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All images and posts written by and copyright to Amanda Clements (nee Gray) 2009-2012 unless otherwise indicated.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Responding to bullying: Support or Expulsion?

It is a very hard thing to balance the need to keep our children safe with addressing the needs of the child/children who are bullying others.

“Bullies have no rights!” we might be tempted to yell as we see the effects of bullying on others. “Zero tolerance! Immediate expulsion!”

The difficulty is that these approaches don’t actually deal with the reason the child is bullying. This means that if they are expelled, there is nothing stopping them from continuing their bullying outside the school grounds. And it also doesn’t account for those who would change their behaviour if they knew how it is affecting others.

The Unwitting Bully

I was shocked and deeply distressed the other day to be called a bully. From my perspective what I had been doing was strenuously defending my right to a safe and happy living environment. The person who made the accusation was a third party who had only heard one side of the story. Once they had heard my side, they rounded on the person they had been defending and suggested in no uncertain terms that their behaviour, not mine, was unacceptable.

We have to be careful when accusing others of bullying that we have the full story. This is the responsibility of the principal or the head teacher for welfare or any other person nominated in the discipline policy of the school.

The guidelines on the website “Bullying! No Way!” clearly state that parents should not approach the other party in the incident. This is mainly to ensure that the very understandable emotion that is involved in the situation does not take over.

Hearing both sides of the story can help us try and work out why the bullying is happening, and help us better protect our children and change the behaviour of others.

The impulsive or egocentric bully

There are children who tease others, lose their temper or are prone to use their fists without thinking about the consequences of their actions.

Very young children usually tease or hurt others for egocentric reasons. That is, they are only thinking about how the action might benefit them, not how it might effect the other child.

Sally teases Bea by saying, “You’re not our fri-end. You look silly!” because she just wants to play with Becky and Nat. Becky and Nat laugh when Sally says these things.

Some children who live with a disability might also use rough behaviour to get what they need or want.

Bobbie is learning to use words and gestures after recently having a cochlea implant inserted to help him hear. But Bobbie gets frustrated when other children don’t respond to his “language”. So he often pushes children out of the way when he wants something.

What we need to look at is educating the children, helping them understand and develop empathy for the child they are affecting.

Peer mediation may work to help change the behaviour of children who are acting impulsively and without thinking about how they are affecting others. This is where other and often older children are trained in helping to deal with the more minor incidents on the playground.

In a similar way, we can use the Sharing Circle or Circle Time approach mentioned previously. We can use social skills programs, which are a part of all school-aged Personal Development programs and also use books and activities to talk about appropriate behaviour in pre-school or early intervention programs.

For children with language, self-regulation and other difficulties that lead to bullying behaviour, we need to practice positive behaviour support to help them change their behaviour.

But while we are doing this, we need to increase supervision, help gather supportive peers and create a safe space for the child who is being bullied.

Some useful information:

On circle time:

Peer mediation:

Behaviour support:

I will talk about other reasons for bullying in the next post....


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