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Psychologist in Sussex, England » Bullying
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Bullying


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Given the increase in reports of bullying, it is a matter of real importance to define what constitutes this behaviour. The following definition, arrived at by the University of Southern Australia, is the most useful I have found:

“Bullying involves a desire to hurt + hurtful action + a power imbalance + (typically) repetition + an unjust use of power + evident enjoyment by the aggressor and a sense of being oppressed on the part of the victim”.

Bullying can be overt or covert:

Examples of overt bullying:

  • Saying hurtful and unpleasant things
  • Making fun of others
  • Using mean and hurtful nicknames
  • Completely overlooking someone
  • Openly excluding someone from a group of friends
  • Hitting, kicking, pulling hair, pushing or shutting a person inside
  • Telling lies
  • Spreading false rumours
  • Sending mean notes
  • Trying to get other students to dislike another person

Examples of covert bullying:

  • Giggling about another child
  • Whispering about another child
  • Excluding a child
  • Moving away from another child
  • Never sitting next to a particular child

Bullying can be racially, class or gender orientated. Sometimes it is based only on a power differential. It can take place face to face, on the Internet (cyber-bullying), within a classroom or playground, in a child’s home or on the street. It can be between children, between adults and children or between adults.

How to Deal with Bullying

Every school should have a written bullying document, and all teachers should be aware of this. I have drawn from the following website for their description of methods of dealing with bullies, but the evaluation of each system reflects my own view: www.bullying.co.uk

The No Blame Approach to Bullying
The victim is interviewed and asked to draw a picture or write a poem about the effect bullying has had. Alternatively, a teacher can talk first with the victim and then describe his/her feelings.

A meeting is then held between a teacher and a group of students including the bullies, those who may have seen the incidents and others who are not directly involved. The teacher explains to the group how the victim is feeling and the group then offers suggestions to find a solution.

The idea is that when bullies are directly challenged and punished they tend to deny or try to justify their involvement. If the teacher refused to discuss who is responsible, or to blame, the bully is more likely to acknowledge responsibility – though not publicly – and become a part of finding a solution. If this is not the case, then the teacher can be fairly certain that the bully has a serious problem that needs investigating and managing. On occasions however, children feel genuine surprise and remorse when they hear how dreadfully their victim is suffering.

Those who were bystanders are supposed to be able to see that by doing nothing, they were condoning the bullying. The group is asked for its ideas, pupils can come up with practical problem solving solutions and the responsibility for carrying out these ideas rests with the group.

Each pupil in the group then carries out their own solution, so that a child who has been excluded from activities with other children may now have someone to play with and another may accompany him on other occasions to make sure there is no bullying. A week or so later the group reconvenes to discuss progress and what has been achieved. This is supposed to give them a sense of success.

I like this approach because:

  • It has worked successfully when I have used it.
  • It provides a more productive solution than punishment – which can sometimes make the bully feel not only justified but tough and ‘big’.
  • If the bully is unrepentant s/he usually becomes isolated by their peers.
  • It reveals the difference between a bully with serious issues and thoughtless behaviour.
  • All of the children involved learn something from the experience.

Counselling or Mediation
The idea is that the two pupils talk issues over with a mediator and find a way forward to end the cycle of bullying and complaints.

This seems to be more effective when pupils who are friends fall out, but is less effective when it comes to resolving full scale bullying. Unfortunately, the bully often agrees to end the behaviour only for it to restart as soon as the sessions end.

Circle Time
Many primary schools use Circle Time. Pupils sit in a circle and play games or do something enjoyable for a short time and then they can discuss matters as a group, including bullying. This is a way for everyone in class to take part in a structured way.

This includes listening to the person making the points without making remarks or laughing.

Unfortunately, children often report feeling humiliated and distressed at having to discuss how they feel about being bullied in front of their class, including the bullies.

Peer Support Programmes
These strategies are more popular than others, particularly among schools which favour a “whole school approach” and particularly among those pupils chosen as peer counsellors who enjoy the responsibility.

The idea is that everyone in school knows that bullying is unacceptable, children moving up from primary school are reassured that the secondary school is a safe place to be from Day One. In brief, older pupils undergo intensive training over a number of months into the effects of bullying, and how to care for younger pupils who are unhappy because of it. These volunteers, who tend to be mostly girls, are then identified by badges or ribbons and pupils know they have someone of their own age who will take their concerns seriously. There needs to be strong teacher involvement. Recognising that some children may not have friends, some schools set aside a quiet room where pupils can go to do their homework, play board games or just chat with others who have nothing particular to do. Boxes can be placed around school so that children who are upset and don’t want to approach a volunteer directly, can still use the service by sending a note. Some schools also use email or text messaging instead of a box alert system.

The problem with this approach is that a great idea but only if training is adequate for the peer counsellors. Pupils are often unsure what sort of intervention they should be doing, if any, what they should report to a teacher, and even what they should be saying to the bullied pupil. There is a risk that a pupil may reveal something important like neglect or abuse to a peer counsellor who may not realise it needs to be passed to a teacher.

‘Telling Schools’
Schools in the UK are increasingly describing themselves as ‘telling’ schools and they sometimes operate this system in conjunction with peer group schemes in secondary schools. It seems to be popular in primary schools too.

It means that even if the bullying target is too afraid to tell a teacher, all the bystanders know that it’s their duty to do so and that they won’t be accused of telling tales. It’s a deterrent because the bully knows that he/she won’t get away with it.

I like this approach, as bystanders are the key to resolving bullying. It needs to be publicised regularly so that pupils are not made to feel they are telling tales.


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