Vanquishing Victimhood

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By Dan Coulter

Bullying, being embarrassed in front of a class, and similar incidents can leave lasting impressions on young minds. Negative experiences can cause some children to relate to the world as helpless victims. Because children with Asperger Syndrome and autism are often misunderstood and teased, they can be at higher risk of casting themselves in this role.

In serious cases, this can require professional help. But there are a number of things you can try if you see this tendency developing in your child.

First, take reasonable precautions to shield your child from malice and misunderstanding. For example, there are many good programs to prevent bullying. Make yourself aware of them and determine how they apply to your child’s school and to your child specifically. Work closely with teachers so they’re aware of your child’s diagnosis and are more likely to treat him or her with compassion and respect.

I’d vote in a second to ban all bullying. Apart from bullying, we can’t, and probably shouldn’t, protect our children from every bump in the road. We need for them to encounter some difficulties, with an appropriate safety net, to help them learn to cope as adults.

Given that some childhood anguish is inevitable, we need to put our reactions in perspective. How will our consolation fit into the overall picture of our child’s experiences? Are our reactions likely to stick in his mind as the times he gets the most attention and affection from busy mom and dad?

I’m not saying don’t console your child. A child should feel that his family is a safe haven where he’s loved and appreciated. I am saying you may need to make sure a child also gets ample attention from mom and dad for the positive things he does.

Also, consider the example you set. Even if you’re not a constant complainer, you might want to voice complaints out of your child’s earshot. Instead, consider talking freely in his presence about the problems you solve.

You may be able to build a child’s confidence and self esteem by routinely praising his strengths. I’ve seen children’s faces light up when they talk about excelling at games of strategy, or about having a great memory for sports statistics, or being an expert on animals. A child who is routinely getting positive reinforcement from his family is more likely to put life’s small scale disasters and disappointments into perspective.

It’s even better if you can arrange for your child to display his abilities in a way that gains him the respect of peers. I recall a young man’s pride when he told me he’d won his middle school’s geography bee three years in a row. His mom described what a boost it had been for him when a grade school teacher let him conduct a lesson in geography. His extensive knowledge impressed his classmates.

Building confidence is one way to empower children to cope with situations they can’t control. It may even help them learn to take charge of situations as adults and become strong self-advocates.

I recall standing in an airport line to rebook a flight after mine had been cancelled. A self-important man walked up to the reservations clerk, demanding that she wait on him. She politely asked him to take his place in line.

He bristled, "Do you know who I am?"

He was trying to victimize the clerk, implying he was important enough to get her fired. He expected her to cave in and wait on him or, at least, to argue. She did neither.

The clerk grabbed her public address system microphone and her voice reverberated through the terminal.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have a man at gate A-12 who does not know who he is! Is there anyone in the terminal who can identify this man and tell him who he is?"

Those of us waiting in line broke into applause. The man looked stunned, then muttered an obscenity and slunk away. The clerk resumed dealing with her appreciative customers. She was our hero.

I’m betting that clerk had a couple of "can do" parents.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the producer of the DVD, "Manners for the Real World: Basic Social Skills." You can find more articles on his website:

Copyright 2011 Dan Coulter All Rights Reserved Used By Permission

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