Bullying in schools has been an age-old problem. Think back to when pioneers started one-room schoolhouses. Even then, students were excluded on purpose, teased, or made to feel like they were not enough.
In today’s modern environment, we tend to think of bullying as only occurring at school, on the bus, or online. But bullying can happen anywhere: in sports and extracurricular activities, at sleepovers or birthday parties, and even in the workplace.
Bullying in Schools
If it’s a prevalent concern in schools, why are so many not addressing it? Or why are the school interventions not working?
One of the most difficult aspects of bullying is its secretive nature. Students can be bullied repeatedly without a teacher or parent knowing simply because no one speaks up. And it can happen just as easily in a sport, although the team environment will, ideally, minimize bullying in sports.
Bullying in schools most often takes place when a student victimizes someone else through one of these tactics:
- Leaving someone out intentionally
- Emphasizing another student’s differences
- Teasing and name-calling
- Threats or insults
- Telling lies about another student
- Using technology to harass, embarrass, or make threats against another student
How to Prevent Bullying
A common mistake that parents and teachers alike make is to (usually unintentionally) dismiss a student when he or she expresses that other kids have insinuated that there’s a difference among them.
Students want to be well-liked, and most who are bullied do not want to “make waves,” even for their parents and teachers. So when they hear a kind, well-intentioned response such as, “I bet they’re just jealous of you,” or “You are beautiful and have nothing to worry about,” it doesn’t help them.
In fact, it can actually cause the student who is trying to reach out for help to shut down.
If students don’t know that parents and teachers are in their corner, they have no reason to believe anyone will fight on their behalf. So the first step in preventing bullying is to make sure students are in a safe, loving community of like-minded teachers and parents.
One of the benefits of Learnwell is that its families tend to want similar things.
- They want more time together as a family.
- They desire faith to be a foundation for good decision-making.
- They are interested in being involved in their children’s lives.
- They want their children to be free to explore what interests them at school and outside of school.
- They are focused on what matters in the big picture of life: being seen and known, caring about others, and making a difference in the world around them.
Because so many of our families at Learnwell choose this hybrid school because of our values, it automatically narrows the type of community we can offer. Small classes mean that students get to know each other well, and they pull from the same pool of students to form friendships. This often teaches them to put differences aside and concentrate on what they have in common.
A close-knit community of students also invites higher parent engagement. Parents who know their child well and who get to know their children’s friends well are usually quicker to spot any alarming behavior or emotional distance.
Bullying is easier to hide when parents are too busy to notice.
When parents and families create intentional margin in their lifestyles, they can cheer their children on, become part of a larger support system for their child’s friends and their families, and recognize when something is amiss. These are the best ways to prevent bullying.
Another prevention technique to keeep bullying at bay is to model appropriate responses in the home. While you can’t do much about how your child’s friends’ parents respond to various situations, you can make responsible choices in your home.
Think about the way you talk about co-workers, other family members, and friends. Sometimes, we can unintentionally give a signal that it’s okay to measure someone by their differences or to talk poorly about others.
What to Do if Your Child is Bullied
The first reaction isn’t always the best one, so our advice is to take a deep breath and start with a question.
- Try to use open-ended questions to encourage your child to share details. Here are some examples:
- What happened when so-and-so said that?
- Who was with you?
- How did it make you feel?
- Tell me more.
Next, we recommend getting involved at a level where your child remains anonymous if that is what your child needs and wants. To aggravate a student who is already antagonistic toward your child is not the best tactic.
But instead of jumping in to call the bully’s parents or make a class change at school, let your first priority be on your child. Several important factors encourage your child to open up in the future — if you respond appropriately with a calm, supportive, listening ear.
- Listen without interruption. This means not being afraid of long pauses and definitely putting off anything that may delay your child’s ability to share. If you are headed to soccer practice when it comes up, this is a conversation worth having now. Soccer will still be there next time.
- Make sure your child knows that you are 100% in his corner and that he is not alone. You don’t want to minimize what he or she is going through, but you do want to let him know that bullies are more common than he or she may realize. They even sometimes turn into adult bullies who are mostly trying to get their way, receive attention, or attempt to garner friendships in the only way they know how.
- Let your child know that it was not his or her fault. If your child thinks he has to earn acceptance, it can set him up for low self-esteem as he grows. Every child deserves to feel safe and accepted among his or her peers.
- Ask your child: How can I support you? What would you like me to do to help? This provides ownership and reminds your child that he is not a victim without choices.
- If the antagonistic behavior against your child continues, let the school know in a way that your child can still be anonymous. While this is not the option most students want you to take, you should be prepared to step up your involvement if your child is being harmed emotionally, mentally, or physically. It’s important for a child to know that a parent will protect him and not allow the behavior to continue.
Teaching Students to Speak Up
Another aspect of bullying is helping your child know what to do if he or she sees someone else — or learns about someone else — who is being bullied or harassed.
Watching some of these videos together may help springboard a conversation about whether or not your child has a friend who has been teased or bullied and what they can do to help. Specific scenarios — such as online gaming, social media, etc. — are helpful to go over with your child so that the full extent of bullying types can be discussed.
Most of all, make sure your conversation is open and honest with your child. As he or she grows, it’s natural for a child to pull away from his or her parents. So open lines of communication early on can serve as a foundation to let your child know it’s safe to share when necessary.