Bullying: Understanding, Responding, Preventing It

Bullying. It’s that “B” word that strikes fear into the hearts of parents. We could do everything in our power to protect our children from it and still fail. Perhaps it is the knowledge of our impotence that makes the “B” word so terrifying.

Recently, our school took on this troubling topic to help parents understand what bullying really means, how best to respond to it and what we can do to prevent it. Here are some of the notes from the workshop with my own annotations…

Image Source: ICNA Council for Social Justice

What is Bullying?

Before we can really talk about how to prevent bullying or how to respond to it when it does happen, we need to understand what it really is. The confusion arises because the term is often used to describe a range of scenarios that aren’t necessarily incidences of bullying.

“Behaviour by an individual or group, usually repeated over time, that intentionally hurts another individual or group either physically or emotionally.” – UK Government

Defining Bullying

True incidences of bullying must include all the following features:

  • A deliberate behaviour with the intention of hurting someone.
  • It may be done by one person or a group of people.
  • It is repeated over time not a one-off incident.
  • There is a power imbalance.

Often, a single aggressive behaviour may be misconstrued as a case of bullying because we don’t understand the true definition of the term. While such aggressive behaviours are not acceptable and should never be tolerated, we must not confuse them as bullying. They should be identified for what they are and handled appropriately. While such incidences could become a case of bullying if it repeats over time, it should not occur if they are managed appropriately.

Types of Bullying

Bullying involves direct and indirect actions and behaviours that include:

  • Cyberbullying – sexting, account hacking, hate sites.
  • Physical – pushing, “play fighting”, stealing.
  • Verbal – name calling, jokes, racist abuse.
  • Psychological – peer pressure, threats, exclusion.

Indicators of Bullying

  • Level of distress – this is often dependent on the individual’s level of resilience. Resilient kids who are being bullied may not display the usual signs and may often go undetected. No matter how well a child is able to cope with being bullied, it should never be tolerated.
  • Physical signs – unexplained injuries, torn or damaged clothing, general physical ill-health.
  • Emotional signs – mood swings, constant anxiety/nervousness, depression, tearfulness, lack of confidence, defensiveness.
  • Behavioural signs – withdrawn, low energy, self-harm, inability to concentrate, disruptive behaviour.

Protecting Your Kids from Bullying

The best way to protect your child from anything is to educate them. The following is a great video to show the kids:

What Should You Do?

The following is the suggested course of action from our school if we think our children might be being bullied. I think it’s a good action plan to follow regardless of whether it is a suspected case of bullying or not. Any acts of aggression that your child experiences at school and shares with you, should be handled in the same way.

  • Speak to your child to find out what happened.
  • Ask but DO NOT lead your child into agreeing to something that may not be true. It is a common occurrence where parents unintentionally put words into their children’s mouths. For example, “Did xyz happen?” Be careful to avoid this and try to get your child to tell you, in their own words, what has happened.
  • Praise your child for telling you about it. It is not easy for children to speak up about being bullied.
  • Do NOT seek help without your child’s knowledge. In many instances, children may beg parents not to say anything. If you speak to the teacher behind your child’s back, you will lose your child’s trust. If there are any future incidences, your child may not feel comfortable sharing those with you.
  • Listen to your child without judgement and be sensitive.
  • Encourage and help your child to report any incidents to the adults around them.
  • Do NOT speak to the bully. At our school, we are also discouraged from contacting the parent of the perpetrator.

How Involved Should Parents Get?

I think this is pretty relevant to all incidences that happen between kids at school – not just bullying cases. If there is an issue between your child and another child that has come to your attention and needs to be dealt with, the best thing to do is to bring it to your child’s class teacher.

Why you shouldn’t handle it yourself?

  • We only hear half the story – our child’s side. The other child(ren) involved may have a different story. Even if our child is telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, it is only our child’s perspective on the incident. Remember that 5 different people can watch the same scenario and report different things. An objective teacher is in a better position to get all sides of the story and figure out what really happened and the best course of action to follow.
  • We are too invested – let’s face it, when our children involved, we cannot be relied upon to be objective. I’m not even saying that we’ll take our children’s side. Sometimes, in an effort to be fair to the other child, we overcompensate and are unnecessarily harsh on our own child. Either way, we aren’t being objective so it’s better to have a third, unbiased party (the teacher) to be the adjudicator.

Bully Prevention

We ran out of time on this but these are some approaches used in our school:

An Overview on Bullying

Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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