Bullying is alive and thriving – in our homes, schools and workplaces. The OECD’s 2015 Programme for International Student test results, drawn from 540,000 students in 72 countries identified that:
- Australia ranks in the top 3 OECD countries for reported bullying
- One in four children reports experiencing bullying each year
And if we widen the discussion to include whatever situation-specific label is used, we learn that:
- A 2016 study into workplace bullying identified that half of all Australians will experience or witness – workplace bullying
So why, when approaches regarding bullying prevention are made to school communities, parent or sporting groups, are there often shrugged shoulders and mumbling of, “Not bullying again!”
This is called bullying fatigue – a sense of antipathy towards an obvious problem because it’s often over-reported, incorrectly reported and most people feel relatively helpless to change its occurrence. As a parent it is an enormously overwhelming feeling to have requests for better practices, better consequences and better follow up met with – “we’ll keep an eye on it.”. Even worse – to know that your report has been met with disbelief or the look, attitude and tone that screams – over-dramatic parent.
So, what’s the fix? Can we have effective conversations about bullying, that are also constructive and solution-focused with achievable and measurable outcomes? Can we continue to have healthy discussions about reporting bullying and knowing that something will be done – that it won’t simply be swept under the carpet in the vain hope that it will sort itself out and go away? Absolutely! If we’re going to continue to work towards better outcomes when bullying is reported or when parents ask for support or education on the topic, we have to really understanding bullying so that we’re speaking the same language. Being picked on is not bullying – neither is being teased.
Firstly let’s get clear on what bullying actually is – and teach it to children, parents and teachers. Let’s remove those bullying posters with their vague rumblings of, “Are you being bullied? Here are the signs…” after which usually follows some broad, easy-to-misinterpret points about being picked on and put down. If that’s bullying, then no wonder we have an epidemic of it; that’s called “life in the playground” – and training in the skills of resilience and assertiveness is the solution. By contrast, a clear definition of bullying highlights it as the noxious, abusive, often violent behaviour it is, rather than the ‘dumbing-down’ of the term through frequent use – to describe every unpleasant, rude, nasty, insolent, thoughtless, careless action of one person towards another.
The National Definition of Bullying for Schools identifies bullying as:
“An ongoing misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behaviour that causes physical and/or psychological harm. It can involve an individual or a group misusing their power over one or more persons. Bullying can happen in person or online, and it can be obvious (overt) or hidden (covert). Bullying has three main features:
- It involves a misuse of power in a relationship
- It is ongoing and repeated
- It involves behaviours that can cause harm
In our Australian Curriculum aligned resource, Highway Heroes, Module 1 – Sticking Up 4 Me; Beating Bullying & Taming Teasing explores exactly this, and also give parents information to help them to identify bullying from other unpleasant – but common – playground behaviours.
A relatively simple method to help every child to cope with and absorb common playground BUMPS and HAZARDS – like bullying is to teach children emotional self-regulation skills. Being able to manage those common feelings of hurt, sadness, and embarrassment, is important because these often rapidly escalate into an outburst that does nothing to address the other person’s offensive behaviour – or stop it from re-occurring. Helping children understand how patterns of thinking can fuel their emotional distress, then being able to identify their own processes in doing this, followed by how to counter this with a solution-focused, calm, rational mindset is key. But it requires teaching – because it’s a skill – and it will last for life.
Self-regulation involves teaching (repeatedly) the process of calming down. And no, this doesn’t mean telling a child to “calm down” – it means showing a child how to calm down. ‘Bubble Breathing’ (a technique explored in Module 4 Strategies 4 Managing Me; Mood Management & Resilience) is combined with Mindfulness, helping a child to deal with a difficult interaction calmly and confidently, rather than being on the cusp of losing emotional control.
And of course, teaching a child how to manage high-end playground behaviours is also necessary. Early conflict identification and resolution requires assertiveness; it’s a life skill, so teach it explicitly – and carefully. Differentiate assertiveness from 1) aggression and 2) manipulation through whiney or dramatic protests. How the child approaches others and uses appropriate body language, an assertive tone of voice, firm eye contact and carefully chosen words defines assertiveness. And once that message has been delivered, hanging around to counter the perpetrator’s response is also not required; rather a 3 second strong gaze and then walking away is sufficient – and it’s powerfully effective.
The skill of assertiveness is required in any relationship – friendships, partnerships, businesses; long-standing and new relationships; it’s part of leading a successful adult life. Module 1 (Sticking Up 4 Me; Beating Bullying & Taming Teasing) and Module 2 (Connecting 4 Friendships; Playground Resilience & Wisdom) both explore the many facets of assertiveness for children – in various relationship contexts.
In conclusion, bullying is a violent scourge – in homes, playgrounds, classrooms and offices – essentially wherever people live, work and relate. Although action can be taken to deal with bullying after the event, being proactive in deterring it, is many times more effective. And this means, shaking off the sense of overwhelm about this possibility – and teaching children, educators, parents and administrators the proactive skills to stop bullying occurring in the first place. Being able to educate children, parents and teachers about bullying and bullying prevention is essential if we’re going to continue to manage it effectively.
BEST Programs 4 Kids’ provide solution focused resources for children, parents, educators and health professionals on bullying. We’re the Children’s Wellbeing Experts – and it’s our mission to help you become one too.