Are you being bullied?

  • If you are being bullied it is not your fault.
  • Bullying is not a problem that will sort itself out – you need help.
  • When dealing with a bully always make sure that you are safe by sticking with friends, teachers or parents. Do not try to deal with a bully on your own.
  • If you have told your teacher or parent about the bullying and it has not stopped, tell them again.

How does bullying affect a child with facial palsy?

Any child can be a victim of bullying, and not all children who have facial palsy will be bullied.

Some possible warning signs for parents

  • Your child starts to question you about facial paralysis and now hates being different.
  • Going to school is becoming an issue. Your child often feels ill on school days.
  • Your child is walking to school by a longer route, arriving late or missing the school bus regularly.
  • Your child has lost interest in school and schoolwork.
  • Items of clothing or money have gone missing.
  • Your child with one-sided facial palsy has stopped smiling.
  • Your child is moody or unhappy.
  • You notice behaviour changes or changes in eating habits.
  • When you ask, your child says that nothing is wrong.
  • Your child has bruises, cuts or scratches which do not fit in with the usual pattern from the playground or PE lessons.

How can you support your child?

The hardest thing for your child to do is to admit that there is a problem.

If your child tells you about bullying:

  • Listen carefully without interrupting – it is important that your child knows that you believe them.
  • Reassure them that it is not their fault.
  • Admit that you may need help to sort this out.
  • Deal with your own feelings – you will probably have a range of emotions but it is important to try to stay calm during conversations with your child.
  • Work with the school and empower your child.
  • Help to build your child’s self-esteem – you may find it helpful to make a list together of their positive achievements and skills – concentrate on facts. The words that the bully uses are not facts.
  • Perhaps encourage your child to join a new club or activity and make a larger circle of friends.

Our children’s book ‘When Teddy Lost His Smile‘ is aimed at the 3-7 years age group. The story can be used by teachers in class to normalise facial palsy. Children often bully when they don’t understand something, the book helps to empower the child with facial palsy and educate teachers and peers.

Visit our children’s pages to read about the many ways you can support a child with facial palsy:

Examples of situations where bullying may be provoked include:

School photographs: if a child has facial paralysis and cannot smile fully then it is advisable to ask the school or the responsible adults to handle photographs sensitively. Photographers should be informed so they don’t assume the child is misbehaving and draw attention to the child. Organisations often seek parental permission to take and/or publish photographs of children and this provides an opportunity to raise these issues in advance.

Activities that involve closing eyes: such activities might include saying prayers, meditating, thinking time and relaxation. If a child cannot close one or both eyes properly due to facial paralysis, teachers or other responsible adults should be informed in advance and asked to handle such activities with care and sensitivity so as not to draw attention to the child.

Children can also benefit from talking to and meeting others with facial palsy, so they feel less isolated and different. If you feel your child would benefit from talking to someone else with facial palsy, please send an email to support@facialpalsy.org.uk.

What are schools doing to prevent bullying?

Because bullying is a potential problem in every school, all UK state schools must have bullying policies by law, in order to safeguard children.

The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) inspects and regulates services which care for children and young people, and those providing education and skills for learners of all ages. Bullying is an issue that Ofsted focuses on as part of its inspections, paying attention to how well a school manages behavioural problems. See facial palsy and your rights for more information.

If you feel your child is being bullied, you need to tell the school and they have a responsibility to take this up. Remember, bullying is not a matter of intention – whether one child means to bully another. You need to explain to the school that your child experiences particular behaviours as bullying. If you put the focus on your child’s feelings, you can’t get drawn in to a debate about what the bully might be thinking or feeling.

Who else can help with bullying issues?

There are also charities in the UK that focus specifically on bullying, and work with schools and communities to educate and provide lasting solutions, as well as offering support to those affected by bullying.

Examples of charities include:

  • Childline – Childline have information about different types of bullying, help and support. Call on 0800 1111.
  • Changing Faces – Changing Faces do a lot of work with schools and have a wealth of resources.
  • BullyingUK – BullyingUK is part of Family Lives, they tackle all kinds of bullying.
  • Kidscape – a UK charity specifically working to prevent children from being bullied.
  • The Mix – for under 25’s.  Advice and support aimed at older teenagers upwards. Freephone 0808 808 4994
  • Young Minds –  Call the Parents Helpline: 0808 802 5544 (Monday to Friday 9.30am – 4pm, free for mobiles and landlines)

What help is there for adults subjected to bullying and harassment?

Adults with a facial difference can find themselves subjected to bullying and/or discrimination in the workplace. The Equality Act 2010 provides legal rights for people with severe disfigurements and gives protection from discrimination due to appearance. See further information for Employers and Employees about facial palsy in the workplace.

Remember, this is not about intention – whether someone else means to bully you. You need to explain clearly that you experience particular behaviours as bullying to have them addressed. You don’t even need to make claims about what the other person might be feeling or thinking, as this is irrelevant from your point of view.

Under the Equality Act 2010 employers have a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled applicants and employees in order to avoid putting a disabled person at a disadvantage compared to a non-disabled person. For more information, see facial palsy and your rights.

Please also refer to our advocacy section for further information about the work we are doing.

Adults can also benefit by joining a Facial Palsy UK support group to share and pool experiences and solutions, in a caring and informal environment.

The BullyingUK charity are part of Family Lives and offer email and live online chat support to people experiencing workplace bullying.

People may be subjected to appearance-related harassment and abuse in every day life, in many instances this would be classed as a hate crime. For more information about reporting a hate crime please visit the Changing Faces website.

Last reviewed: 18-03-2021    ||    Next review due: 18-03-2023