For posts on bullying, visit The Learn to be Buddies Series Blog.
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....


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Reporting bullying: How to do it in a way that minimises the chance of backlash on your child and maximises the chance of action

Know the signs

You know your child the best. You will probably be the first one to notice any changes in your child’s behaviour. As soon as you notice any changes, start keeping a diary.

The changes to look out for:
- Refusal or reluctance to go to school
- Requests for you to drive them instead of catching the bus
- Complaints of stomach aches or headaches (could be a sign of anxiety)
- Sleeping in or wetting the bed
- A fall in the child’s grades or reports from the teacher that you child is withdrawing from some activities.

While these could be an indication of other issues that could be causing the child anxiety, make sure that you explore the issue of bullying with your child.

As a teacher, you might notice that the child starts hanging around the staff room, or the library during break times. You might see signs of distress such as crying, irritability, lethargy, withdrawal from class activities or complaints of headaches in class. You should also take these signs seriously and immediately discuss them with the child’s parents.

Know your rights and responsibilities

There are laws about bullying (see my previous post on the Disability Standards for Education 2005 – part 8). There are anti-discrimination laws and standards for practice in Australia, the US and the UK.

All schools should have a discipline and/or an anti-bullying policy. As a parent, don’t be afraid to ask to see a copy of this. If the school doesn’t have one, ask why.

If you are a teacher, you should study the school policy. You could also ask the principal to speak at a staff meeting about the policy so that all staff are aware of what they can do if they come across a case of bullying.

But the bottom line is … if you don’t know, don’t be afraid to ask. Ask nicely (Lol), but be persistent.

Keep written records

Keep a diary of what is going on with your child. If possible, ask them to keep a diary. Having written records will help get action faster, and will also act as proof if the case becomes so serious that it needs to be dealt with by the authorities.

If your child has been physically attacked, take photos and put them in the diary as well.

Don’t wait

Any incident needs to be taken seriously and acted on promptly.

Use you written records to regularly and persistently inform the teacher and/or principal about what is happening. For example, with your child’s permission, you might send an email or a letter detailing any incident to the principal on the day it occurs. Follow this up with a phone call.

Alternately, either you as the parent or the teacher can start a “communication book”. This is a book that the child carries between the parent and the teacher. Each time an entry is made and read, both parties must sign and date it. Keep a scanned or photocopied copy just in case your child loses it.

Persistence and tangible evidence usually means that the incidents are taken much more seriously.

Start this process as soon as anything happens. If you can prevent a small thing becoming big it is much better than letting it go because “it wasn’t such a big deal.”

Know what reporting systems are in place at school

Some schools have anonymous ways the child can report bullying. For example, a “Bully Box”. This is usually in a private, safe place. It entails the child writing what happened and who the bully is and placing this in a secure box anonymously.

Other systems encourage the child to report incidents to peers, and the peers report it to higher authority if they cannot resolve the issue themselves. This may be called peer mediation.

Other incidents of bullying need to be reported more openly so protection mechanisms can be put in place for the child. Find out who the child feels safe with at school, and encourage them to report what happened in detail. If they report an incident to you, don’t be tempted to brush it off.

“Sticks and stones can hurt my bones
But words can never harm me.”
Not true.

“Boys will be boys.”
Maybe. But they need to be told when they have crossed the line.

“Yes, the girls are a bit catty. It’s just a phase they are going through. She should find new friends.”
Maybe. But they need to know when their behaviour is inappropriate and hurtful.

“Don’t be a cry-baby!”
Everyone has different levels of resilience and different tipping points depending on their life experiences and individual characteristics. We need to be tuned in to this, not base our judgements on our own resilience.

Behaviour should be measured by its affect on a child, not by one person’s opinion of what is acceptable and “normal”.

