Bullying is something most children encounter in one form or another. Children struggle with being called names, being picked on, being excluded, or being the ones acting unkindly or aggressively toward others. Scientific studies show that bullying is an international problem that affects all schools, and that bullying cuts across international, socio-economic status and ethnic boundaries. Hence, across the nation, parents, teachers, schools and children alike are taking action to learn to recognize the extent and impact of bullying and to stop it from happening. We are not exempt from the problem; we, too, need to address it for the sake of our children.
When bullying is ignored or downplayed, children will suffer torment in the short-term, and possible life-long consequences. Bullying makes young people feel unsafe and feel that there is something wrong with them. It can make them feel lonely, unhappy, and physically ill. Children may lose confidence and may not want to go to school any more. Victims of bullying may also exhibit changes in speech patterns, sleeping patterns, diet, and academic performance as well display secretiveness, uncommunicativeness, bed-wetting and sullenness. In extreme cases, bullying has even led to child suicide.
As for the bullies, research shows that without intervention, many child bullies continue to engage in these offenses as well as other antisocial or criminal acts. Children who bully at school and who get away with it are more likely go on to be bullies in the workplace and to engage in domestic violence.
Hence, as parents and educators invested in our children’s welfare and eductation, it is incumbent upon us to address the phenomenon of bullying and to offer our help and support to both victims and bullies alike. All incidents and forms of bullying are abusive and unacceptable, yet they can be turned into opportunities to teach our children how to better interrelate, how to be considerate of others, and how to be a better person.
Fortunately, there is clear evidence that parental and school action can dramatically reduce the incidence of bullying. There are an increasing number of tools to help teach children who are bullied how to stand up for themselves, to teach bullies themselves alternate ways of handling their feelings, and to teach schools how to be advocates for creating a community that will not tolerate bullying behaviours. This article will provide a brief review of what the experts say about bullying behavior, bullies and their victims, and practical steps that children, parents, and educators alike can take to stop bullying.
A bully is someone who uses his or her power to hurt another person. Bullying can be physical, verbal, psychological, or a combination of these. It may involve one child bullying another, a group of children against a single child or groups against other groups (gangs).
Physical: – it can mean hitting or kicking or pushing or shoving, or making someone do something they don’t want to do.
Verbal: – it can mean calling someone names, saying or writing mean things, spreading rumors, or threatening someone.
Psychological: – it can mean making someone feel unsafe, uncomfortable or scared, leaving them out of activities, ignoring them or making them feel invisible.
Why Do Children Bully?
While bullies are often perceived as confident, arrogant and invulnerable, in most cases, they actually suffer from low self-esteem. They may bully to get attention, to feel in control, or to make themselves more popular. (In fact, however, while bullies are often surrounded by other children, it is usually out of fear of the bully and not through popularity). Bullies are also often angry, maybe jealous of the person they are bullying, and are very often children who have been bullied or abused themselves. Sometimes they are children experiencing life situations they can’t cope with, leaving them feeling helpless and out of control. They may be children with poor social skills, who do not fit in, or who cannot meet the expectations of their family or school. Hence, they bully to feel competent, successful, to control someone else, and to get some relief from their own feelings of powerlessness. It is important to recognize that in some cases, bullies may not even understand how wrong their behavior is and how it makes the person being bullied feel.
Why are Some Children Bullied?
Some children are bullied for no particular reason, however there are two streams of data on the types of children who are more prone to be picked upon. One line of research identifies children with the following characteristics: low self-esteem; insecure; lack of social skills; cry or become emotionally distraught easily; or unable to defend or stand up for themselves. Children might also be targeted if they are different in some way – i.e. the color of their skin, the way they talk, their size or their name. Targets of bullying also tend to be non-violent, preferring to resolve conflict with dialogue.
Alternatively, other research finds that bullies target children who are responsible and respectful, and communicate easily with adults. These victims may be self-reliant and independent, such that they don’t need to join gangs or form cliques. Driven by jealousy, bullies target these children who have a higher-than-average emotional intelligence and who have high moral integrity that they’re unwilling to compromise.
Advice for Children Being Bullied
There are many practical tips that we can offer children if they are confronted by negative or potentially abusive behavior. It is important for them to know that they are not alone, and to emphasize that they have a right to feel safe and secure: no one should have to put up with a bully, and no one has the right to make someone else feel uncomfortable or unsafe. It should also be emphasized that (in most cases) it’s really the bully’s problems that are causing the situation, and that the bully’s taunts should not be taken personally.
Here are some suggestions to share with your children:
- Believe in yourself. Have confidence that you can deal with bullies in a peaceful manner.
- Ask your friends to get involved and to stand up for you when the bully is bothering you.
- If you don’t have good friends, just ask some classmates to help by confronting the bully (see below) if needed. Ignore them/walk away: if the bully no longer gets a reaction out of you, he/she will usually move on. It is no longer any fun.
- Look the bully in the eye and say “STOP DOING THAT”.
