Nancy's Columns

Handling Bullying

Under topic: bullying

Bullying is widespread and happens in most schools.

As a parent, there are things you should and should not do if your child is experiencing bullying in school. First, tell your child that it is not his or her fault. No child deserves to be made unhappy by constantly being teased and left out of the social group.

Second, do not minimize the situation by telling your child to ignore it and just to walk away. That is easier said than done. Third, go to your child's school and talk about it. This is one situation where it is up to the adults, not the child to solve the problem. Encourage the school to seek solutions. Do not accept the point of view that bullying is normal and therefore not the school's problem. Bullying is not normal. Severe punishment, policing, and strict rules forbidding their behavior will not cause bullies to relinquish their roles. It confirms them. These techniques merely put adults into the role of bullies. There are more proven successful solutions. One is the "No Blame Approach" advocated by Barbara Maines and George Robinson in England. Their view is that bullies will only relinquish their dominance gained at the expense of others by the development of higher values such as empathy and consideration. This very effective program begins by a teacher or counselor listening very carefully to the bullying victim in private.

No child deserves to be made unhappy by constantly being teased and left out of the social group.

The circumstances, like who did what, are not important but how the victim feels about what happens is. If possible, the victim should portray how he or she feels by writing it down as a story, drawing a picture about it or making up a poem. Next the teacher has a meeting with six or eight students including those involved either as the bullies, spectators who colluded by not intervening or just observers. The victim does not attend this meeting.

The teacher makes it clear that nobody is going to be blamed or punished.

They are going to talk about how the victim feels because this group can do something about helping the victim. Time is not spent on getting details about what happened, who said what, who started it and so forth.

Rather, the teacher recounts the victim's story in a clear way so that the distress is described. The teacher conveys to the students that they are not bad and can help the victim. The teacher then asks each member of the group to make suggestions about what he or she could do that might help.

The teacher merely lists the ideas, she does not exact any promises. About a week later, the teacher meets each member of the group separately to find out how things are going.

Each meets individually so that the students do not place blame by saying that another student did not do what he said he was going to. At no time does this technique place blame. Nor does it waste time playing detective to find out who did what to whom. The program has proven to be very effective. Bullies have changed for the better. There are other programs available for schools.

One preventative program takes a similar no-blame approach and is entitled: "The Broken Toy". The students see a video depicting the bullying of a twelve year old boy.

The follow-up avoids preaching to the students but attempts to have them appreciate how the bullied child feels. Schools might also consider incorporating cooperative learning lessons into the curriculum as a way for students to learn and practice empathy and consideration of others.

This should be as important a part of their education as reading, writing and arithmetic.

Schools need to be concerned with producing citizens who function well in a democracy. Bullies are incapable of doing this well. And successful little bullies turn into adult bullies who are harder to change into responsible citizens.

First published in 1996