This instalment of the article covers topics such as teaching children to care about bullying and motivating them to do what they can to help stop it - within reason, teaching conflict resolution skills and problem-solving techniques that pupils could find useful not just at school but all through life, things to bear in mind when punishing bullies, and ways of being more sure if bullying's going on if it's not clear.
Skip past the following quotes if you'd like to get straight down to reading the self-help article.
Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions.
If a doctor, lawyer, or dentist had 40 people in his office at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn't want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer, or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher's job.
--Donald D. Quinn
None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody - a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns - bent down and helped us pick up our boots.
Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.
An educational system isn't worth a great deal if it teaches young people how to make a living but doesn't teach them how to make a life.
If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.
--Attributed to both Andy McIntyre and Derek Bok
It'll be a great day when education gets all the money it wants and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy bombers.
--Author unknown, quoted in You Said a Mouthful, Ronald D. Fuchs, ed.
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Some children who don't feel successful at learning will seek to be successful in other ways to make up for it, for instance by becoming the class joker, or bullying others to make themselves feel big and vent the frustration they're feeling at not doing very well at school. So helping children succeed academically might sometimes help to reduce bullying.
Trying several things at once to reduce bullying might be the most effective thing to do. For instance, at the same time we're trying to interest bullies in things that will hopefully reduce their desire to bully others, we can be tackling bullying by penalising it. Also, we could ask the children in our class if they think bullying's a problem and if they've ever been bullied. We could ask the class if they have suggestions on how to deal with bullying, and perhaps put a suggestion box in the classroom, which could also be a reporting box where bullying can be reported anonymously, although we can tell them students can give their names if they want, for instance if they'd like to discuss it with us further. It'll be best not to tell a bully who reported them though, in case they want revenge. We could check the box regularly and assure the class we'll do that. We could talk to them about any suggestions they've made in future lessons. And we can assure them we won't think of any reports of bullying as telling tales.
The box could perhaps be a shoe box with a slit we've cut in the lid, that we could tape down till we want to open it, in case bullies want to take a quick look sometimes. Or maybe we could think of better ideas for boxes.
If pupils feel heard, they might get to take more pride in the school and be encouraged that people around them care. If they think of the school as their own community rather than just somewhere they have to go, they might be more likely to care what goes on.
We could ask the children in a lesson what they think they would do if they were bullied, and whether they can think of things it would be best for a child who's being bullied to do, as well as what they think the school staff should do about bullying. Some good ideas might come out of the discussion. We could tell them we'll discuss any good ideas with other teachers and staff like school counsellors or the principal. If we can do that, any good ideas might get spread around the school.
The book says children can get a lot of benefit from reading. Young children in particular can come to think of reading as a pleasure and learn new things if their parents often spend time reading with them. Books can offer children a fun escape into imagination if they're reading something where interesting things are happening. Reading can increase their skill at using language because of the new and more sophisticated ways they see it being used. If some of the characters are going through similar problems to them, they can feel they're not facing them alone, because other people must be facing them as well if they're well-recognised enough to have been written about; and if people in the book find solutions to problems similar to ones they're having, they can get good ideas from them.
We could ask school counsellors or librarians if they could give us any good books on bullying, or on other issues important to children like making friends, fitting in, and coping with learning and other disabilities. They wouldn't have to be factual; they could be fictional stories about how children managed it. Then we could bring them back to the classroom and have a selection of books we could offer pupils to take home with them and read, or to read if they finish their work before the rest of the class and in quiet times at school.
We could even ask each child to read a little book and then we could have a lesson where they each tell us what it's about, describing the best bits of what they read.
If we notice any children becoming enthusiastic about reading, we could tell their parents and encourage them to go with their children to their local public library and get more books out.
Children like to think of themselves as useful as much as most people do. If we can help to bring out their caring sides, they might not want to bully so much, especially if they find caring gets them praise and attention that makes them feel good.
We could discuss with the students all the ways they can think of that people show caring for one another, in the hope that they'll notice it more when it happens from then on, and they might think about what's said and it might inspire them to perform little acts of caring for others. For instance, we can discuss how it can be nice when people share their toys and treats, when they listen to other people's difficulties, when they help them out with problems if they can, and when they do nice things for others. We could ask bullies in particular to contribute to the discussion, and maybe victims, who could tell us among other things about their feelings when they're upset and how nice it feels when people do something caring for them.