- If the bully makes a teasing joke, laugh and say “That’s funny.” Then just walk away.
- Try confronting him and telling him how he is making you feel. “What did I do to you?” BUT, if the bully is very abusive or violent, this technique should be avoided.
- Tell your parent, teacher, principal or another adult that you trust. This isn’t tattling — you have a right to be safe and adults can do things to get the bullying stopped. Keep telling adults until you find one who is willing and able to help – don’t give up.
- Travel to school in a group; at recess time, play close to the teacher on yard duty.
- Spend time with your friends/join with others – bullies hardly ever pick on people if they’re with others in a group.
- If you find it difficult to talk about being bullied, you might find it easier to write down what’s been happening to you and give it to an adult you trust.
- If you see someone else being bullied you should always try to stop it. Get as many of your friends involved as you can. Research shows that bullying occurs because people who see it do nothing to stop it. However, if several kids confront the bully (“leave him alone”) then the bully will back down. Let the bully know that you think what he is doing is stupid and mean. Get someone to call an adult. When witnesses do nothing, on the other hand, they are condoning the behaviour of the bully and giving him permission to continue.
Help Your Child
No one suspects that his or her child is a bully. However, it is clear that someone’s child is! Help out by discussing the problem of bullying at your dinner table. Ask the children about their experiences both as victim and as aggressor. Explain the motivation behind bullying behavior. Discuss coping mechanisms for victims. Do some role-playing. Discuss ideas for helping bullies build their self-concept in a healthier way (i.e. finding successes in different areas, making friends, getting professional help).
Another important way to help reduce bullying is by using discipline techniques with the children that do not involve bullying – provide a model of problem-solving that shows respect for the child’s feelings and demonstrates rational forms of communication. Keep anger to a minimum since it can create anger and aggression in children. Keep in mind that most bullies become that way because they don’t like themselves very much. Your child may need more positive attention. Further, a prime strategy to ensuring children’s safety is to empower them to resolve their conflicts on their own, in assertive, non-aggressive manners. Teach your children to behave respectfully toward their siblings. Make clear consequences for aggressive and bullying behavior in the home.
Teachers: Preventing Bullying
As soon as children begin to interact with others, we can begin to teach them not to be bullies and not to be bullied. We can give them words for their feelings, limit and change their behavior, and teach them better ways to express their wishes. Children do not learn to solve problems and get along by themselves. We need to teach them.
Schools are the ideal environments in which to promote anti-bullying policies and in which to teach students how to effectively prevent and deal with incidences of bullying. Further, children who are not bullies or victims have a powerful role to play in shaping the behavior of other children. Teach your students to speak up on behalf of students being bullied. “Don’t treat her that way, it’s not nice.” “Hitting is not a good way to solve problems, let’s find a teacher and talk about what happened.”
Schools: Preventing Bullying
Schools have a moral obligation to provide a safe physical and emotional environment. Since bullying can be found in every school, every school must recognize its extent and impact and take steps to stop it from happening. Indeed, a school’s failure to deal with bullying endangers the safety of all its pupils by allowing a hostile environment to interfere with learning.
There is solid evidence that school action can dramatically reduce the incidence of bullying. What works best is a “Whole School Approach” in which the development of a ‘common understanding’ of bullying and expressing it in a policy is the key to reducing bullying. It must be supported by clear guidelines on how to deal with cases of bullying.
The following are some suggested actions schools can take to create a bully-free environment:
- Take a proactive approach to bullying, not a reactive one which will be too late.
- Create a whole-school ethos such that bullying is regarded unambiguously as unacceptable behavior.
- Use a full staff meeting to raise awareness and knowledge of the issue. The anti-bullying initiative must be tied to the school’s philosophy.
- Research existing anti-bullying programs or initiatives that best fit the culture of the school; find out what similar schools have done.
- Teacher Action: All staff must to be committed to a common response to bullying when it does happen. Immediate intervention is crucial.
- Curriculum Action: All pupils in the school will need to have their awareness raised, and this can be accomplished in a variety of ways: 1) integrating an anti-bullying component into existing curriculum areas; 2) introducing a series of discrete anti-bullying modules as part of a special social-skill-development program; 3) reinforcing anti-bullying messages in school-wide forums such as assemblies, newsletters, or awareness days.
- Teach assertiveness, anger management and conflict resolution.
- The goal is to convey that: STOPPING BULLYING IS EVERYONE’S RESPONSIBILITY.
- Outside the classroom: Provide adequate supervision in places and times that pupils identify as problematic (i.e. where bullies dominate); provide opportunities for bullies to be kept busy, i.e. introduce activities that will involve the bullies and encourage them to participate positively; have discipline procedures in place that remove persistent offenders from the environment.
- Remember: If there are no consequences to the bad behavior; if the victim does not complain and if the peer group silently or even actively colludes, the bully will continue with the behavior.
We can stop the cycle of bullying, and in its stead impart to our children valuable lessons in morality, self-esteem, character, responsibility, and interpersonal relationships.