Bullying in schools is extremely common, according to the YoungMinds bullying affects over one million young people every year. Bullying is an action with the intent to physically or verbally harm a person, with no regards to a victim’s well-being. Bullying is usually a repeated act done over a period of time towards individuals who are seen as vulnerable and defenceless. Bullying another child will always be unwanted attention for the victim and contains aggressive behaviour. Bullying is perceived as a power of imbalance, with the bully seeking to gain the higher power over a susceptible child. It has been stated by the Department for Education (2017) that around 40% of young people who were surveyed had experienced some form of bullying within 12 months.
With any setting that involves children and young people, it is important to obtain a shared understanding of what bullying is, within the whole school community.
This can reduce any misperception about bullying and help to support identifying signs of bullying earlier. It can also support recognising any incidents that may have the potential to develop into bullying. It can be said that there is frequent misunderstanding regarding the concepts of bullying as to whether it is bullying or not. ‘Relational conflict’ can be a term that it used for describing circumstances that are not classed as bullying. Relational conflict is usually easily resolved and both parties are happy to resolve any issues and move forward, for example if a child accidently knocked someone over. The difference between relational conflict and bullying is the perpetrator showing remorse towards the individual they have harmed.
What is the practitioner’s role?
Children have the right to ensure they are being educated in a safe and supporting environment. As well as educating children and young people the practitioner also needs to be aware of the signs and symptoms of bullying. It is important to highlight the signs early to minimise the emotional damage to an individual. Practitioners will need to be aware of their setting’s anti-bullying policy in order to respond correctly to concerns. The practitioner will not only need to support the victim, they will need to address the bullying behaviour that was exposed from an individual or group. The sooner bullying behaviour is dealt with the better the outcomes will be for all.
In order to maintain positive behaviour, it is important to praise positive interactions amongst children and young people. Role modelling positive behaviour between adults is also a good way of showing children how to interact with each other. Practitioners need to show clear instructions of how to be respectful towards others. This can be done through a range of strategies such as through lessons, play or role modelling.
A way in which a practitioner can support children is to support them in building on their assertiveness; this will enable children to stand up for themselves. This can be supported at home as well with parents and carers.
How to prevent bullying
When it comes to preventing bullying from occurring, teachers, parents, carers and school staff all have a part to play in supporting the prevention of bullying.
Strategies to which parents and practitioners can follow include helping children to understanding what bullying is and the effect it can have on others. Other strategies include keeping the lines of communication open, encouraging children to participate in activities they enjoy, and modelling how to treat others through kindness, compassion and respect. Educating children in what bullying is and the effects it can have on others is significant to preventing bullying. If children are more aware of their actions and the consequences, they may consider their behaviour towards others.
Deterring verbal bullying
Ways in which children can be educated include working with the children to make a list of derogative and offensive comments. Allowing the children to physically view the words can impact on how cruel the words look. If children acknowledge and express how they would feel if someone called them certain words, it can encourage them to feel empathy.
Questions which practitioners can ask children in order to think about bullying and grasp an understanding include:
“What does ‘bullying’ mean to you?”
“Why do you think people bully others?”
“Who are the adults that you trust the most?”
“What do you think your parents can do to stop bullying?”
“What do you think the teacher can do to stop bullying?”
“Have you ever seen another child being bullied? How did this make you feel?”
“Have you ever felt afraid to come to school because of fear of being bullied?”
“Have you ever tried to help another child who is being bullied? What happened?”
Research shows that bullying usually begins with verbal harassment. Depending on how the individual reacts to the first verbal aggression can determine whether the bully will continue to target them. If the child reacts in a way which the bully deems to have gained power over them then they will continue.
When looking to educate children it is important to highlight the impact it can have on an individual’s mental health, such as causing them to develop depression or anxiety. It can leave them feeling lonely and vulnerable.
To help children understand bullying it is important to encourage children to speak out if they feel they are being bullied; they should be encouraged to speak to a trusted adult such as a teacher or parent. The sooner a child realises they are being bullied the sooner they can report it and receive the relevant support.
If a child or young person sees another child being bullied, urge them to help them by offering kindness and sympathy. Encourage them to support the victim in reporting it and gaining help. The sooner help and support are in place the less likely the individual is to develop a mental health condition, such as depression. This can then impact on their education and have a long-term impact on their lives.
Standing up to bullies
It can be effective to teach children to stand up to bullies, simply saying ‘stop’ firmly or using humour can deter the bully away as they are not receiving the reaction they are seeking from the child.
