Preventing and eliminating bullying at school is an important responsibility of a teacher. However, often it is hard for a teacher to deal with the problem of bullying, which is due to a number of factors:
- Spotting bullying can be hard because it is difficult to differentiate it from squabbles or normal disagreements between children. Sometimes, real aggression can be perceived as a game.
- Fighting against bullying is made harder by fallacious beliefs, such as regarding bullying as a natural part of a child’s development (“he’ll grow out of it”, “boys will be boys”, “just don’t pay any attention to it”, etc.).
- Bullying is often hidden. Normally, children do not report bullying.
- Often, we do not know how to respond to bullying.
Helping a victim of bullying
Discussing the incidents of bullying
Give the child the opportunity to talk about what happened and how they feel about it. Show sympathy and support. Work out what happened together.
Together with the child, talk about how they can stay safe.
- Think about how the child can avoid being a similar situation in the future.
- Determine how the child will behave if the bullying continues.
- Talk about who the child can go to if they bullying does not stop.
Try to get the bullied child involved in something that will allow them to interact with children their age, in order to hep them get support from their peers.
Always try to strengthen a child’s support network by getting his friends and loved ones to help.
Keep an eye on how the child is getting on
If necessary, contact the parents and give them an account of what happened and the school’s response.
Helping the bully
It is important to keep in mind that it is not only the victims of bullying, but the bullies themselves who need help. First of all, you shouldn’t regard the child’s aggressive behaviour as childish horseplay. When aggressive behaviour is not addressed in time, it can become a lifestyle, and childhood is precisely the right time to address the issue.
Talk with the child openly and try to work out what provoked them to behave aggressively. Sometimes, when children are victims of violence or abuse from their parents or older siblings, they direct their distress and hurt towards other children.
Your efforts should not go into looking for punishment, but instead in trying to change the child’s aggression into socially accepted behaviour. Often, punishing the aggressor is not effective in stopping him. What’s more important than the punishment, is showing the child that you accept them, but not their aggressive behaviour.
1. In a calm, clear and easy manner, describe the children’s behaviour to them and explain why it constitutes a form of bullying.
2. Calmly explain to the aggressor the effect of his behaviour on the child at the receiving end.
3. Try to figure out what happened (from the child’s perspective).
4. Tell them that this type of behaviour is not acceptable and remind them what type of behaviour is expected.
5. Make them understand their responsibilities and the consequences of their actions (the parents will be informed, they will stay behind a year at school or given a notice, etc.).
6. If you can’t stop the child’s aggressive behaviour, in the worst case scenario the child should be moved to another school (not the victim, but the aggressor).
The teacher should know, that the best environment for teaching is a safe one. A good teacher:
- Concentrates not only on imparting knowledge during a lesson, but also on creating a safe environment.
- Spots signs of bullying and reacts accordingly.
- Spots when a child looks upset, or is left out of a group.
- Tries to find out the reason behind such behaviour.
- Supports children who are bullied and tries to stop the bullying.
- Helps the children in finding the right way to react when someone is bullying them rather than telling them that they should not pay attention to it, or that they should protect themselves by getting back at the bullies.
- Helps the child aggressors to change their behaviour.
- Sets a good example for the children to follow.
Advice for teachers:
1. Help the child understand that their aggressive behaviour will never be tolerated, irrespective of whom it’s directed at. Set out specific and strict methods of punishments which will be used if the bullying continues.
2. Teach the children to achieve their aims through constructive methods so that they can solve their problems through non-violent means. Demonstrate this through the example of your own relationship with the children.
3. Be an example of positive behaviour. By observing you, the child will learn how to treat those around them with goodwill and respect. In situations where a child has previously shown aggression, demonstrate a different way in which you may achieve your aim and solve your problems without resorting to psychological (threatening, insulting) or physical violence.
4. Tighten your control on the child and be close to them when they are playing with other children. Encourage their involvement in sport competitions, creative tasks and other extra-curricular activities. Getting involved in these types of activities will allow them to channel their energy in a civilised and social way, and significantly lower their levels of aggression.
5. In difficult situations, contact a specialist psychologist. There are special methods which can help the child come to terms with the reasons behind their aggression and teach them how to deal with it and control it.
Discussing bullying in the classroom
When discussing bullying in the classroom, it is important to not to be accusing. You should not look for who is in the wrong in the situation, but instead, work out what roles the children played in what happened. All children may take part in the discussion: the aggressor, the victim and the witnesses. However, if the aggressor and the victim do not want to take part, then the discussion may take place with just the witnesses.
Topics of discussion
- What happened? Ask the children to give their take on what happened. Listen to all different sides of the story.
- What instigated the bullying?
- What role was played by the children who did not actively take part in the bullying?
- What effect did having other children around to watch have on the aggressor?
- How did the children feel as they were watching?
- How do they feel now?
- According to them, how does the child who was bullied feel?
- What can they do to help the bullied child feel better?
- How can they behave differently in the same situation? (in the shoes of the aggressor, the victim, or the witness)
Talking to children who witnessed the bullying helps them come to terms with their part in what happened and how things could have been different. They can learn what to do if they ever find themselves in a similar situation again. It is extremely important to support and encourage the children who are trying to stop bullying and help the victims of bullying.
Psychologist at Public Health Foundation of Georgia (PHF)