This week is anti-bullying week. You may well have been involved with your children in Odd Socks Day, and their schools are likely including lessons on anti-bullying throughout this week. The theme of this year’s Anti-Bullying Week is “Reach Out” and so in line with this, this week’s blog is focusing on how we can empower children to take positive action to counter the harm and the hurt that bullying causes.
Firstly, to highlight the theme, Anti Bullying Alliance are sharing a call to action: “if we challenge it, we can change it”. This call to action is to encourage children to reach out to talk to someone they trust as well as to reach out to support anyone they know who is being bullied. In a recent blog, we talked about the benefits of intentional kindness, and this is a good way to reach out to counter the harm and encourage the behaviour that we do want. If you would like to revisit this blog, it can be found here…
Bullying affects millions of lives and can leave children feeling hopeless, isolated and lonely. When bullying takes the impact, it is not only on the child being bullied but on the whole ‘circle of bullying’. The child doing the bullying, the child being bullied, those witnessing, those ignoring and those who decide to defend.
As kindness is behaviour we can teach and cultivate, bullying is also a behaviour. It is a behaviour that is learnt, cultivated and practised. But as it is a behaviour, it can be changed. When bullying takes place, it can be easy to label those involved as “the bully” and “the victim”. Bullying is the behaviour, not the child. All behaviour is communication.
Bullying behaviour is not acceptable but it can be challenged and changed.
A child who feels secure and supported at home is less likely to take part in bullying behaviours.
The child who bullies
Why is a child more likely to take part in bullying behaviour?
- The influence of peer pressure – there may be behaviours that they feel they need to exhibit to enable to them to fit it, they may exclude others or feel like they need to be in charge of or to dominate games.
- Witnessed behaviours – they may have been bullied themselves or witnessed bullying or aggressive behaviour.
- Lack of boundaries – they may have a lack of boundaries at home or at school.
- Difficulty managing emotions – they may be easily frustrated, have difficulty regulating emotions, may be insecure and have low self-esteem or may lack skills to handle difficult situations in a positive way.
This list is by no means exhaustive and is just some of the possible experiences or situations that may be experienced.
We can see that children who are participating in bullying behaviour are very much in their primitive brain, feeling the need to take action that they feel ensures their survival:
- When in their primitive brain they can only respond from a place of anxiety, anger or depression due to the amygdala (the flight/fight part of the brain) having hijacked the entire brain and being unable to make proper assessment of the situation.
- As adults we know that the desired relationship, the one that is best for us, includes mutual trust, respect, and friendship. A child who is stuck in patterns of bullying behaviour is stuck with poor quality relationships that likely include fear, aggression, and manipulation.
- As we have discussed in previous blogs, positive action, positive interaction, and positive thoughts all work together to support our children (and us as parents) to activate more of the positive neurotransmitters like serotonin to help us feel happier and calmer and more able to make good decisions accessing our intellectual mind.
- By promoting more positive behaviour in schools and at home and creating opportunities to discuss the actions and impacts of the bullying behaviour we can begin to work towards reducing this behaviour.
The child who is bullied
Any child is at risk of being bullied. There are not set factors that mean a child will be bullied. A child who is seen as different (this can be LGBQT, those with disabilities or those who are socially isolated), those viewed as weak, those less popular and those who are viewed to be annoying may be at higher risk, but this does not mean that they WILL be bullied. Bullying is defined as both intentional and repetitive and usually involves an imbalance of power (perceived or real).
It can be difficult as parents (carers, teachers, or those working with children) to understand why a child does not seek help from an adult that they trust. A child who is being bullied often feels a sense of helplessness. They can feel that it is a sign of weakness to ask for help which may intensify the bullying. A child who is being bullied can be fearful of backlash from the bully or be concerned that they are seen as a “tell-tale” or “snitch” by others that are believed to be their friends. A child who is being bullied can feel completely isolated and feel that no-one understands. There can be fear of judgement, fear of humiliation, and fear of rejection.
Support, listen and reassure
As a parent (or a trusted adult) our role is to provide support and the first most important thing we can do is LISTEN.
