Challenging Bullying and Community Building Tools

It is never pleasant when one has to manage incidents of bullying in a school environment. Small quips or retorts between kids can grow to become a very infectious space not inviting for anyone. There are several tools and methodology one can use to help tackle it both at home and in a school/learning setting. First it is important to define what bullying entails.

According to StopBullyingNow organization:

“Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.

In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:

  • An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
  • Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.

Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

Types of Bullying

There are three types of bullying:

  • Verbal bullying is saying or writing mean things. Verbal bullying includes:
    • Teasing
    • Name-calling
    • Inappropriate sexual comments
    • Taunting
    • Threatening to cause harm
  • Social bullyingsometimes referred to as relational bullying, involves hurting someone’s reputation or relationships. Social bullying includes:
    • Leaving someone out on purpose
    • Telling other children not to be friends with someone
    • Spreading rumors about someone
    • Embarrassing someone in public
  • Physical bullying involves hurting a person’s body or possessions. Physical bullying includes:
    • Hitting/kicking/pinching
    • Spitting
    • Tripping/pushing
    • Taking or breaking someone’s things
    • Making mean or rude hand gestures

Where and When Bullying Happens

Bullying can occur during or after school hours. While most reported bullying happens in the school building, a significant percentage also happens in places like on the playground or the bus. It can also happen traveling to or from school, in the youth’s neighborhood, or on the Internet.”

Parent/Caretaker Roles:

As parents/caretakers it is important to actively communicate with your child(ren) and learn about their school experience. Having regular conversations with them one could pick up if they are either being a bully or being affected by a bully. Parents might consider watching a video with their child(ren) that would help explain or demonstrate what bullying may look like along with ways to manage difficult conversations. Sometimes children share with their families and need support or encouragement to share situations with the school. In these instances it is important parents/caretakers listen to their children and reach out to share what they have learned with the school setting without accusation.

When sharing information with the school be sure to not be on the offensive or setting an accusation- stick to the facts. What kids share is usually from what they feel and observe- it has their filters on it. Balancing their feelings can be tricky and makes parents feel a bit vulnerable but the goal is to help the school be a safe setting for ALL children to flourish. Parents are needed as partners especially in situations where bullying- blatant or under the radar is stopped.

When working with your own child- consider these steps shared by the Not in Our Town organization:

  • You LISTEN and BELIEVE. No one wants to think his/her child is a
    make your child feel unsupported. “Oh, he must have been joking
    around.” Oh, he didn’t really mean it.” “You’re just too sensitive.”
    “Just walk away when he does it.” None of these statements are
    helpful to your child.
  • Express your concern and empathy for your child and what he is
    going through. However, do not show anger or sadness. This may
    make him afraid to tell you the truth again in the future.
  • DISCUSS with your child why bullying happens. Make sure he under-
    stands that it is not his fault he is a target. Explain that the person who bullies often has problems of his own and bullying another child is his inappropriate way of dealing with those problems.
  • REASSURE your child that you will work with his teacher and the
    school to make it better without retaliation from the bully. Often
    a child will feel like she is the only target. Explain that bullying is
    common but no one talks about it.
  • DO NOT SPEAK to the parents of the person who bullies about
    this, even if you know them well. This rarely is helpful. They are
    most likely going to be defensive if you say their child has been
    “bullying” yours. Go to the school or organization.

If your child is the bully, Stomp out Bullying provides these suggestions:

“Take a deep breath and admit that your child has a problem.

Many parents will take the stance of denial or feel that others are being mean to their child. It takes a courageous and open parent to realize that their child has a problem and that they need help.

Parents may think there is no problem – that it’s just a little teasing, or that it’s natural for children to fight with one another. Take all accusations of bullying seriously. What may seem natural to you may be harming others a great deal.

  • Take it seriously. Don’t treat bullying as a phase your child is going through. There are long-lasting effects on an aggressive child, sometimes even more than the other child who is being hurt. Bullies who grow up as adults with the same behavior can experience many serious problems later in life. 

