Did you know that 25 per cent of children in Grades 4–6 have been bullied? Or that bullying occurs every 7 minutes on the playground and every 25 minutes in the classroom? These statistics may be alarming and hard to believe, but they are real.
An important question parents should ask is, "How can bullying be dealt with effectively?" According to Holt Zaugg, a junior and senior high school teacher, changing bullying behaviour involves open dialogue among all the people involved, especially the parents. "Ignoring the problem usually makes things worse, and ostracizing the child who bullies is only another form of bullying," warns Zaugg. "A child who bullies needs to make restitution and be included in the process of making changes."
Chantel Walker, a psychologist with Red Deer Public Schools, says it is important to take a problem-solving approach rather than a punishment approach to dealing with bullying. "Problem solving helps look at why a child is bullying, while a punishment approach can lead to resentment and, occasionally, retaliation. Bullying is a learned behaviour, so the best approach is to help the child unlearn this behaviour and learn alternatives for dealing with anger." As for the victim, Walker says that when children have been bullied, it is important to help them change how they think about themselves. "After repeated abuse and name calling, a child can begin to believe the comments, so it’s good to teach them to use positive statements about themselves."
Zaugg helps bullied children learn when to stand up for themselves, when to retreat and when to seek help. He says that witnesses play a key role: "Failing to say something can set up the victim for repeated bullying. It’s also important for witnesses to intervene and point out that bullying is unacceptable."
So how do the important adults in the lives of children prevent bullying from occurring in the first place? According to Walker, adults should "encourage children to play in groups—there’s strength in numbers. Children should also be taught how to be assertive and how to use humour to deflect or sidetrack the abuse."
Zaugg and Walker say that parents who are trying to figure out if their child is being bullied should encourage ongoing conversations and look for signs, such as cuts or bruises, loss of interest in activities, claims of being too sick to go to school, repeated nightmares and repeatedly "losing" personal items or money. Parents should also watch for signs of bullying behaviour, such as inappropriate language and actions towards others, and unexplained new personal items or money.
"The experience can be devastating for the victim," says Zaugg. "Imagine wanting to achieve something and the only path is through someone who bullies. It’s terrifying. I’ve seen school marks plummet and students’ self-esteem diminish. Teaching is all about seeing dreams and possibilities being realized. Bullying is the antithesis of this. For the bully, it’s equally serious. Even if bullying does not stretch to criminal behaviour, it has other social costs that must be dealt with now, rather than later, for later is a much bigger job at a much greater cost."
For more information about bullying and violence prevention, visit the Society for Safe and Caring Schools and Communities website
(www.sacsc.ca) and the government of Alberta’s S-Team Heroes website (www.teamheroes.ca).
How do I stop cyberbullying?
Question: A parent has informed me that my students have started a cruel website to vote for the ugliest kid in the class. The website includes unflattering photographs of five students. I’m alarmed and want to stop this behaviour. I know I’ll need to work with parents on this one. How?
Answer: It’s called cyberbullying and it’s turning out to be one of the most challenging issues to confront parents and teachers. There’s no question that technology is here to stay, but teaching kids to use the technology kindly is a real challenge.
You’ve taken an important first step—viewing the bullying as a serious problem. When adults look the other way (or are ignorant about what is going on), bullying continues and it can get so serious that the victims become depressed or even suicidal.
Talk with the students in your class. Tell them that you know what is going on. Share your disappointment regarding their behaviour. Inform students about school policies on bullying and emphasize that you will enforce those policies to the letter. Next, bring in their parents—this issue is serious enough that you should call a special parent meeting. Tell parents what’s going on and seek their help. Ask parents to talk with their children about hurting other people’s feelings. Encourage them to move home computers into plain sight right away to monitor what their children do online.
Teachers and parents working together can send a message that bullying is unacceptable and must stop!
—Kristen Amundson, Ideas Staff Can Use—Elementary Edition, November 2006, The Parent Institute