Other actions can include walking away and informing a trusted adult. When educating children from nursery right through to colleges, it can have a positive impact on their resilience if they are empowered every step of the way. Empowerment can be induced in the home environment; this can come in the form of encouraging children to develop basic social skills or by showing loving and respectful relationships. Children copy their parents’ behaviours and actions, therefore if they see one of their parents controlling the other or are subjected to a physical attack, the child will deem this behaviour as a way of gaining power. With this in mind, using forceful behaviour shows children that it is okay to bully as they see this as the way of getting what they want.
It can be an essential life skill for parents and carers to teach their children basic social skills. By having social skills it encourages children to stand up for themselves, builds resilience and offers support and comfort from friendships.
Ways in which social skills can be built upon include offering role play scenarios at home or in the learning environment. This can simply be teaching a child how to ask to join in games or introducing him/herself to other children. Unfortunately, some children who may struggle socially, seek to gain peer acceptance from anyone, therefore they may be subject to group leaders mistreating them. This will be a form of bullying and it is important for parents and carers to listen to their child when they are talking about their peer interactions. By listening to them parents, carers and practitioners can support the child in understanding their own perceptions and working towards healthier relationship opportunities.
Role playing can also be done within a setting with practitioners. By practising how to react and what to say through role play can increase a child’s confidence.
It can also encourage a child to feel comfortable when needing to respond to teasing and aggravations. Enhance the awareness to a child that a bully is provoking them for a response in order to feel powerful. It is important to explain to children and young people that bullies are after a reaction of fighting back and a show of their emotions. These are the responses to which a bully will feed off and fuel their behaviour.
When talking with a child it is crucial to explain to a child that even though they cannot control how the bully reacts, they can always learn to control their response. When responding to a bully a child will need to learn to defuse the situation and avoid getting ‘hooked’ into the situation no matter how upset and angry they get. One of the best strategies that a child or young person can adopt is to ensure they maintain their own dignity; this can be done by remaining impartial and not attacking the bully.
Things that a child may wish to say in order to contain their dignity include:
“I am just going to ignore that comment.”
“No thank you.”
“I have somewhere else to be?”
It is important that the child remains calm, looks the bully in the eye, responds with one of the above comments and walks away from the situation.
Bullies thrive off the upset they cause their victims. A way in which children learn to not let negative attitudes affect them include pretending they’re invisible, walking away from the bully and not looking at them or even acknowledging them, looking at something else and laughing or showing signs of looking completely uninterested in their behaviour. According to Frankel (1996) a victim should respond to every offensive comment with a reply but not to torment them back. Ultimately the bullying will stop as the tormentor realises that they are not affecting the individual.
Deterring verbal bullying
Another way in which parents and carers can support the prevention of bullying is to stay connected to their child. It is suggested that children who are lonely are more likely to be bullied.
Figures suggest that 80% of parenting is having a close relationship and obtaining a fixed connect, with only 20% offering guidance. It is important to maintain the connection in order to support and guide a child. With this in mind, close connection will enable children to feel more confident and comfortable to talk to their parents or carers should a problem arise. Therefore, keeping communication open within families can prevent bullying from happening or escalating.
Teaching a child to develop respectful self-assertion can enable them to build their knowledge of how to get their needs met while respecting others.
Phrases which a child may use at an early age in order to gain self-assertiveness include:
“It’s my turn now.”
“Stop touching me”
“That’s not my name and I do not like you calling me that. I want to be called by my name.”
“It’s not okay to hurt me”
Speaking with children
Research has suggested that children generally look to their parents and caregivers for guidance and advice when they are experiencing difficult decisions. It can be suggested that 15 minutes a day talking to children can reassure them that they are able to speak out to their parents or practitioners.
Having daily conversations about life and feelings can build their self-confidence. Questions to which parents can ask their children include:
“How was your day?”
“What was good about today?”
“Did anything happen that upset you?”
“What did you learn today? What did you do well at?”
“What did you do at lunch time? Who did you sit next to?”
Children should be encouraged to compete activities, learn a new hobby and fuel their interests.
Children can join in a variety of activities such as sports clubs, art clubs, music clubs, youth clubs or volunteer. Activities are a great way for children to build on their confidence and social skills. They are also exciting and fun for the children which allows them the opportunity to express themselves. Children will learn to make friends with others who have similar interests to them through activities and hobbies. By having strong friendships with other children it can act as a form of protection from exposing their vulnerabilities. Friendships can support children in building their aspirations and goals in life.
