How should I talk to my students about bullying?
Tell your students that bullying means deliberately and repeatedly trying to make a person upset, angry, humiliated or afraid. Bullying is a behaviour used by a person or group who gain power over a less powerful person, who has difficulty stopping the situation.

It is important that bullying is seen as a behaviour and not personalised in the form of ‘a bully’. The message students receive should be that bullying is an unacceptable behaviour. It is easy to fall into the trap of focusing on ‘busting’ the bullies, which can have a counterproductive effect. Try not to use such terms. Activities to reduce and prevent bullying should promote the message that all students are valued, but engaging in bullying behaviour is unacceptable. Written information and policy should reflect this by referring to ‘students who engage in bullying’ or ‘students who bully others’ and ‘students who are bullied’ or ‘students who are the target of bullying’.

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What are some signs of potential bullying?

  • decreased interest in school
  • reluctance to go to school and absenteeism from school
  • lowered school performance
  • frequent complaints of headaches or stomach aches
  • wanting to be taken to and from school or to go a new route
  • frequent damage or loss of items such as clothing, property or school work
  • frequent injuries such as bruises or cuts
  • withdrawal and reluctance to say why
  • difficulty sleeping, wetting the bed or having nightmares
  • coming home hungry
  • asking for extra lunch or pocket money, or money going missing from the house
  • appearing generally unhappy, miserable, moody or irritable
  • reluctance to eat or play properly
  • threats or attempts to harm self
  • having no friend to share free time with
  • rarely invited to parties or other social activities with peers

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What should I do when a child reports bullying?
Many children who are bullied do not tell. Research suggests that about 50% of boys and 40% of girls who are bullied on a weekly basis do not tell a teacher. Observations of bullying in schools have shown that students have well-developed strategies for concealing bullying or reducing teachers’ concerns.

It is therefore imperative that teachers are receptive to students’ reports of bullying. As a teacher dealing with reports of bullying, it is important to adhere to the following guidelines:

Be available
This involves being ready to listen and respond to reports of bullying. It is important to provide the victim with immediate empathy and support, despite the demands of the teaching day.

Treat the information seriously
Disclosure to a teacher is often a big step for a student. The student considers the situation serious enough to risk dismissive remarks from the teacher and retaliation from the student who is bullying. The information given should therefore be treated sincerely and seen as important.

Ensure follow-up
The situation should always be reviewed. This indicates to those involved that there is an interest in future interactions and that these will be monitored. It also provides the student being bullied with an opportunity to try out suggested strategies and report back on success.

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How can I determine the severity of a bullying situation?
The severity of the situation can be judged based on a few factors:

  • duration of behaviour. For how long has the situation been going on? For example, a bump in the corridor will be far more threatening and severe if it is accompanied by other bullying behaviours that have been going on for a long time.
  • frequency of behaviour. How often does this happen? Is the child bullied every day, once a term?
  • type of bullying behaviours. Is this severe or mild behaviour? For instance, is the child being physically assaulted, or is it mild teasing?

Least severe
This behaviour generally involves thoughtless acts that happen occasionally. During Friendly Schools research, teachers reported that these were the most difficult behaviours for them to deal with.
Bullying behaviour of low severity needs to be dealt with by informal discussion as it can escalate to become more serious. These discussions should address:

  • awareness of school rules
  • empathy for the feelings of the person being bullied
  • examples of appropriate ways to behave
  • strategies to deal with difficult situations

Teachers should take a restorative justice approach, and be aware that students will need to be monitored to maintain positive behaviour change Serious Bullying behaviour is considered serious when it has been going on for some time and is consistently hurtful to the person being bullied. Bullying behaviours at this level need to be dealt with through shared concern and behaviour support strategies. The school’s behaviour management plan should be utilised for more serious cases and the stages or steps followed. Administration and student services teams may be involved at this level.

Strategies to deal with these cases usually include:

  • Pikas’s method of shared concern
  • motivational interviewing
  • peer support
  • behaviour support
  • restorative justice approach

When the behaviours are constant over a period of time and are intensely cruel and threatening, the bullying is considered severe. These behaviours are relentless, menacing and cause the person being bullied to be severely distressed. Severe cases are usually referred to administration staff, who need to ensure the safety of all involved. Interviews need to be conducted with all individuals involved, including the person bullying, the person being bullied and bystanders. Parents must be involved in the process of discussion and decision-making. Student services should take over responsibility for individual case management.

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What role can my students play in reducing bullying?
Students are key to reducing bullying because they usually know what is going on among the students and who is doing the bullying long before the adults do. Research shows that more than half of students who report being bullied once a week or more do not tell their teachers, and teachers report their intervention in bullying incidents to be more comprehensive than students do. These findings suggest that bullying is more likely to be witnessed by peers than adults.

Classroom learning and whole-school responses to bullying should build upon students’ pro-social desires for bullying to stop and their inclinations to help victims. Students are also most likely to support an initiative to reduce bullying when they have been directly involved in determining the need for such a program. This includes developing bullying policies and providing feedback on school-wide or classroom strategies.

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What is a bystander?
Bullying involves more than the students who are bullied and those who bully . In the classroom, peers have been observed to be involved in 85% of bullying episodes, with this involvement ranging from actively participating to passively onlooking. Peers have also been observed to be present during most bullying incidents in the playground.

A bystander is a student who sees the bullying situation. Bystanders can be divided into the following three categories:

  • Supporters will either support the person bullying – by helping to bully the other person or by encouraging the person bullying – or support the person being bullied.
  • Witnesses gather or deliberately stay to watch the incident (sometimes from concern and sometimes for enjoyment).
  • Spectators are aware that the incident is occurring (know about the bullying or see it from a distance).

Bystanders may act in many different ways, and they can either support or help to stop bullying. A bystander might:

  • watch what is going on and not get involved
  • pretend not to see and ignore the situation
  • choose to get involved in the bullying
  • choose to get involved and stop the bullying
  • choose to get help

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How can I encourage student bystanders to help stop bullying?
The power of bystanders can be utilised in a positive way to provide both protection for the victim and motivation for students who bully to change their behaviour.

When students were asked what prevents them from assisting students who are bullied, one of the most common responses was ‘It’s none of my business’. It is therefore important to develop in students the ability to

  • empathise with victims’ distress
  • feel a sense of responsibility for the welfare of fellow students
  • feel a sense of responsibility for tackling bullying

There are several things that bystanders do to help if they see another person being bullied:

  • ask a teacher or support person for help
  • let the person doing the bullying know that what they are doing is bullying and that it is wrong
  • refuse to join in with the bullying and walk away
  • show their support for the student who is being bullied

To ensure peer participation, teachers and school administrators must reinforce peer intervention efforts and model consistent responses to bullying. It is important that the onus for intervening in bullying incidents is not left to students alone, but rather, peer intervention efforts are viewed as complimentary to a whole-school approach to tackling bullying.

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