Wherever children are playing it is fair to assume that a range of behaviours are being explored and exhibited. Behaviours that are warm and inclusive and behaviours that are isolating and shaming. It’s natural in childhood for children to learn about themselves and their relationships with each other through a process of trial and error. And as these behaviours occur they are in turn shaped and pruned by the adults and children affected by those behaviours – in good ways and bad. Here’s some examples:
Harry wants to play with the digger. He roughly pulls it out of the hands of another child. The child retrieves the digger and Harry throws sand at the child in possession of the digger. An adult sees the interaction and helps Harry to say what he wants rather than show what he wants. “Use your words,” the adult says and helps Harry to negotiate the situation. Harry asks for a turn and after a little wait gets to play with the digger.
Jemma is best friends with Millie and they play with a larger group of girls – but they’re still on the outer. One day Jemma tells Millie’s big secret to someone in the group and they ask her to sit with them at lunch. Together, they giggle about Millie’s big secret and while Jemma feels guilty, she’s also pleased to be included in the ‘more popular’ group of girls. She makes up a couple of stories and the group laugh and think she’s cool and ask her to hang out at lunch time too. Jemma ditches Millie at lunch and hangs out with the larger group. She knows Millie is sad and hurt but she’s thrilled to be moving up the hierarchy so turns her back on her friend.
Two different situations with two very different outcomes. And they’re not unusual are they? Hundreds of these interactions occur in classrooms and playgrounds every day and each one of those is shaping the child’s next behaviour. So, it’s easy to see how bullying behaviours can become entrenched – the very obvious ones and the very sneaky and covert ones too.
Growing a school culture of acceptance and tolerance – is it enough?
Enough to combat bullying? No way. Yes, it’s part of the solution but only part. There are other required steps to minimising bullying in populations of children – some preventative and some restorative. Together with a prescriptive behaviour management system (firm, fair and consistent behavioural boundaries and expectations), getting a systemic approach to bullying management is essential.
The skill of standing up for oneself is hard to master – at any age! There are masses of complications and roadblocks to the development of assertiveness. Here are a few – what have yours been?
- Not modelled by a parent
- Not taught specifically leading to interpretations that are aggressive or manipulative
- Gender stereotyping
- Social ascendancy and descendancy expectations following being assertive.
Teaching the skills related to preventing bullying need to be taught BEFORE the bullying begins. Early attempts at bullying can be successfully thwarted by the child who knows exactly how to manage themselves and others when under emotional (and even physical) duress. Being able to stick up for yourself effortless and assertively takes practise and adult feedback on tone of voice, on body language and on choice of words.
And we also know that teaching girls and boys to manage bullying early and effectively is quite different. Without getting too gender stereotyped here, girls and boys react in the initial instance quite differently to bullying – and girls’ bullying and boys’ bullying are often very different too. You might like to read more in our Toxic Friendship blog.
This is a complex topic but a very important one to consider in the management of bullying behaviours. It is all too often true that the child who is bullied wants the perpetrator punished. If the incident is swept under the carpet, ignored or down played, the child at the end of the bullying can often set about getting their own revenge. Usually it starts through recruiting other children who have also been bullied by the perpetrator and having whispered chats. For the child in that group wanting to re-gain the favour of the perpetrator, the pathway is clear – go straight to the perpetrator and share the damning whispers. And round and round it goes until all you’re left with is an escalating pressure pot set to explode.
Restorative practice explores the impact of everyone’s behaviour. It allows the child who has experienced the bullying to share the personal impact on them with the child or party who enacted the bullying. And the child or party who dealt the blow (emotionally or physically) gets to talk about their trigger, their reaction and their remorse. Obviously, it’s far more complex than that but that’s the bones to consider.
What can be done to minimise bullying?
A comprehensive program involving a whole of school philosophy around respect, acceptance and tolerance is a start. Then including the teaching of bullying identification (because we all know that being mean, teasing and exclusion are often all reported as bullying) and bullying prevention strategies is essential. And topping it off with a well-researched and carefully implemented restorative justice system is usually enough to keep bullying contained. Let’s not forget though the impact and role of a child’s parent in the bullying management system of schools. Educating parents on what is bullying – essential! Making the pathways of reporting bullying incidents – equally essential. It’s not uncommon for parents to take matters into their own hands and before you know it the molehill has indeed become the mountain.
BEST Kids Matter approved curriculum resources that help
Our BEST Kids Matter approved curriculum resources for the early years – Little Highway Heroes and the primary years – Highway Heroes include lessons that encourage the child to properly identify, report and manage bullying. These are backed with the Kids’ and Parents’ Guides in the ‘What to do about’ series on Bullying, teasing and all that stuff.
At BEST, we are The Children’s Well-being Experts and we’re always happy to share our knowledge of the complexities of children’s relationships with themselves and with others. Please do get in touch if you would like more information on how we can work with your organisation.