    This does not mean that the child who is being bullied will not have long-lasting effects, but through peer, school and parent assistance, as well as possible therapy, the victim can have a more positive outlook on their painful experience and move on, not letting the experience define who they are.
  • Communication is key. Talk to your child to find out why he or she is bullying. Often, children bully when they feel sad, angry, lonely, or insecure and many times major changes at home or school may bring on these feelings.
  • Teach empathy at home.
  • Talk to your child about how it feels to be bullied.
  • Ask a teacher or a school counselor if your child is facing any problems at school, such as if your child is struggling with a particular subject or has difficulty making friends. Ask them for advice on how you and your child can work through the problem.
  • Ask yourself if someone at home is bullying your child. Often, kids who bully are mistreated themselves by a parent, family member, or another adult.

Sit down and have a conversation with your child reassuring that you love them and helping them identify why they are being described as bullies by others. Do not hesitate to bring in a school counselor or other resources.”

Dealing with bullying is an iterative process. It is not something that could be eliminated in one conversation. All members of the village (parents, teachers, students) need to be aware and when adopting mindfulness practices one can usually prevent this type of behavior and manage conflicts.

Here is a link to a handbook for parents that provide lots of great resource for dealing with bullying.

Here are some additional resources to tap into for schools and communities:

Resource LinksComments

 Ojai Council- This is a group that has a core set of values and works to create a mindful based school culture.  They have schools that have embraced this programme and use it to teach values and there are links between this programme and a restorative justice behavior approach in the district.  Not sure of the costs for implementation but I did use their services when I started a school in Los Angeles.

“10 Ways to Move Beyond Bully Prevention (And Why We Should)” by Lyn Mikel Brown in Education Week, Mar. 5, 2008 (Vol. 27, #26, p. 29), article available to subscribers only
Summary from the Marshall Memo:
Rethinking Bully-Prevention Programs
In this Education Week article, Colby College professor Lyn Mikel Brown worries that “bully prevention” has become a huge, for-profit industry that claims to be a panacea for schools’ social ills. “Let’s not let the steady stream of training sessions, rules, policies, consequence charts, and no-bullying posters keep us from listening well, thinking critically, and creating approaches that meet the singular needs of our schools and communities,” she writes. Here are some of her alternative ideas:
Stop labeling kids. Brown says that putting students into three categories – bullies, victims, and bystanders – oversimplifies what happens in schools. “We are all complex beings with the capacity to do harm and to do good, sometimes within the same hour,” she writes. Brown believes that labeling contributes to a negative culture and “downplays the important role of parents, teachers, and the school system, a provocative and powerful media culture, and societal injustices children experience every day.”
Be specific about hurtful behavior. “Bullying is a broad term that de-genders, de-races, de-everythings school safety,” says Brown. “If it’s sexual harassment, call it sexual harassment. If it’s homophobia, call it homophobia… Calling behaviors what they are helps us educate children about their rights, affirms their realities, encourages more-complex and meaningful solutions, opens up a dialogue, invites children to participate in social change, and ultimately protects them.”
Move beyond the individual. “Children’s behaviors are greatly affected by their life histories and social contexts,” writes Brown. “To understand why a child uses aggression toward others, it’s important to understand what impact race, ethnicity, social class, gender, religion, and ability has on his or her daily experiences in school – that is, how do these realities affect the kinds of attention and resources the child receives, where he fits in, whether she feels marginal or privileged in the school.” 
Be wary of one size fits all. Brown cautions that the Olweus bullying prevention program, which has been adopted by many U.S. schools, has not been carefully evaluated in this country and may be less effective in schools with diverse populations.
Adjust expectations. “We hold kids to ideals and expectations that we as adults could never meet,” says Brown. “We expect girls to ingest a steady diet of media ‘mean girls’ and always be nice and kind, and for boys to engage a culture of violence and never lash out. We expect kids never to express anger to adults, never to act in mean or hurtful ways to one another, even though they may spend much of the day in schools they don’t feel safe in, and with teachers and other students who treat them with disrespect… It’s important to promote consistent consequences – the hallmarks of most bully-prevention programs – but it’s also critically important to create space for honest conversations about who benefits from certain norms and rules and who doesn’t. If we allow kids to speak out to think critically and question unfairness, we provide the groundwork for civic engagement.” 
Embrace grassroots movements. “Too many bully-prevention programs are top-heavy with adult-generated rules, meetings, and trainings,” says Brown. “We need to listen to students, take up their just causes, understand the world they experience, include them in the dialogue about school norms and rules, and use their creative energy to illuminate and challenge unfairness.” 
Accentuate the positive. “Instead of labeling kids,” concludes Brown, “let’s talk about them as potential leaders, affirm their strengths, and believe that they can do good, brave, remarkable things. The path to safer, less violent schools lies less in our control over children than in appreciating their need to have more control in their lives, to feel important, to be visible, and to have an effect on people and situations.”