Whilst the bullying is dealt with, create a safe space

Your child might need a place to escape to if they feel threatened, especially during break times. Some suggestions include:
- a quiet, highly supervised area in the library
- supervised activities in the computer room
- the school counsellor’s office

They will need a circle of supporters. This could include:
- a buddy from a higher year (eg a year 6 buddy for a year 2 student)
- a group of supportive, same age peers
- a sibling or other relative at the school
- a teacher, school counsellor (social worker) or other adult mentor at school
- increased parental involvement at school (canteen, reading groups and any other volunteer opportunities)

Some good resources:


Friday, June 19, 2009

We all need to belong

A couple of posts ago I mentioned research that suggested children could be at increased risk of being bullied if:
- they received extra help at school
- they were alone on the playground
- they had less than two good friends

In my last post I wrote two scenarios drawn from past experiences of students. The idea of these stories is that the best way to ensure that children get the best social outcomes from inclusion is to be very careful about how we include them in our classrooms and on the playground.

The social benefits are often one reason why parents and children choose inclusion. But to ensure the child gets these benefits, we need to make sure we think about what inclusion truly is… and do the best we can with the resources we have got to make it happen.

For example, according to Gee (2002), this is the difference between inclusion, integration and mainstreaming.

We all need to belong. Belonging is a great way to build resilience.

Someone who belongs, and is different, is much less likely to be bullied as their difference is likely to be less visible to those who truly know them as a person.

Because everyone is unique.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

When "inclusion" puts children at risk of bullying

Images from Dave is Brave, Copyright Amanda Gray Http://

Tom loves being around other children. He loves drawing and music. But he struggles with understanding and learning new things. He has Down Syndrome.

Tom is "included" in a regular classroom. While his peers are guided by the teacher and work in groups, Tom is usually sitting alone working on his learning contract with his teacher’s aide at the back of the room. This contract is a set of worksheets designed by his special education teacher.

On the playground Tom is usually alone. Except when a group of older students invite him to “play” with them, then urge him to do things that will get him into trouble. Tom loves playing with them and doesn’t understand why he keeps getting into trouble, or why his teacher and parents want him to find other friends.

His parents recently found out that the reason why he likes playing with these boys is because they don’t call him names. He said that lots of other kids tease him, saying that Ms G (his teacher’s aide) is his girlfriend.


Emma loves drama. She is good at counting and loves using pictures to tell stories. But she struggles with understanding and learning new things. She has Down Syndrome.

Emma is included in a regular classroom. She sits up the front with four other children. Two of these children benefit from extra help, and two are students who are achieving well. Her teacher’s aide has a desk nearby.

While her peers are guided by the teacher, she and her group of buddies get extra hints and repetition from the teacher’s aide according to the advice of the special education teacher. When the class work in groups, Emma works with her buddies. The two students who are achieving well help to scaffold and support her learning. The teacher’s aide supervises and gives extra help when needed to make sure the other students’ learning isn’t affected by Emma’s occasional difficulties with concentrating or staying on task.

On the playground Emma is usually seen to be with at least one of the four students she sits with in class. With the help of the teacher’s aide they have taught her to play some of their favourite games, like skipping (Emma usually holds the rope), tips (where Emma occasionally has to be reminded who is in), making up plays and sitting in the library (Emma loves picture books).

Once when a group of older boys started calling her names her buddies saw her crying. They went straight to their teacher, who went straight to the principal, who called a meeting with the boy’s parents. The bullying quickly stopped.

Emma loves school.
While Tom and Emma are fictional characters, they are built from my observations and the experiences of students and families with whom I have worked. Next time I write here I will talk about these a little more....


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A good blog you may want to follow

Some great info here if you are a parent/teacher from the US.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Avoiding a culture of bullying

Image from "Dave is Brave" Copyright Amanda Gray 2009

There are a number of things that we can do to prevent bullying. But in order to do this we need to understand what puts children at risk of bullying.

Difference or vulnerability can often increase the chance of a child being bullied. Whether they have a disability or not, a child who looks different, or doesn’t conform with the expectations or values of influential peers, or whose interests differ from those peers, is at risk of being bullied.