Good role models
Children will always look to adults in order to grasp an understanding of how they should act and behave. Therefore, it is paramount that parents, carers and practitioners are good role models.
Adults need to model kindness and respect in order for children to understand that there is no place in this world for bullying. At times children will act like they are not paying attention; however, it is important to be aware that even if children do not seem to be paying attention, they are in fact absorbing their surroundings. Children are observing how adults react to stress and conflict and how they deal with it. They are also observing how adults interact and treat their friends, colleagues and family members. With this in mind, it is significant that adults model respectable and positive behaviour towards others.
Signs of bullying in school
There are many signs of bullying to look out for in children. It is important to be familiar with and understand the children in a setting. This way when a child’s behaviour and actions change it can be easier to detect a problem. Therefore, it is important in acting quickly to support a child, in order to sustain their positive mental well-being and build their resilience and self-esteem.
Change in behaviour
Many children’s behaviour will change as they go through puberty; however, the importance here is to look for unusual patterns of behaviour. This could include a child who is usually calm and pleasant, beginning to turn aggressive and getting into fights. They could also turn the other way and become quieter than normal or become more reserved within themselves. Other changes in behaviour could include refusing to discuss what is wrong and acting coy with teachers or their parents. A child may also start to act fearful and frightened within the setting.
Low attendance at school
If a child who has good attendance suddenly begins to skip school on a regular basis, it can be an alarming sign that something unsettling is happening such as the child being bullied. It is importance to note any absences from school and keep track of children’s attendance in order to highlight any gaps.
If attendance begins to fall it is essential to find out the reasons why. If attendance continues to be low and for reasons that aren’t apparent, or the bullying is continuing, the school will need to follow their attendance policy. This could result in a family being referred to the Education Welfare Service (EWS). The Education Welfare Service is a service which can offer support and guidance for families and the school in order to support a child to deal with and overcome the bullying. This will only happen if they are aware of any bullying, however, if this is not the case it can result in a family being issued with a fine of £1000. With this in mind, it intensifies the importance of monitoring children’s attendance in order to spot signs early on.
Lower than normal grades at school
All children develop at different rates and each child’s overall grades will be different. However, when it comes to recognising this as a sign, it is important to monitor a dip in a child’s grades or recognise if there is a regression of standard in their work.
This can be an indication of many difficulties; however, it can be a sign that a child is being bullied. With this in mind it is important to monitor a child’s attitude and if they suddenly start to become withdrawn from class and reluctant to join in.
Lack of confidence
Lack of confidence can fall into the pattern of changing behaviour. If a child begins to show a pattern of low confidence this can not only impact on their current lives it can impact through into adulthood. This could result in the child developing a mental health condition, which in turn may affect their job prospects as they reach adulthood. The impact bullying can be catastrophic to an individual throughout their whole life. This is something that the perpetrator will not consider, amongst other factors.
Change of pattern with eating
Struggling to eat may be a sign that is more prominent at home, however, if younger children are refusing snacks and not eating as much as they normally would this could be a sign that they are being bullied. It is important to notice a regular pattern of irregularity with their meals as opposed to being off their food for a day or two, as this could indicate an illness rather than bullying.
Appears to have no friends and is often playing alone
Many children at school go through phases of enjoying playing on their own rather than in groups, however, this is more common in younger children as opposed to older children. This can be a key indication for practitioners to notice. If a child appears to have no friends, it is essential to have a conversation with them and ask if they are ok and gather more information. If a child says that they are okay, it is good practice to monitor them and take note of how often they are alone.
Sudden weight loss
Again, this can draw upon many different concerns such as illness, mental health issues or bullying. Losing weight is a sign that will be better seen at home, however, a practitioner may notice a dramatic difference if the child’s clothes seem bigger. It is important to monitor this and speak with a child’s parents to ensure communication is kept and to gain further information. Drastic weight loss will not be the only sign; it will coincide with other signs such as becoming withdraw, lack of friends and decreased self-esteem.
Showing signs of depression, anxiety or self-harm
Many practitioners will undergo mental health training to expand their knowledge and awareness of the signs and symptoms to notice if a child is struggling with their mental health. Depression and anxiety can stem from a child who is being bullied; some children can resort to self-harming as a way of coping, and sadly this can end in them taking their own life.
Missing belongings such as items of clothing, books etc
Missing belongings will be noticed by parents more than practitioners; however, it may be a sign to notice if a child had their schoolbag in the morning and they don’t seem to have it in the afternoon. Or if they are missing items of their PE kit such as trainers. Along with missing items, there could be broken items such as a broken bag, ripped books etc.
