have problems making and keeping friends. Behaviors resulting from the disorder, such as problems controlling their emotions and talking too much, could explain why these children are more vulnerable than other kids to be bullies, victims of bullying, or both bullies and victims.

In a study that examined children with ADHD in third to sixth grade, 17 percent were bullies according to teacher and parent reports, 27 percent reported that they were victims of bullying, and 14 percent were both bullies and victims. The result? A whopping 58 percent of children with ADHD were involved in bullying—compared to only 14 percent of children without ADHD. A similar pattern is evident with adolescents.

Because having ADHD is such a big risk factor for being a bully or a victim, getting the facts about the disorder will help you, as a parent of a kid with ADHD, better understand your child’s behavior and give you the information you need to work with your child’s teacher to help them with their peer relations.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a neurobiological disorder that affects about 5 percent to 9 percent of children and adolescents—typically one to two children per classroom. Behaviors that are commonly observed in children with ADHD include inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

Inattention can result in your child:

  • being easily distracted.
  • having problems getting started on and focusing on work.
  • having problems following instructions.
  • having difficulty organizing belongings and schoolwork.

Hyperactivity and impulsivity can result in your child:

  • fidgeting constantly.
  • talking too much.
  • running around when supposed to be working or playing quietly.
  • interrupting others, and calling out answers in class.
  • getting in trouble for acting before thinking.
  • becoming frustrated if asked to wait.

In part due to these behaviors children with ADHD struggle to succeed in school and have problems with peer relationships.

The Bully-Victim Risk

ADHD alone doesn’t increase the risk that your child will be a bully, but the 30 to 50 percent of kids with ADHD who also have oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) have problems regulating their emotions. They often argue with adults and peers, refuse to do what is asked, and sometimes do things that go against generally accepted ideas of what’s right and wrong. Children with ADHD and ODD are at a high risk for being bullies.

Additionally, children with ADHD are more likely than other kids to be victims because some of their behaviors are annoying to their peers. Kids with ADHD are described as being “in your face” and socially immature, since they frequently don’t have the social skills—such as flexibility and a willingness to compromise— that help to resolve conflicts. There’s a tremendous emotional impact from being a victim. Most children with ADHD who are victimized feel angry, sad, anxious, and helpless, and some even become severely depressed. Children with ADHD who have close friends, however, are less likely to be victims than those who have no close friends.

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