Carter and Spencer (2006) looked specifically at research about what increases the risk of a child with a disability being bullied. One study highlighted some key factors. It found that children with physical disabilities were more at risk of being bullied if:
- they received extra help at school
- they were alone on the playground
- they had less than two good friends

What does that tell us about preventing bullying?

One of the things it tells us is that it all begins with our attitudes. As adults – parents and teachers – we need to think about how we react to people who are somehow different. Do we respond fearfully? Do we exclude or avoid adults or children in the community whose appearance or behaviour is different to what we expect? Do we exclude people from our schools, classrooms, activities or homes based on difference? Or do we try to understand them and work with their strengths?

Because ultimately our attitudes will build the culture of our homes, schools and classrooms. If we respect and value the contributions of all people, if we look for their strengths and build relationships with them, it will flow into the culture that is created in our homes, communities and schools.
Influenctial rules to create a respectful home, school or community culture
There are many ways of influencing the culture of our homes and schools, but in this post I want to talk about rules. Rules or a code of conduct are required in schools (as mentioned in the first post this month). But there are certain things we need to do to make rules work.

Rules that work

If you say, “Don’t say nasty things!” you may yourself entabled in an argument about what is nasty. An argument that may end with the statement that "you can't tell me what to do!!!".

But let’s say you sat down with your children or students and discussed the issue. For example, you notice that there is a bit of teasing going on. Ask them if they have ever been teased, how that made them feel. Then get them to come up with some rules, or a set of rights and responsibilities. This will give them a sense of ownership of the rules, and will deflate their arguments against the rule because they came up with the rule themselves.

But avoid “Don’t” rules. As soon as a child (or an adult, for that matter) hears the word don’t, there is a great temptation to “do”.

For children who struggle with understanding abstract ideas, empathy, or have language or concentration difficulties, it is also important that your rules clarify exactly what is expected of them.
So instead of a rule that says, “Don’t be nasty” you could end up with rules such as:
- “Say kind things”
- “Treat others like you would want to be treated”
If you show children respect, they are more likely to respect others.

You should also remember that more rules you have, the less likely you will enforce them all. Keeping to a maximum of 5 rules is usually the best approach. Because rules are only useful if you consistently reinforce them. For example, you can remind children of the rule when they are breaking it to help them get back on track. Or you could praise those who are following the rule by saying something like, "That was a kind thing to say! Thank you!".

When you first introduce the rule, you should also have a system of rewards or consequences. The children should come up with these as well - though be careful because children can be harsh when coming up with consequences.

Make sure the consequences fit the action. For example, time out is not going to be an appropriate consequence for teasing or bullying on its own. Instead, the consequence should include apology and reparation of the relationship with the child who was bullied.
Do not tolerate bullying, but you should also make sure that the consequence deals with the underlying reasons behind the behaviour.

I might leave it there (it is getting late)…. Next time I will talk a bit more about how we can protect our children and students from bullying by expanding on the idea of a circle of care.

Carter, B.B, Spencer, V.G. (2006). The Fear Factor: Bullying and Students with Disabilities. International Journal of Special Education, 21(1), p11-24.
For more information about designing rules that work and a culture of respect, you might want to visit:


Thursday, June 11, 2009

A conversation with a parent about bullying

Copyright Amanda Gray 2009
Between a parent of a child with ADHD, and Amanda (a special education teacher) - published here with permission.

Parent said:
My 11 year old daughter with ADHD and learning disabilities has experienced some bullying by a boy in her class room. The teacher attempted to talk individually to the boy doing the bullying as well as talk privately with my daughter who was distressed over the nasty name-calling, but the boy continues to bully her. This school year had so many new changes with all the kids switching to a new building that I think this year has been the toughest year on my daughter.