The children might also start to develop an interest in making the community a better place as they grow older. We can have lessons where we discuss whether there's anything about their families and the world around them they think ought to be made fairer, and whether they can think of anything they might one day be able to do to contribute, even in just a small way, to making it fairer. If we can find any books about historical figures who did a lot of good for their communities or other people in their country or the world, we could encourage them to read them, in the hope it'll inspire them to want to do good for their communities. Elizabeth Fry is just one example of someone who tried to make the world a better place, working to improve prison conditions for women a couple of hundred years ago. We might find out about quite a few people from history and from the world today who have worked to make it a better place.
Also, if we can find any books written by people who've been discriminated against or worse, and they talk a lot about what it feels like, or they come across as characters people can like and sympathise with, we could encourage the children to read those, in the hope it'll increase their empathy towards people who are different in some way who they might have otherwise been tempted to distrust or even bully. The Diary of Anne Frank might be a good book for that, for example. She talks about her feelings and comes across as a likeable character it's possible to sympathise with. Perhaps there are more modern books written from the point of view of people suffering unfairly as well. Maybe we could ask the school librarian if they know of any. We could also ask them if they know of any for children about problems in the world and what kinds of things need to be done to solve them. That might give at least some of the children in our class a desire to work to help to improve society or conditions in other countries. If they develop a caring mentality, thinking it's important to improve living conditions for people and important that people are allowed to go about their daily lives unharmed, they might be a lot less likely to want to bully them. It might take a while for them to develop a caring mentality, but if we can find lots of things that will hopefully help them develop it, such as a variety of stories about what it's like coming from a poor background in another country and how things could be improved, and so on, then they might slowly develop one.
We'll have to be careful we don't subject them to anything too gruesome though, anything that'll leave them disturbed, rather than provoking them to think about ways the world could become a better place.
We could have discussions with the class about why fairness and justice is important, perhaps asking questions such as what rights they think children all over the world ideally ought to have, such as the right to grow up without fear of violence and the right to a decent education.
We could also have discussions with the class about fairness in school, asking them questions such as how they feel when they think things are unfair, what they think is unfair, and what they think could be improved to make things more fair.
We could discuss right and wrong in a lesson with the children, and standing up for what we believe is right. We could ask them what things can prevent them standing up for things they know to be right, such as not knowing what to say, not wanting to stand out from the crowd and possibly expose themselves to ridicule or otherwise become a target of bullying, the wish to be popular, the need to fit in, not caring enough about what's happening, believing they'll benefit in some way if they go along with something they don't believe is right, wondering if they're really right after all because people are laughing at what they believe in and trying to persuade them it's silly even though they know deep down it isn't, and so on. We could discuss all these things, and talk with them about what could help them stand up for what they believe is right more.
Examples of situations where they might not stand up for what they know is right are if they see bullying going on, and for older children, if someone's trying to entice or harass some of them to take drugs or drink alcohol or have sex with them.
If they raise issues we don't know how to deal with, we could research the matter afterwards and raise the issue again in another lesson we have on the subject.
When children come to hold a firm belief that they deserve to be treated decently and that they have a responsibility to respect others, they're less likely to do things that end up hurting themselves or others. So if we can try to instil a pride in themselves into them and a desire to respect the rights of others, we might be saving them from future troubles. We can talk to them about the rights they think people in the school ought to have, such as the right to be free from bullying, even if they are a person it's difficult to respect for any reason - even unpopular kids have feelings, and if there's something genuinely wrong with them they ought to be shown how to behave better, not bullied. We can discuss points like this with the class.
We could tell the pupils we're going to write a list of rights and responsibilities everyone in the class has, and put it somewhere where it'll often be noticed. We can say we'd like their suggestions as to what to put on it. Then we can talk through with them what rights and responsibilities they believe people should have, such as the right to be free from bullying and the responsibility not to bully. A few things could be to do with teachers' rights and responsibilities, such as the right to be able to teach without having lessons disrupted by nuisance behaviour, and the responsibility to punish fairly rather than showing favouritism or being too harsh.
