From a book review/feature in Child & Youth Care

Doing something about bullying

"What bothers me most when we look at ways to stop bullying," writes Michele Elliott, author of the new book 101 Ways to Deal with Bullying, "is that increasing numbers of adults either seem to ignore what is happening or are just plain afraid to help." Child care workers cannot afford to ignore the problem. Below are some helpful tips from this important new book.

What is Bullying?

Bullying is the use of aggression with the intention of hurting another person. It results in pain and distress for the victim, who has in no way provoked the attack. Usually the bullying is a campaign against a child, but there may be just one incident. Bullying can be:

  • physical—pushing, kicking, punching, hitting or any use or threatened use of physical violence
  • verbal — name-calling, sarcasm, spreading rumours, nasty teasing, writing hurtful things about some one, leaving hurtful notes
  • emotional — excluding someone from activities or conversations, being deliberately unfriendly, tormenting someone, racial taunting, making threatening or rude gestures
  • menacing — demanding that some one hand over money or possessions, demanding to copy someone's homework, or threatening violence should the victim or bystanders report the bullying

Signs of Bullying

Often children don't come right out and say that they've been bullied, so all parents need to be aware of the signs. Ask your child if he or she:

  • becomes frightened of walking to or from school or changes the normal route
  • doesn't want to travel on the school bus
  • begs to be driven to school
  • is unwilling to go to school or 'feels ill' every morning
  • begins to bunk school
  • begins to do poorly in schoolwork D comes home with clothes or books destroyed
  • has unexplained scratches or bruises
  • comes home starving (bully has taken lunch money or lunch)
  • asks for money or begins to steal
  • becomes withdrawn, starts stammering, shows lack of confidence
  • becomes distressed and anxious, stops eating
  • becomes aggressive, surly and unreasonable
  • attempts or threatens suicide
  • cries in bed at night, has night mares
  • refuses to say what is wrong
  • begins to bully siblings or other children

Who are the victims?

Most victims of bullying are sensitive, intelligent and gentle children who have good relationships with their parents. They don't come from families full of conflict and shouting, so when bullies attack them, they don't know what to do. From the bully's viewpoint, they make excellent targets because they are nice and won't fight back. They might even cry — a bonus for the bully. There are, however, some children who get bullied everywhere — at school parties, activities, clubs. It is as if they invite bullying because it confirms their low opinion of themselves — that they are worthless and deserve what is happening to them.

What sort of child bullies?

According to Michele Elliott, children and young people who frequently bully do seem to share certain common characteristics. They often:

  • feel inadequate, unable to cope with everyday events
  • are bullied themselves within their families
  • come from families where bullying is seen as a form of strength
  • are victims of some kind of abuse
  • don't know how to or aren't allowed to show feelings
  • are not succeeding in school
  • feel no sense of self-worth

There are also bullies who are self-confident, spoilt children who expect, as their right, to get their own way. Some bullies simply enjoy being in charge and may obtain status from their position as leader. Other children may bully once in a while because of some sort of upheaval in their lives, such as problems at home, bereavement in the family, birth of a baby and so on.

Where is it likely to happen?

Bullying usually takes place out of sight of the school staff:

  • in the lunch room
  • on the playground
  • in corridors between classes
  • on the way to and from school

What to do if your child is being bullied

  • Encourage your child to talk to you about her or his feelings. Be direct. Say, 'I think you're being bullied or threatened and I'm worried about you. Let's talk about it.' If your child doesn't want to talk immediately — children are often ashamed of being bullied — say that you're there and willing to listen, night or day, when he or she is ready.
  • Try not to overreact, even if you're furious. It might frighten your child into silence, and victims need to talk, not retreat.
  • Ask if he or she has any suggestions about changing the situation.
  • Find out how fearful your child is and make sure that he or she feels protected.
  • Keep a watchful eye, because children can become desperate when they're being bullied and may run away or take an overdose, because everything seems so hopeless to them. Take any threats of suicide seriously and seek help.
  • Praise your child, make it clear how much you love and support him or her,
  • Encourage your child to develop a sense of humour and a way of throwing off taunts.
  • Try to sort out the bullying as quietly and constructively as possible,
  • Contact a class teacher,
  • Try to give the situation time to change.
  • If there is no improvement, contact the principal or, failing that, the school's governing body.
  • If that doesn't help, contact your local education authority.
  • If you feel confident enough, you may contact the bully's parents, but obviously it will depend on the family — some people not only bully their own children but threaten anyone who comes near them. It's best to check out the situation carefully before getting involved.
  • If your child has been injured, con tact the police.

Is your child a bully?

Once in a while, a child could lash out and suddenly start bullying. Sometimes it happens because the child was being bullied himself and could stand it no longer. Be very careful not to start blaming your child until you have all the facts about why the bullying has started.

Possible reasons why a child may turn into a bully:

  • jealousy of a brother or sister or other children
  • stress because of school work or exams
  • worry about a problem that has cropped up at home, such as parents fighting or separating, a bereavement, money problems, the death of a pet
  • quarrelling with a friend and venting their anger on someone else
  • boredom
  • frustration due to learning or language difficulties
  • having a bad day, when everything seems to be going wrong

Some children go from incident to incident, from school to school, bullying and hurting others. These children may eventually end up being excluded from mainstream education. Many have certain characteristics in common. They may:

  • often act aggressively
  • be unable to control themselves
  • have a positive attitude towards violence
  • feel insecure
  • be disruptive
  • blame the victims for the bullying
  • have no empathy with anyone
  • be bullied by family members
  • be the scapegoats in the family, who are blamed for everything, even if it's not their fault
  • feel under pressure to succeed when they're in fact failing
  • have poor social skills
  • feel different, stupid or inadequate
  • come from a home with a culture of violence

Some chronic bullies are children who are overindulged to the point of being worshipped by their parents and expect that everyone should do likewise.

Crack the code of silence

1. Become 'telling' communities. The principal makes it clear that bullying is unacceptable; that bullies will not be tolerated. The children have an obligation to tell if they're bullied or witness bullying.

2. Children must be able to rely on a sympathetic and helpful response if they do tell. In this way, they learn that speaking out will make things better; keeping quiet will make things worse.

Experience has shown that bullying is less likely to happen in schools that have a clear policy against it.