For the Community of Waskaganish, July 2007

Taken from a text by the Canberra Department of Education, Australia

Bullying among children at school is a serious matter. Bullying has always happened, and there is nothing to suggest it is better or worse now than in the past. Adults have become more aware of the effects of bullying on children in recent years.

However, just because it has always happened is not a reason to let it go on.

Bullying is not a normal part of growing up and it is not part of any “toughening process” that a child has to go through. It can seriously harm a child physically and emotionally.

Parents have a very important role in helping their child cope with bullying. Children who are being bullied usually turn first to their parents for help, but often they put up with a lot of hurt before they tell anybody.

What is bullying?

Bullying is repeated incidents involving:

— a bigger, stronger or more powerful child on a smaller or weaker child, or

— a group of children on a single child.

These might be:

— Verbal: the child is called names, put down, threatened.

— Physical: the child is hit, tripped, poked, kicked, or belongings are stolen or damaged.

— Social: the child is left out, ignored, or rumors are spread.

— Psychological: the child is stalked or given dirty looks.

Bullying is different from ordinary teasing. rough-and-tumble or schoolyard fights. What makes it different is that the incidents are ongoing, and there is usually an imbalance of size, strength and power between the children involved.

The bully might have power not only because he or she is bigger and stronger, but because other children side with the bully often to protect themselves.

Research shows:

— Boys are more often bullied by a single individual; girls more often by groups. There is not much difference between the number of boys and girls who suffer from bullying.

— The size of the school, or whether the school is single-sex or co-educational, it makes no significant difference to the amount of bullying that goes on.

— Children are most often bullied when they are in their first few years of primary school and again in their first few years of secondary school.

What are the signs?

Bullying may be very hard to see. The victims may already be having trouble getting on with other children or with teachers. Children are sometimes picked on by bullies for this reason.

Bullying usually happens out of sight, away from teachers or other adults. The people who are most likely to know what is going on are other children.

Children who are being bullied often don’t like to tell anyone because they feel weak or ashamed, or are frightened that it will only makes things worse. They also feel it is wrong to “tell” on other children.

If they tell anyone, it is most likely they will tell their parents — usually their mother — or their friends before they will tell a teacher.

Some tell-tale signs of bullying.

when several of these behaviors are noted, the child may be being bullied:

— bruises, scratches or cuts that your child can’t really explain;

— torn or damaged clothing;

— damaged or missing belongings;

— headaches, stomach aches and other pains that the child can’t put a finger on;

— unexplained tears or depression;

— unusual outbursts of temper;

— not wanting to go to school;

— not wanting to play with friends;

— wanting changes in the way your child goes to and from school;

— school work falls off in quality; and

— wanting extra money without giving a reason.

What can the parent do?

By the time children tell their parents they are being bullied, they may have tried everything they can to deal with it on their own. Telling parents is often a very hard step to take.

Children need to:

— feel believed and listened to;

— trust that the parents will help the child handle it;

— provide opportunities for the child to speak openly about what has happened;

— gain some control over what is happening;

— learn things they can do to protect themselves; and

— regain self-confidence.

It helps if parents:

— involve the children in making decisions about what to do (avoid taking over)

— listen to what children say;

— tell them they understand.

It does not help if parents:

— get angry or upset;

— feel guilty or ashamed;

— make the children think it is not important;

— blame the children;

— blame the school;

— accuse people without knowing the facts;

— look for scapegoats;

— demand to know all the details at once; and

— look for easy solutions.

Many parents do get angry, quite understandably, and want to go to the school and sort it out RIGHT AWAY! Some parents may remember being bullied themselves as children and may become extremely upset.

Going directly to the school is not usually the best way to handle the situation, the child will almost certainly be reluctant to involve the school because something they would rather keep quiet could be spread around. The child might feel at risk of the bully taking revenge.

As a first step, it is usually best to:

— encourage the child to talk through it as far as he or she wants to, so you get the basic facts straight; remembering you are hearing one part of the story, ask questions gently;

— help the child reflect on what has been done so far; and

— help the child work out what might be done.

It is a good idea to write down what you find out.

The next steps:

— Don’t try to sort out the bullying yourself. This rarely works and often makes matters worse.

— Once you have a clear picture of the situation, and some idea about how you and the child would prefer to handle it, contact the school.

— Make an appointment to see the principal or the class teacher or someone you think would be best to see. Don’t barge in.

— Present the information you have as calmly as possible.

— Do it in a way that makes it clear to the school that you see yourself and the school as partners in trying to fix this problem. Tell the school what you and your child would like to do, and ask them for ideas as well.

— Ask about the school’s policy on bullying.

— Most schools have a policy on responding to bullying. Your school will be as concerned as you to deal with the problem.

— The school will need time to investigate the matter and to talk to teachers, other students and even other parents if that’s the best thing to do. Remember the school staff may not have seen the incidents and it is not always easy to judge if it is bullying or play that has gone too far.

Make a note of what the school says it will do, and arrange to make a follow-up meeting.

Helping your child cope

If the bullying is happening on the way to or from school, see if your child can go a different way or join up with other children. This might help while things are being sorted out. It might also be possible for your child to be paired with another more robust child for the time being too. The school could help with this.

If your child finds it hard to make friends, encourage them to make a special effort. One good friend can make a big difference.

Invite school friends home to strengthen the relationships begun at school.

Talk to your child about some of the things that have happened, and discuss some ways of dealing with them, such as:

— pretending not to hear hurtful comments;

— using silent ‘self-talk’ such as, ‘That’s their problem, not mine’, or, ‘I’m OK’, to reinforce self-confidence;

— developing greater self-assertiveness, so as to be able to face the bully without becoming scared, upset, abusive or violent; and

— believing that it is OK to tell someone when bullying happens – that it is not “telling on the other child”.

It is important that children understand the difference between “telling on other children” and reporting something that is serious. Bullying is serious. People get hurt, and some are harmed for a long time. Children have said that being bullied is one of the worst things that can happen to them. Where to get more information In addition to visiting your school, or the schools you are interested in, there are several places you can go for more information, including:

— the school council or board members,

— the school-based parent organizations,

— your Board of Education, (Cree School Board)

By Louise Dessertine, M.A. Psychologist.