Returning to school after so long away has probably been a bitter sweet experience for many. The happiness of feeling levels of independence away from the confines of home, combined with worries about learning new routines and procedures. So, the potential of experiencing bullying after being away from school for sixth months is likely to also be a worry.
Being bullied can be a very lonely experience. Whether it is physical and verbal bullying, or cyberbullying at the end of a phone or computer, the emotions that rise from the ordeal can be isolating. That’s why it’s important to discuss how to deal with bullying behaviour, even if the young people in your home haven’t yet experienced it. With some estimates stating that 70% of young people will be bullied at some point during their education, preparing yourself and the children living in your home for such an eventuality can help ease heartbreak and trauma in the future.
The Anti-Bullying Alliance has created an amazing interactive educational tool for parents and carers to learn vital information about how to identify bullying and the steps to take if bullying has been identified. One of the key ways to remove feelings of isolation for someone suffering as a result of bullying is to provide open methods of communication.
A great way to do this is to provide a young person with an opportunity to open up by using a situation in a TV show, book, or film as a conversation starter. Discussions could start with “have you ever seen anything like that happen?” or “have you ever experienced a situation like this?”
If a child or young person does decide to disclose that they are having problems with a bully, it’s vital that their disclosure is taken seriously and isn’t brushed off. Having a conversation about what does and doesn’t constitute bullying can also be key at this point. Keep in mind that bullying is defined as intentionally tormenting someone, either verbally, physically, or psychologically.
Praise the young person for coming forward
Letting someone know that you’re being bullied is a really brave step, so it’s important to praise the young person in your care for doing the right thing. It’s also vital to emphasise that it’s the bully behaving badly, not the child who is being bullied. In many situations the victim of bullying can feel that it’s their fault that they are being targeted, so reassurance is fundamental in helping them to work through what is happening to them.
Provide wise tips to deal with bullies
For children and young people, especially ones who have experienced other traumas in their lives, the concept of ‘being the bigger person’ can be easily lost so, providing a step by step strategy on how to deal with bullies can be an invaluable resource.
• Avoid the bully and use a buddy system – Where possible, the best and easiest way to stop any bullying is to avoid the bully. There are obviously situations where this isn’t possible so, in that case, having a buddy available for support can provide the confidence required to deal with the situation.
• Hold in the anger and look confident – Some experts advise teaching children and young people to focus on the colour of a person’s eyes. This means they look people straight in the eye and show a level of confidence. Additionally, learning and implementing cooling down strategies can stop a young person showing anger. This usually takes the wind out of a bully’s sails.
• Walk away and ignore – Walking away from the situation and not engaging in it or its negativity can also de-escalate a situation.
• Tell and adult and talk about it – Pushing the concept that a problem shared is a problem halved reduces the likelihood of feelings of isolation.
Be ready for cyberbullying
As we’ve already mentioned, bullying doesn’t have to be physical and is increasingly happening online. Unpleasant comments can rapidly become viral and can have an horrific impact on the victim. In cases of cyberbullying, the obvious reaction is to ask a child or young person to turn off their phone or device, but we have to remember that that is similar to asking them to remove a limb.
In cases of cyberbullying, the first step is to contact the police, but it is also always good to prepare the children we look after for the possibility that they will fall victim to an online bully.
• Be open about the platforms you use – Encouraging young people to discuss the social media platforms they use removes the chance of them feeling like they’ve done something wrong should they be bullied online. Additionally, it’s worth acquainting yourself with the platforms so that you can understand what they’re talking about if they do approach you about cyberbullying.
• Be careful who you speak to online – Online gaming and social media means children are increasingly coming into contact with strangers. For the most part, encourage them to only communicate with people they physically know.
• Don’t share phone numbers, addresses, contact details with anyone online.
• Don’t share images you wouldn’t share publicly – This should be a standard rule for life, but does need to be pushed home. It doesn’t matter how much someone asks, if you’d be mortified at someone you care about or respect seeing a picture, don’t share it.
• Sometimes best friends don’t last forever, so avoid sharing your deepest, most embarrassing secrets with them.
• Think before you write or post – Kindness and courtesy cost us nothing (plus, if we wouldn’t like it written about us, there’s a strong chance the person being written about won’t either).
In any instance of bullying it’s important to contact the child or young person’s school to notify them. Schools and education settings have a legal duty of care to deal with bullying issues and are well placed to find the correct solution to the problem.