The sad thing is that the bullying only made a bad situation even worse. My daughter is literally asking me if she could start going to counselling. Can you imagine???? She is experiencing "separation anxiety" and hates leaving me to go to school. This has gone on throughout the entire school year, but it never got better. Any thoughts on this?

Amanda said:
There are a few things that you might want to look into (though I don't profess to have all the answers)

1. Find out if the boy's parents know about what he is doing and what they feel about it.
The Education Department in Australia recommend that parents of a child who is being bullied don't directly contact the parents of the "bully". However, you can ask the teacher and/or principal to speak to the parents. If they are shocked or disgusted or upset at their child's behaviour, the school might be able to get them involved in designing and implementing consequences for his actions, or they might help their child understand the impact of their bullying on your daughter.

2. If the parents are not on side, and the bullying is occurring due to lack of empathy, the teacher may be able to incorporate lessons, activities and rules into her classroom that tackle the issue of respect and value for diversity.
For example, set up a buddy system where children take turns in "looking after each other" in the playground.

Or have children do activities that help them recognise and value their differences, for example designing posters saying "I am special because..." (for all children, not specific just to your child).

Every morning she could have a "sharing circle", which is about discussing general issues that children have anonymously reported (using a ballot box) or issues that the teacher thinks they need to discuss. For example, she could get the students to talk about teasing, what it is, how it makes others/themselves feel, then ask the students to come up with a rule that might prevent it, and consequences for if it happens.

Publicly addressing the issue of teasing, and having strict consequences in place without talking specifically about your daughter can be a way of "shaming" the bully into backing off. But more importantly, it is about your daughter knowing that there are people on her side at school, and setting up a support network of peers for her so she feels more protected even if the teacher cannot always be present.

Addressing it in a general way may also reduce the likelihood of the boy targeting your daughter more if he feels she has "told on" or "snitched" on him.

Parent said:
I like the idea of the "sharing circle" and I think that is an excellent way to have children open up without feeling guilty or ashamed. I am sure that it is helpful because the children remain anonymous. My daughter had already discussed the bullying problem with one of her teachers. The teacher contacted me on the telephone and that is how I discovered what was going on. My daughter had not discussed this with me.

I did have a long discussion with my child about how bullying is wrong and hurtful to others. I explained that she should tell me and tell her teacher if it happens again. Unfortunately, the boy continued through the year harassing my daughter, bullying her and calling her hurtful names.

…. I think that I will continue to help my daughter try to work through any negative feelings from being bullied. We have considered going to a counsellor just to have someone professional discuss important topics and to try to work through the negative experience.

I want to add that my daughter has been having anxiety and insomnia much more than usual. I am not sure if this is directly related to the boy bullying her or not? It is a serious concern of mine and I do think that counselling could be a good choice for now. My daughter never had anxiety or insomnia to this degree, until this school year when the boy began bullying her.

It is very sad and unfortunate that I was not informed by the school much sooner about my daughter getting bullied by this boy. I was completely in the dark about it. It was not, until the school teacher contacted me that I discovered what was going on. This explains why my daughter constantly did not want to go to school and why she always had a stomach ache.

Schools should contact parents immediately when and if they think there is a bullying situation with their child. Some kids, like my daughter, do not share at home with family the details of being bullied at school. Although, I did not discover the truth, until close to the end of the school year, I am grateful that I finally found out so I can help my daughter work through the negative emotions and feelings.


Sunday, June 7, 2009

Laws about bullying

“Bullies and bullying should never be treated lightly.”
Dr Kevin Leman in his book Have a New Kid by Friday.

The Disability Standards for Education 2005: What it says about bullying.

In Australia, the inclusion of children with disabilities in educational institutions is shaped by the Disability Standards for Education, 2005 . Part 8 of these Standards deals specifically with the issue of bullying. So I thought I would start this month by explaining the key points from those Standards.

For readers who come from countries other than Australia, the key elements of the Disability Standards should be reflected in legislation in your country. In a later post I will explore the UN rights of the Child and would love to hear from anyone who has some information about relevant laws in their own country.

