We’ve been talking about self-esteem this week, and one of the most damaging things that can happen to a child’s self-esteem is to be bullied. The sad reality is that children with learning differences are more likely to be bullied.

I was the lucky target of bullying as a young child. Some of my classmates thought I was “thick”, “stupid” and “retarded”. They decided to help me with my learning difficulties by giving me some black eyes. Not surprisingly, their methods didn’t help me learn; in fact they had the opposite effect.

All children are entitled to an education, but a child who is the target of bullying for a sustained amount of time is being denied a proper education. How can anyone learn in an environment of fear and despair? I’m certain we can all agree that standing by and allowing classmates to bully a child with learning differences should never be tolerated.

But what happens when the bullies are not the classmates? What if the bullies are the adults? Although they may be trying to help a parent or motivate a child, they sometimes do so in a manner that might be considered bullying.

Let’s try this scenario. How many of you have been told by an “expert” that if your child doesn’t learn to read within a certain length of time he or she is likely to end up in prison? This person is trying to impress upon you the importance and urgency of the matter, but is it constructive? Or is it destructive? Will condemning your child to a life of crime make your child’s mind magically rewire itself? Or will it cause your child undue stress and give him or her a sense of despair and hopelessness? Would we call that bullying?

How about this scenario? How many of you have been told that you are a bad parent, a bad teacher or a bad tutor? Have you ever been told that your child or student cannot read well because “you’re doing it wrong”? As a parent, you’ve chosen the wrong tutor, the wrong curriculum, or the wrong school, you haven’t fought hard enough for your child, or you haven’t worked with him enough at home. As a teacher or tutor, you aren’t qualified, you don’t care or you don’t understand the child.

Why do we say these things to each other? We’re supposed to be a team. While we all agreed that the classmates who bully a child are not demonstrating proper behavior, are we modeling the proper behavior for them? Perhaps if we stood together as a team to support each child with learning differences, it would be more difficult for bullies to attack.

I think we need to be careful in the way we “help” each other. We need to remember that we are all working toward the same goal; we all want to help each child reach their full potential. I think we need to remember that each and every person on this planet is unique: no two people are alike, no two brains are alike and no two dyslexics are alike. Each person with dyslexia has different levels of severity, different symptoms, different learning styles, different interests and different triggers. If a learning method doesn’t work for a child, it is quite possible it is simply the wrong fit and has nothing to do with the competency of the student, parent, teacher or tutor.

We may see a parent trying a method that we consider to be “snake oil”. We may not agree with her decision, but we don’t need to criticize her, either. You may politely suggest another option, but please remember how you felt when you were in her position, frantically grabbing at every life line tossed your way, hoping one of them would save your child. Support that parent and child on their journey. Be gentle and kind. They’re doing the best they can.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. When a child has learning differences, that village becomes imperative.

That’s why Dyslexic Kids exists. Children and teens need to know that they have a village that stands strong, unwavering in their support for them and each other. Knowing they have that village will help them get through the dark times. Let’s all stand together for their sakes.