What is bullying?
People often disagree about what bullying means. Is it any hurtful, intimidating behaviour (such as a shove on the playground), or does bullying imply a long-running series of deliberate actions such as name-calling day after day?
The definition that experts use is about it being repeated behaviour and/or where one person has significantly more power than the other person and uses it inappropriately.
Each year many children and young people call kids helpline about bullying, making it the most common problem that they are contacted about. Some of the concerns called about are:
- Being teased or called names
- Being hit, pushed, pulled, pinched or kicked
- Having their bags, mobiles, money or other possessions taken
- Receiving abusive text messages or emails
- Being ignored or left out
- Being attacked or abused because of religion, gender, sexuality, disability, appearance or ethnic racial origin.
Who gets bullied?
What hurts me so much is that she used to be my friend. Louise, 11
Bullying can happen anywhere, and children with obvious differences aren’t the only ones to suffer – many others are bullied for no obvious reason. Often the person calling the helpline say that the current person tormenting them is a former friend.
Helping your child?
If your child comes home and tells you that they are being bullied at school, what do you do?
As a parent, you may feel angry and upset if you discover that your child is being bullied. Sometimes children don’t tell their parents because they don’t want to upset them. They are also sometimes afraid that their parents won’t take them seriously or will tell them just to stand up for themselves.
Here are some pointers for parents:
- If your child tells you that they are being bullied, the first and most important step is to listen. Allow them to tell their story in their own words. Listen with an open mind, knowing that you are hearing their perception of events. This is however, very real to them.
- You may suspect that your child is being bullied, but is afraid to say anything. If you have open lines of communication between yourself and your child, then they are more likely to share their experiences with you. Most of us have experienced the response of ‘nothing’, when we ask a child ‘what happened during the school day?’ A stronger question might be, ‘so tell me about one great thing that happened while at school today?’ A weaker question is,’ so what went wrong today?’
- If your child refuses to talk to you, then suggest that they talk to another adult, such as someone else in the family or a teacher. At school, teachers teach children about who they can share their difficulties with in order to find a solution. Sometimes they just want to talk through a situation without getting an actual response. They may also phone the Kids Helpline (a phone counselling service) on 1800 55 1800.
- If your child has told you about something that has concerned them, what you do next is very important. It is tempting to rush to the school and demand to see the teacher. However, this may be the very response your child was dreading. Listen carefully and ask your child ‘what would you like to see happen? or ‘what might we do to sort this out?’
- Although it may be tempting to sort it out yourself, this is where the school is there to help. Talk to your child’s teacher and find out what has already been done, what can be done, and what to do next. The sharing of information between parent and teacher can often open up ideas that weren’t apparent initially.
- It may be that the bullying doesn’t stop straight away. Encourage your child to keep telling.
- However, nobody can do it all on their own. Tackling bullying effectively has to involve teachers, parents and above all the children themselves.
- Finally, the obvious. Tell your children you love them and do what you can to make their lives outside school fun and enjoyable – it will help them feel good about themselves.
Is your child bullying others?
It was only meant to be a bit of fun really – I didn’t mean him to take it seriously. John, 8
It can be very upsetting to be told that your child is bullying other children. All children can be hurtful from time to time. However, if a child finds that bullying leads to greater power in the playground or causes fear or even admiration in other children, then the problem can get much worse. Early intervention is the best cure.
Your first instinct might be to immediately punish a bullying child, but it is worth pausing for a moment. Could there be a reason your child is acting this way? Sometimes children begin bullying as a reaction to negative events. Has there been a recent change or disruption, is life difficult at home? Is your child involved with a group of children who may be encouraging bullying behaviour? Or, is your child being bullied too?
Perhaps surprisingly, the bullied and bullying aren’t always two distinct groups. Children’s helpline show that a number of children say that they had both bullied and been bullied in the last year.
If your child has been bullying others, obviously that behaviour has to be stopped. Talk to your child and try to find out what’s going on. If the incident is a one off, you may need to do no more, but some children still need help and guidance to alter their behaviour. The school is there to help. Chat with your child’s class teacher(s). It is important that your child feels supported throughout the process. Measures like the no-blame approach can help children change their behaviour.
What are we as a school doing to tackle bullying?
From the information that we gain from children at our school, we know that while bullying isn’t persistent and wide spread, it is like any school, happening from time to time. In order to tackle bullying we have some things in place:
- We use the Australian Curriculum to teach children about respectful relationships, civics and citizenship as well as learning the skills of resilience, conflict resolution and problem solving.
- Wilson McCaskill’s Play is the Way is a program that we have put into place across the school in order to further children’s learning about getting on with each other, supporting others who are in need and being prepared to listen to what others have to say in order to become more collaborative community members.
- This is complemented by regular (sometimes daily) discussions that happen between children and teachers.
- We have an anti bullying policy, which guides our approach when incidents take place. This is currently being updated and the changed policy will be presented to Governing Council for approval. While there are certainly consequences for serious behaviour, we work very much on behaviour change. We know that this is something that happens over time and we support the policy with social programs at the classroom level.
- Our aim is to have a non-confrontational approach to tackle bullying which involves teachers and children discussing a bullying problem and trying to find a solution that all can agree with.
- We put into place a buddy system so that young children in the school yard have somebody else to go to if the teacher is not immediately close by.
- All school Staff are involved in a variety of training that includes how to support children who are having social and emotional issues, as well as those who are reporting that they are being bullied, teased, verbally or physically harassed. This includes those children who are doing the bullying.
- Twice a year children are given a questionnaire online to try and find out about how they are going, any issues that they are having with other children and to explore ways that we can help. Following this, teachers meet with children identified as the bullied or doing the bullying and if needed put into place an agreed strategy to change behaviour. Leadership and Pamela Hansen (Pastoral care Worker) meet with those who said they just wanted to have a chat.
NO BLAME APPROACH – Behaviour Education
At Woodend Primary School we desire that everyone is safe, valued and respected and that individual differences are appreciated, understood and valued. We see many examples of children at all ages being very supportive of each other and this behaviour is acknowledged and celebrated.
Our buddy system is extremely effective and the surveys returned by children demonstrate a low frequency of bullying, however, when it does happen, we aim to work actively to change the behaviour. Information about the recent student survey will be shared in a separate blog post.
We use a No-Blame approach, which uses a problem-solving approach to stop the bullying and enables the bully to make good the harm done. This is focused on finding a solution rather than focusing on the problem itself. Students are then followed up on a regular basis foe a period of time to ensure that the bullying behaviours have stopped.
Empowering children to self regulate their behavior is our goal. To achieve this both school and home need to work together.
More information can be sourced from the the Kidsmatter website at https://www.kidsmatter.edu.au/mental-health-matters/bullying