Examples of other rights and responsibilities could be:
We can adopt any good suggestions the children make, and when we've written the list, we can put it up in the classroom and maybe read it to the class each morning before lessons begin, to remind them of the standards they've more-or-less all agreed they ought to stick to. We can encourage them to stand up for their rights, and to ask for help if someone's violating their rights or those of another. We can encourage them to voice their opinions about how they feel they need to be treated in school.
We could especially encourage children to make a stand against bullying, reporting it when they see it, or intervening if they feel they can do so safely.
If bullying is often talked about in the classroom and they get familiar with our policy that it's unacceptable, they might be encouraged to speak up when they see bullying. If they know we'll support them in making a stand, they might be more likely to do so. For instance, we could suggest they could say something like, "Stop being a bully". If enough of them do that, then bullies will hopefully start thinking the majority opinion is that their behaviour is unacceptable, so they'll feel the pressure of popular opinion to change their ways.
We could encourage the children to speak up about other things as well. For instance, we could suggest that if a child's trying to distract them or egg them on to be disruptive when they're trying to work, they could say something like, "We don't do that in our school". Again, if enough children start doing that, the weight of popular opinion might make disruptive pupils decide to change.
Honesty is important, not just telling people the truth, but honestly assessing situations. For instance, if an argument develops between two people, the honest thing for both to do would be to think afterwards about what part they played in the cause of it, rather than simply leaping to blame the other one. Or if someone starts a new business and it fails, the honest thing to do is to think of all the reasons it's failed, including the ones they themselves had a part in, such as making bad decisions, rather than simply blaming outside forces.
At school, honesty would mean a bully would be willing to own up to their bad actions, and think clearly about what they're responsible for rather than blaming the other person or just dismissing what they did by saying they deserved it, for example.
So honesty means taking responsibility for actions rather than behaving badly and then pushing the blame onto others. Honesty's important if relationships with others are going to be good, because it can lead to willingness to adapt to what another person wants, rather than refusing to accept any of the blame for what goes on in a relationship.
Honesty is also important because it helps build trust in a relationship. If someone's with someone they realise lies a lot, they'll start disbelieving what they say, so sometimes, the person might tell the truth and not be believed. For instance, if they say they've given some money to charity and that's why they haven't got it anymore, they might genuinely have done so, but if they lie a lot, their wife might not believe them and suspect they spent it on themselves.
If children can be taught such principles at school, they might serve them well in their future.
Telling the truth is also important in minor things.
I read a story about a young couple. The man cooked something at a barbecue and asked his girlfriend what she thought of it. She didn't like it, but she said it was really nice. Perhaps she thought she was being polite or didn't want to hurt his feelings. But since he thought she liked it, he cooked it for her a lot more after that. One day they were having an argument about something completely different, but in her anger, she took the opportunity to tell him how much she hated what he'd been cooking. He was hurt. If she'd simply said something at first like, "This isn't really my kind of meat; but I appreciate the effort it took", then she would have been saying something reasonably nice without lying.
Perhaps we can have a lesson where we can discuss honesty with the class, and ways of telling the truth without hurting people, as well as why it's usually best not to lie even when you think the consequences might not be so good for you.
For instance, the classic example of why it's good to lie sometimes is if a Nazi officer had knocked on the door of a house in the Second World War where Jews were being hidden and they'd asked the owner if they were hiding Jews, and the only ethical thing to do would supposedly be to lie and say no. But that's not true; the Nazis would hardly take the owner's word for it and meekly go away; they might have searched the house; and if they'd found the Jews, the owner might have been beaten up worse than if they hadn't lied. Of course telling the truth would be unethical. But there would be other options. Trying to divert or amuse them would be one, for instance boldly smiling and saying, "Yes, come and look; I've got 7 thousand Jews, all hiding in my cellar. It's very cramped down there. In fact, the last time I looked, they'd all been squashed out of shape. They're all only an inch wide now and ten feet tall". Such a tactic might backfire if the Nazis weren't amused. But still, lying wouldn't be the only option.
There are times when deception's a good tactic because lives will be saved, in times of war, for instance. But using it for selfish gain isn't good.
