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Tips for parents on keeping kids safe from bullying

A. Introduction

"Violence is any act that takes away a person's dignity and leads to a sense of hopelessness or helplessness".

Martin Luther King Jr.
"Violence is a mean word, look, or act that hurts a person's feelings, body, or property".

Respect Program
"Bullying is being mean on purpose".

Names Will Never Hurt Me

Bullying remains a public concern as the media bombards us with information and examples of the severe impact it has on children and youth. The long term detrimental effects make it critical for us to better understand bullying, what is happening in our communities, and what we can teach our children to keep them safe.

We seek to change the culture of the school grounds, communities and society. This is not an easy task; there is no simple solution.

Parents, you are invited to join with teachers and school staff to teach children ways to feel good about themselves, how to get along with others, and how to treat each other with respect and dignity. We want children to have the assertiveness skills necessary to feel confident and able to stand up for themselves and, equally important and difficult, to be able to stand up for their peers.

You can explore the topics presented on this web page with your children. You will learn from children what their experience of bullying and harassment is. Children have a willingness to speak of their experiences, thoughts and feelings as we seek to understand what is happening when children bully each other.

B. What is bullying?

Bullying can start in playful ways. Bullying tends to start off in a tentative way with jokes or rough play, but it can escalate from criticizing the victim to name calling and taunting, and then to personal attacks and public humiliation and physical aggression.

"Bullying occurs when a more powerful child, or group of children, repeatedly and intentionally harms another child. Bullying can be physical, verbal or social"
Debra Pepler

Bullying takes many forms and it is important to have children talk about the different ways they see their peers being mean to each other. Direct forms of bullying include physical actions like pushing, shoving, tripping, hitting, threatening or destroying people's property. Indirect forms of bullying, such as teasing, name calling or laughing at someone are less active yet cause "emotional" bruises that children say may be harder to heal than physical bruises. Perhaps the most prevalent type of bullying or harassment could be described as social bullying - spreading rumours and purposeful exclusion of people from activities or the group.

It is worth noting that bullying or harassment that continues or is taken to extremes is a criminal offence. Adults do not assault or slander without consequences. Our children have a right to be treated with respect and deserve the same protection as adults.

Bullying happens where adults aren't! Children who bully know it is not acceptable to adults. The covert nature of bullying makes it difficult for parents or teachers to track. We need to teach the children in the community to be allies in the process of standing up to bullies and asking for help from adults if the bullying persists. We also need to teach the observers to the bullying to stand up to the bullies and support the child being bullied.

Empowering the witnesses to be moved to action is what makes the community system whole and healthy. To shift the culture of the school, we all share responsibility for the whole.

These are three perspectives involved in a triangle of bullying - the person who:

Bullies
Observes Receives

It is important to separate the person from the behaviour in our language. We should refer to the person who bullies, rather than "the bully", the person who receives or is victimized, rather than "the victim", and the sometimes forgotten one who observes, who is the person with the most power to change the situation.

C. Is bullying happening?

A child who displays any of the following signals may indicate that bullying is happening.

  • afraid to go to school
  • feeling ill in the morning
  • skipping school
  • taking a different route to school
  • going to school early or late
  • "losing" belongings
  • coming home with damaged property
  • unexplained cuts, bruises or other injuries
  • avoiding play areas at lunch or recess
  • crying easily when asked about school or playtime

A child may be bullying other children if any of the following signals are displayed:

  • coming home with items which do not belong to them
  • using verbal or physical aggression to deal with conflict
  • putting others down in conversations
  • talking about getting even with others
  • being unable to play co-operatively
  • having a hard time expressing feelings
  • hanging out with aggressive children

D. Names will never hurt me - verbal self defence

Your challenge is to empower your child in the use of verbal self defence.

Snappers: Has this been bothering you for long?
Wish you wouldn't worry about me so much.
Stoppers: That's bullying me. Stop it.
If you are going to play with me, do it without bullying.
I know what you are doing. You're trying to hurt me. Stop it.
You're trying to get a reaction and it's not going to work.
Savers: Hey! Stop that! You're being mean to her.
That's harassment. Quit it!
Sam, why are you being so rude?

We want to change the growing tendency of children to be mean to each other. We want to teach the child who is watching to be able to stand up to the person who is bullying and say: "Quit bullying, Sam, let's get on with the game".

Children will not easily have the courage to stand up to a person who bullies unless they have had a chance to talk through their feelings and hear that others have similar feelings. They also need lots of practice in using the new language.

When you talk with your child ask how they think each child in the triangle feels and thinks. You want your child to understand that how they treat other people does make a difference. Developing empathy for all involved can motivate change. Whether it is parents, teachers or students, the place to start is with the personal experience of bullying because each of us has a personal, emotional connection that will move us to action and change.

BE FREE OF BULLIES