Loss of interest in regular hobbies or interests
A child may take a sudden loss of interest in activities and hobbies that they usually enjoy. This could include not wanting to attend after-school clubs such as sports clubs or general activities in the classroom.
Unexplained cuts and bruises
All children whatever age will have cuts and bruises from trips and falls; however, if children are appearing with unexplained cuts and bruises and are coy with their response, it could be an indication that a child is being physically harmed.
If a child is physically harmed and there are no witnesses, it can be a difficult conclusion to come to as to whether the child has been harmed at home or by another pupil. Cuts and bruises could be to a child’s face, arms, legs, stomach or back. Bullies who inflict physical violence do not think about the consequence, therefore the marks that they leave are more noticeable, as opposed to a child who is being physically abused at home, where marks are likely to be on areas of the body which aren’t exposed such as the buttocks or stomach.
Decreased self-esteem can have a long-lasting impact on a child. When their self-esteem is affected it can impose a negative thought on how one sees themselves.
For an individual with low self-esteem it can impact on how resilient they are towards negative behaviour and knock backs. Children who have had a knock in their self-esteem may begin to struggle to trust others. This could surface if a practitioner is requesting a student to complete a task such as asking a child to take something to the office. Sadly, a child who already has low self-esteem often becomes a target for bullies, thus increasing their feelings of low self-worth.
Signs of bullying to consider for parents and carers
Missing belongings – It is common that children will generally lose their belongings such as bottles, pens etc, by accident. However, as a parent or carer they may notice that things go missing on a regular basis and that it seems to be more prominent items such as bags, shoes, coats etc. A child may also come with a range of excuses which keep changing and they may show signs of distress or anger.
Unsettled sleep patterns – Many children who are exposed to bullying may suffer from irregular sleeping patterns due to their concerns and worries affecting their body physically. Bullying can also impact on a child developing insomnia and nightmares. If a child has disturbed sleep it can start to impact on their behaviour.
Ripped clothing – Ripped clothes can be a sign that a child has been physically harmed. It can happen by someone grabbing at them and dragging them around in order to cause them physical injury. Common items that are ripped are coats, jumpers and bags. Clothes may also be stained from being dragged around or hit.
Unexplained bruises and cuts – Children may be quick to hide any cuts or bruises that they come home with. This will be something that will be more noticed by parents and carers than in school as most parents and carers will be more observant towards their own children’s appearance.
Not wanting to go to school – Children who are being exposed to bullying may begin to refuse to go to school in fear they will be harassed. They may say how unwell they feel and make themselves physically sick in order to make it believable. A child being unwell is not uncommon, however, if it begins to become a regular occurrence then it could be sign that something at school isn’t right. Frequent phone calls from the school requesting picking up a child due to illness can also be a sign. It is imperative to keep communication with schools especially with young teenagers as this tends to be the age group who skip school.
Change in behaviour – Children’s behaviour can be impacted in a variety of ways. This can be due to going through puberty, diet, lack of sleep or bullying. The way in which a child’s behaviour may change due to bullying can be that they may be unusually aggressive or surprisingly quiet. They may have erratic outburst of tears or anger as a way of releasing the stress and upset and showing an indication that something is wrong.
Wetting the bed – Children will usually grow out of bed wetting by the age of 8, more so for boys, girls tend to be younger. With this in mind, if an older child such as a teenager begins to wet the bed it can be a sign that they are worried about something. Many children may try to hide the bed wetting by washing their own bedding or referring to it as just a spillage.
Steps to stop bullying in schools
If a practitioner is witness to a child bullying another their immediate reaction is to stand between them and stop it immediately. Try and block any eye contact between the bully and the victim; ensure that all bystanders are still present as they may be countable towards the bullying as well. To avoid escalating the situation, talk to all parties involved on an individual basis and keep them separate from one another. It is important to establish the victim’s safety and to obtain all the facts.
It is imperative to ensure that the victim is well supported, and the child is reassured that you will resolve this issue. Assure that the individual is maintained in a way that certifies they will be supported in a dignified manner. If required, provide an increase in supervision to maintain the bully to ensure that they do not repeat their behaviour.
Speaking with the bully
When speaking to the children present, be sure to speak in a matter-of-fact tone of voice as to ensure you are laying down authority and the seriousness of the matter. Ensure you describe to the group what you heard them say and what you saw them do. This enables them to process that you actually saw what happened, therefore they are unable to lie and twist the truth. It is important to voice to all the children that are present, that bullying is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.