This may seem like the easiest of things to do but as a parent this can be difficult – sometimes we can react before we listen. When we react, our child can become fearful of sharing because they are worried about our reaction – especially if we act with anger (an understandable emotion if we discover another child is bullying our child). We also want to offer solutions or let them know that we’ve experienced something similar.
So, FIRST – LISTEN – and then LISTEN some more. Don’t give your opinion or offer a solution. LISTEN.
Then you can repeat back what you have heard (only this) – your child will then feel heard.
If they need to talk some more, continue LISTENING, don’t interrupt.
After this you can explore options with your child and discuss next steps.
- Reassure, they have been heard, and now we can talk about what we want to do.
- Discuss options – ask them what they would like to happen next. They may want to
- Keep a diary (this can be helpful in considering further steps and providing information for school). Kidscape have produced a Bullying Log that can be helpful both at home and at school and can be downloaded here Kidscape (Help with Bullying): Bulling Log
- Encourage them to walk away and seek help
- Consider clubs or hobbies or other activities that nurture friendships and activities away from bullying to help build confidence (this may be something small initially like a one-to-one supported play date with a family friend).
- Next steps with the school or club – arrange a meeting to discuss with class teacher/Head of Year or other appropriate adult to ensure support and next steps. It is a child’s right to feel safe.
Take Positive Action
Taking positive action can be difficult for the child who is being bullied but we can support them in seeking out those around them that want to show kindness and extend friendship. We can help this by being the ones extending friendship and kindness and encouraging this in our children. Our children notice our behaviour – and bullying does take place outside of the classroom. By being kind and standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves, we model the behaviour we would like our children to extend at school.
During this week, take the opportunity to engage with your children about the activities and discussions that have taken place in school. It can be helpful to remind them who the safe adults around them are and to ask them who they would speak to if they were on the receiving end of bullying behaviour or if they were to see it.
Our brains don’t know the difference between imagination and reality. It can be very helpful to role play situations with our children and they can then create a “list” of responses and reactions. Role play someone being unkind to them and a number of different ways they can respond. Remember someone being unkind is not bullying, bullying is repeated and intended. Practising dealing with difficult scenarios can help them to build resilience and confidence to deal with it when it happens. Role play them witnessing someone being bullied and a number of different responses – discuss which ones might be better and why. This can help them to create a “blueprint” for their own response to bullying behaviour.
One way to help decrease bullying is to be a good friend – sometimes this means noticing those who are feeling left out, who are finding friendships difficult or aren’t able to join in for some reason. It is likely that school will discuss ways on including others in their games and activities, but you could discuss some ways that they might extend their friendship groups and show kindness. Revisit our kindness blog for some ideas and ways to make this an everyday habit – remember kindness has positive benefits for the giver, the receiver and for anyone who witnesses the act of kindness.
It is likely that your child has been somewhere on the bullying circle, encourage them to be the child that defends – this doesn’t mean they take direct action against the bully but they extend friendship and seek out an adult for help. If you child is being bullied there are a number of resources available via www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.co.uk and we have signposted additional support and resources below:
Anti-bullying Alliance: Restorative Thinking and Positive Relationships online tool
ChildLine: https://www.childline.org.uk/ Call 0800 1111
ChildLine is the UK’s free, confidential helpline for children and young people. They offer advice and support, by phone and online, 24 hours a day. They have a designated page for bullying issues that includes a new video about building up your confidence after bullying.
EACH: https://each.education/ EACH has a freephone Helpline for children experiencing homophobic, biphobic or transphobic bullying or harassment: 0808 1000 143
Victim Support: https://www.victimsupport.org.uk/children-and-young-people/ Children and Young People’s (CYP) Service deals with cases of bullying; offering advice and working with professionals to ensure young people get the support they need. You can call their Support line for free on 08 08 16 89 111.
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) https://www.ceop.police.uk/Safety-Centre/
Reporting cyberbullying: If someone makes your child feel uncomfortable or upset online, advise them to talk to an adult they can trust, such as a relative or a teacher. If they would prefer to talk to someone in confidence, they can contact Childline (0800 1111)
If someone has acted inappropriately online towards your child, or someone they know, they can report directly to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP). It could be sexual or threatening chat or being asked to do something that makes them feel uncomfortable or someone asking to meet up.