November 10th, 2019

7 ways to beat bullying

You may be aware that this week is anti-bullying week in the UK. Your child’s school may have been talking to them about it already. Some schools are engaging in activities like odd socks day to celebrate difference. If they haven’t already your kids will probably come home talking about it. I hope so because it’s with increased awareness through family and school discussions that bullying is best dealt with.

It’s worth pausing for a moment to consider what bullying is and is not. The definition by the Anti-bullying Alliance is a good one. They say that:

“Bullying is the repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power. It can happen face to face or online.”

The intentional element of the definition doesn’t excuse hurtful, offensive, degrading or threatening words, or words which focus on the subject’s insecurities, on the grounds that the person saying them meant to be funny. If the subject isn’t laughing, it’s not funny. Even if others are laughing. It’s pretty clear if the subject has asked the speaker to stop. It’s definitely not ‘just banter’ if the speaker would be upset if someone said the same thing to them. But it doesn’t excuse it if the speaker says they would not be bothered by the same words. If the subject is hurt, it is hurtful. Some people are hurt by things that others wouldn’t be because of their experiences. Aboriginal footballer Adam Goode was offended when he was called a ‘gorilla’ because he has had experiences of racism that the 13 year old white girl taunting him had never had. Schools are much more aware of this these days and are less likely to excuse it as ‘just kids’ teasing’ as they might have done perhaps when you were at school.

The definition refers to an imbalance of power but that doesn’t mean that bullying can only be done by bigger kids to smaller ones or older to younger ones. An imbalance of power can exist because the bully belongs to a majority group of any kind, whether on the basis of race or gender or sexuality or faith or intelligence or what neighbourhood they live in or economic circumstances or membership of a club or even longevity at the school! Power can reside in physical strength or ability or come from status. Some girl cliques have been known to derive their power from their bullying, exclusionary tactics.

Of course there is an imbalance of power between adults and children based on size, strength and the authority invested in us by society by virtue of our position as parent or teacher or guardian. And we have a duty to ensure that we don’t use our power in a coercive way, to hurt. We all know that much of parenting is modelling so we need to be very careful that at home we are showing our children how to get their needs met through discussion, not by just railroading the other. Check yourself next time you’re tempted to say “You’ll do it because I say so!”

Parents often want to know what they can do in response to bullying and that’s a good question to ask but we also need to ask ourselves what we can do to prevent bullying in the first place. Here are 7 things you can do.

Make respect part of the culture of your family by:

  1. modelling it in your dealings with others and with your partner and your children. We know that we need to walk our talk. Can you brave enough to confront your own prejudices? Be aware that they will have arisen from the environment in which you were raised and choose a different path now that you are an adult. If you talk to your children about rejecting an old prejudice of your own that vulnerability will be very powerful
  2. treating your children with respect, warmth and consistent discipline. Research shows that this results in tolerant adults
  3. requiring it of your children. When you are clear about the values you want to pass on to your children they will be aware of your expectations and more likely to embrace those principles
  4. calling out disrespect or intolerance wherever you see it, especially when it is demonstrated by our so-called leaders –plenty of opportunity on TV or in social media! This includes requiring your children to rephrase their own statements if they’ve been disrespectful. “That’s an offensive/hurtful/ disrespectful/racist thing to say. We don’t talk like that in our family.” This needs to be done with understanding and without judgment. It also models a way of responding should your child be exposed to such talk. If a child makes a prejudicial statement like “homeless people should get jobs instead of begging” probe gently to see what the thinking was behind that remark. Then challenge his views, ideally by asking questions which lead him to see a different point of view. Eg “Do you think people choose to live on the street or would they prefer to be in a safe, warm house? So if they don’t choose it how do you think it could have happened that they don’t have a job or a home?...”
  5. talking to your children about all people deserving to be treated with dignity, justice and respect even if they are different from us or if we disagree with some of their beliefs or behaviours
  6. talking about how we all have differences and celebrating diversity. This will be easier if your child is exposed to difference. If your school environment or neighbourhood is not particularly diverse where can you find a more multi-faceted experience? Embrace food, literature, art and music from different cultures and help your child understand learning or communication differences that children in their school may have. Use books to talk about issues like different styles of family or gender
  7. you can also encourage your child to see the similarities between them and others who appear different at first glance

Change starts with us.


Posted in: Bullying





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