What is harassment or bullying? (picture copyright Amanda Gray, taken from "Dave is Brave"
The Disability Standards define harrassment/bullying as any action that may “humiliate, offend, intimidate or distress the person” (p22). It clearly states that any act that comes under this category that is aimed at students with disabilities or any associate (eg parent, friend, teacher) of that student is unlawful under the Disability Discrimmination Act 1992.

It also more specifically states that no one should be bullied or harassed due their need for supports or adjustments such as teachers' aides, technology, guide dogs and so on.

While I am just focusing on the Disability Discrimmination Act and Disability Standards, there are laws that address this issue for all community members, not just students with disabilities. They all have the following elements.

What is required of an education provider?
First, let’s just clarify that an education provider is any educational institution, authority or anyone who is developing curricula. So, for example, in NSW that includes the NSW Board of Studies, the Department of Education and your child’s school.

And education provider needs to have in place three things:
1. Processes to prevent bullying or harassment
2. Mechanisms for reporting any occurrences of harassment or bullying.
3. Mechanisms to respond to harassment of bullying.

The Standards make it clear that part of the process of preventing harassment is to have a code of conduct. This means that there should be rules that help set a positive, supportive, respectful culture in the school.

Every school should have a discipline policy or anti-bullying policy that includes a set of rules or expectations. These expectations should be about promoting respect. These policies should also be frequently discussed and freely available to everyone in the school community, including parents.

There are many other ways of preventing bullying, but I will discuss these in future posts.

The Standards require that a school have a system for ensuring that students can report if they have been bullied or harassed. This process should again be clearly stated in the anti-bullying or discipline policy. And, again, this should be available to all students, staff and parents.

Students and staff should be reminded regularly of how they can report bullying.

Students can be afraid of reporting a bullying event if they feel like they are at risk of further bullying due to being seen as a “tattler”. It is important that the school design processes that a confidential and protect the “reporter” of a bullying event. I will discuss this more in a future post.

The Disability Standards state that any response to bullying should be “fair, transparent and accountable.”

This means firstly that the school needs to understand what caused the bullying in the first place. Misunderstanding? Self-esteem issues on the part of the bully? Prejudice or stereotyping? Lack of empathy? There are many more reasons why one person bullies another.

This does not mean that the bully should not experience consequences. However, it does mean that the only way to really stop the bullying is to address the underlying reason for the bullying and respond to the needs of all parties in the event.

Zero tolerance to bullying is essential. But that does not mean that we ignore the needs of the bully. This will benefit neither the bully nor the child being bullied. But I will talk about that in another post this month.

Being transparent about your response to bullying is about making clear what the consequences for bullying will be in the school or Departmental policy. So the anti-bullying policy should say “If you bully someone, then …”

Being accountable is about recording the bullying event and the steps taken to respond to it. For example, the school principal, parent and/or school counsellor should keep records about what has happened.

If you want to know more….
If you want to know more about the Disability Standards, you can download them here. You could also look at the documents that help explain the Disability Standards (though they are a bit heavy).

If you want to know more about the NSW Department of Education’s approach to bullying in schools, visit Bullying! No Way!


Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Picture from

Copyright Amanda Gray and Daniel East
One of the main issues dealt with in the first books in my Learn to be Buddies series is the issue of bullying and resilience. The picture book deals with teaching children skills to stand up for themselves, as well as addressing things from the perspective of the child who is being rough.
This month I want to explore a series of resources around the issue of bullying. I would also love to hear stories from parents and teachers, or other who have been bullied at school. If you would like to share your experiences, just comment here.
I am going to look at bullying definitions, laws, prevention methods, ideas for dealing with bullying and anything else that you might want to ask or share.
I know this is an emotional and very significant issue which has no easy solution, so I am hoping just to share ideas rather than offer definitive solutions. I hope we can all help each other!


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