Children with ADHD: Bullied or Bully?

Symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are unlikely to go unnoticed in a school environment. It can quickly earn your child the “different”, “difficult” or “disruptive” label and attract the attention of bullies. ADHD can inhibit your child’s understanding of social cues, which can have a negative impact on everyday conversations and social interactions.

Bullying in schools can have a serious impact on your child’s participation and academic performance. Over 3.2 million South African students are bullied yearly but more than 67% don’t speak up due to fear, shame, and doubt that parents or teachers can change their situation. Bullying is often directed at insecure and passive children who display physical weakness and poor social skills.

Bullied or bully?
Whether brought on by ADHD tendencies or low self-esteem caused by the condition, research suggests that ADHD children are nearly 10 times more likely to attract the attention of bullies. They tend to avoid confrontation but when taunted by bullies, ADHD children often overreact emotionally. Unfortunately, the display of tears and anger or an impulsive retort to provocation usually adds fuel to the flame for a bully.

That said, recent research found that children with ADHD are almost four times more likely to bully other children without the condition. Likewise, this can be due to low self-esteem or could be in response to victimisation or feelings of depression.

The destructive impact of bullying
Bullying can be linked to lasting emotional, mental and physical health issues for both the bullied and the bully. If your child is bullied at school, he or she is likely to experience heightened levels of insecurity, anxiety, depression, loneliness, poor sleeping and eating patterns, and decreased academic achievement – over and above ADHD symptoms.
On the other hand, if your ADHD child has become the playground bully, he or she is more likely to get into fights or partake in risky activities. Keep a close eye on school attendence as both the bullied and the bully are more likely to bunk school. Fortunately, there are many other ways to deal with bullying at opposite ends of this spectrum.


  1. Get inside information: Discuss each school day to identify actions or social skills that may contribute to difficulties at school. Work on changing these behaviours but also work with teachers on a corrective action plan.
  2. Explain the actions of bullies: Explain the potential reasons for being targeted, such as not listening, talking too much or blurting out inappropriate remarks. Work on limiting the behaviours that tend to attract trouble.
  3. Encourage socialisation: Boost your child’s social skills by encouraging quality time with close friends.
  4. Teach kind assertiveness: Teach your child to respond in a calm and kind but assertive manner. Remind your child not to take things personally or overreact emotionally.


  1. Create a safe space: To encourage open communication, avoid the temptation to raise your voice and calmly ask your child for his or her side of the story. Remind your child how it felt to be bullied.
  2. Provide constructive activities: Ask the teacher to give your child an important task to do whenever he or she displays bullying behaviour.
  3. Teach the control of emotions: Use role-playing to teach your child to deal with verbal abuse without getting aggressive.
  4. Walk the talk: Children learn by observing adult behaviour. Always take a closer look at the message portrayed by role models in your child’s life, including yourself.

With a holistic treatment plan and an active support group, the impact of ADHD in the school environment can be successfully managed. That means less attention from bullies and a memorable and carefree childhood.