“Studies Probe ‘Ecology’ of Bullying” by Debra Viadero in Education Week, May 19, 2010 (Vol. 29, #32, p. 1, 18-19), e-link for subscribers only
Summary by Marshall Memo:
In this Education Week article, Debra Viadero reports on researchers’ insights into the “ecology” in which bullying takes place – the role that bystanders, teachers, parents, and other adults can play in sustaining or suppressing it. A Canadian study of school playground behavior found that bystanders were enablers in 85 percent of bullying incidents. When students stood around watching or laughing, that tended to prolong the victimization. Other studies suggest that bullies are often supported by their friends and rarely act in isolation. Aggressive youth seek out and befriend aggressive peers – hence the prevalence of bullying on sports teams, cliques, and fraternities.
Teachers and other staff in schools can subtly support bullying if they don’t intervene or if they model the behavior themselves – for example, a teacher humiliating a student for the entertainment of the class. Some staff members seem to be oblivious to bullying, as is revealed by statistics from a recent study conducted by Wichita State University professor Sabina Low and her colleagues in 33 elementary schools:
– 93 percent of teachers said “students in this school generally get along with each other”, but only 59 percent of grade 3-5 students in the same school agreed.
– 25 percent of upper-elementary teachers said that students pushing, shoving, or tripping weaker students was a problem, versus 58 percent of students in the same school. 
– 25 percent of teachers said teasing, spreading rumors and lies, or saying mean things to classmates was a problem, versus 58 percent of students.
It’s possible that studies like this over-report bullying, especially if students don’t have a clear definition and aren’t asked to cite specific incidents. A more effective approach, says University of Virginia/Charlottesville professor Dewey Cornell, is conducting school-climate surveys in which students are asked to identify peers who are victims of bullying. When a name comes up three or more times, that student is referred to a school counselor. 
It’s important to repeat school climate surveys at regular intervals, says Cornell. “It’s like crab grass in your lawn. It comes back, and each year there’s a new group of students, so it really requires continuous monitoring.” Which students are most commonly victimized? Those who are obese, homosexual, or have disabilities are most frequently bullied, but beyond those, it varies. “In some schools, the smart kids are the most victimized,” says University  of Nebraska/Lincoln professor Susan Swearer. “There are others where the smart kids are doing the bullying. It goes back to the nature of the school community… There’s such diversity across schools and across the country that it’s really hard to say what works in one school is likely to work in another… If the culture is one where athletes are doing the bullying, there can be an intervention around coaches and athletic teams.”
“Bullying will be reduced and/or stopped when prevention and intervention programs target the complexity of individual, peer, school, family, and community contexts in which bullying unfolds,” says Swearer in the February 2010 issue of Educational Researcher. She recommends a multi-pronged approach – a stern posture by the administration, prevention efforts, promoting positive social behaviors among students, one-on-one counseling for victims, and direct efforts to target bullies and other victims. Bullies should be required to attend three-hour positive-behavior training on Saturdays rather than being suspended, says Swearer collection of articles for schools to tap into for ideas for how to prevent and manage bullying situations.