For any bystanders who were not directly involved, be sure to speak to them regarding how to intervene and seek help if they observe this sort of behaviour again. Be sure to highlight that you noticed their inaction, and if they sought help to praise them in acting appropriately. On the other hand, be sure to impose punishments for any bystanders who were seen supporting the bully which resulted in increasing the abuse towards the victim.
Once the children have calmed down, be sure to enforce immediate consequences. Do not suggest that the children should apologise to each or make amends as this could be seen as ‘carrying out the motions’.
When enforcing the consequences be sure that they are logical and suitable to the offence. A first step in their punishments may be for them to receive a detention; if this continues and it is a repeated offence be sure to inform their parents and increase their punishments. Be sure to inform the bully or bullies that they are going to be closely monitored. Along with monitoring the bully it is important to monitor and continuously speak with the victim to ensure it is not continuing to happen. By allowing the child to vent and discuss their worries supports their mental well-being.
When confronting bullying there are means to which can be seen as the wrong thing to do. When bullying is happening, it is important to understanding it is a form of victimisation and therefore should not be addressed as a conflict. By classing it as a conflict deems the situation as less serious and downplays the damaging behaviour. Within a setting it is essential to endeavour to show the message that ‘no one deserves to be bullied’ and to highlight to any bully that their behaviour is inappropriate and won’t be endured.
Many practitioners may resort to using a form of mediation to allow all parties to discuss what has happened, however, it is important to understand that the victim may not wish to see their persecutor. By allowing both parties to voice their opinions can give way for the bully to regain power and decrease their victim’s self-worth. It can also be stated that peer mediations are not an effective method in stopping bullying. Therefore, this is an unlikely strategy to use.
Other strategies that are ineffective include using group treatments for the bullies such as anger management, skill building, self-esteem building and empathy building. With this in mind, these forms of therapeutic strategies can reinforce the bully’s tendencies and antisocial behaviour.
When speaking to a child who has been victimised by another child, be sure to encourage them to speak out and not to just ignore it.
It is important when discussing the matter with a child to reassure them that it is not their fault and they shouldn’t change who they are; it is the bully who needs to adapt their attitude and behaviour. Inform the child that you will make it stop and record the plan of action, so the child is aware of what you are doing in order to prevent this from happening again. Once a child has spoken out about bullying it is essential to acknowledge that it has happened and to create a talking culture within the school. The main points should focus on opening up about hurtful behaviour and how quickly it will be dealt with. When a child is being bullied it is uncommon for it to be a one on one attack, there are usually others involved. With this in mind it is important to discover who else is involved and make it clear that any form of bullying is unacceptable.
When tackling bullying be sure to avoid typical stereotypes such as girls liking to gossip and boys fight and move on. It is important to have an understanding that anyone is capable of bullying regardless of their gender. All settings must challenge offensive or discriminatory language; this may include offensive language towards an individual’s race, faith or disability.
All settings should have an anti-bullying policy. This should continually be up to date and easily accessible and regularly promoted throughout the setting. Under section 89 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 it concludes that in particular, schools must have procedures in place to encourage and promote positive behaviour and prevent all forms of bullying from happening amongst pupils. Many settings choose to include this data within their anti-bullying policy. It is the role of the manager or head teachers to adopt the policy and ensure it is followed through. They must determine the measures to take in accordance with section 89.
A whole school approach
A whole school approach can be seen as a cohesive, collective and collaborative way of approaching bullying. A whole school approach is a way in which a school community strategically constructs their leadership in order to reduce bullying and respond to it appropriately. The approach is based on developing a framework or policy which supports and encourages shared values, attitudes and beliefs that prevent bullying. The approach offers guidance on how to manage and record situations where an individual has been subject to bullying. The idea of involving everyone to challenge bullying and owning the policy hinges on research. With this in mind, the research that was conducted found that many students were unaware that their setting posed an anti-bullying policy (DCFS, 2003).
According to Cambridge Education (2005) the evidence of using a whole school approach is an effective strategy of dealing with bullying. The approach includes pupils, parents, board of governors, teachers and support staff coming together to confront concerns of bullying.
There are many methods to which a whole school approach can tackle bullying.
- All senior leadership, parents and students’ voices are thread throughout the setting
- Strengthening the setting’s anti-bullying policy
- Underlying the setting’s ethos and values
- Supporting staff training and staff development
- Responding and reporting incidents.
It is significant to regularly review and monitor school leadership and the whole school approach to ensure it is having a positive impact on the setting.