Talking about that kind of thing with the class could encourage them to think about the honesty issue more. Sometimes, it might seem that lying isn't going to hurt anyone so why not do it, such as if a burglar stole some things from your house and you decide when claiming insurance to say more things were stolen than really were so you can get a bit more money out of the insurance company than you would have done otherwise, since they probably won't pay the full amount anyway. But if lots of people do that, then the insurance company will start charging more money or cover less things to get the money back. People might have to start paying a lot more attention to the small print in their literature.
Also, lying can sometimes be quite an effort, if a person wants a lie to be believed for any length of time, because once one lie is told, it takes a good memory to keep the story straight.
For instance, I once heard that for entertainment, someone told another person he knew a language he didn't really know. The other person asked him to teach him it. He started pretending to teach him, making up words. But soon, the other person remembered more of them than he did.
Or someone who tells a person they were in one place one day when they were really in another might have to make up more and more things if the person keeps asking questions about what they did there. It might not be long before they've forgotten what they said and have to make things up again and get caught out for saying two different things. Or if they say they have a job when they don't, they might have to make up more and more details about the job the more questions they're asked, and that could be stressful, especially if they forget some of what they said and think they might contradict themselves. And if they get caught out, after that, even when they are telling the truth, the people they lied to before won't trust them, so they'll always be looking out for things in their story that don't quite make sense or wondering if they're telling the truth.
At school, there could be examples of why honesty's a good thing even when it might not seem to be. For instance, some pupils might cheat by getting others to do their homework for them. But if they don't learn the subject very well, there could come a time when they need to do well but can't.
To give another example, in a school dedicated to stopping bullying, if a child gets hit by another child and a teacher asks the child who hit the other one if they did it and they say no, it might benefit them in the short term, but they might not really be doing themselves a favour. For one thing, if it can be proved it was them, they might be punished for dishonesty as well as for what they did. For another, if they'd admitted to it, they might have been disciplined for it, and yet the teachers might want to talk with them about how their behaviour can improve so it doesn't happen again, which might lead to them getting help they could really do with. For instance, if they hit the other student because the other student kept teasing them nastily, if the teachers know the real situation, they can help with the problem. Or if the bully's got problems at home that are making them irritable and that's why they hit the other student, the teacher might be able to advise a bit with that if they know what's really going on. Or if they admit they bully the person because it's good fun, the teacher can ask them to brainstorm things to do instead that would be harmless and yet more fun, such as games they could play. And so on.
So we could discuss all those types of issues with our class. And we could let them know honesty is expected in our classroom.
We can encourage students to take a pride in being honest, and to think about any good feeling they get when they're honest, especially in a situation where it was difficult. If we catch a child being honest where we know it must have been difficult for them, we could praise them, saying we know it must have been hard for them to be honest then and they must have courage to have been truthful. If they feel appreciated for any behaviour, they'll want to do more of it.
It's best if we ourselves are honest with bullies about what the impact of what they've done might have been on other children both physically and emotionally, the fact that bullying is unacceptable, and the fact they need to take responsibility for their actions. They might try to blame the victims, saying they asked for it or something. But we can talk with them about different ways they could have responded instead. For instance, if they've hit someone because he said something abusive to a friend of theirs and they're convinced he deserved it, we could discuss how instead, they could have come and told us, even though reporting things might seem like telling tales and a sign of weakness, and we could have had a talk to the boy about respect in the classroom. And we could discuss with them whether it's possible the person didn't mean to sound that abusive and it sounded worse the way their friend repeated it back. And we could discuss with them how their friend could have responded to the boy by standing up for himself in a polite way so the incident could have been got over and forgotten right away. For instance, the one on the receiving end of the verbal abuse could have said, in a tone of curiosity, something like, "Why do you feel the need to be so nasty to people?" That might seem to some to be a wimp's response; but it could actually be far more of a challenging response to someone who's been abusive than responding in kind and just having a battle of insults. Not necessarily. But that kind of thing can be worth trying.
We could research ways of standing up to teasing and insults and teach the class the techniques, especially pupils who seem to most need it.
We can talk to bullies about whether their bullying reactions are really deserved by the people they bully, or whether they're often reacting much more aggressively than necessary. If they're prepared to admit they can, we can discuss with them why they might do that, whether, for instance, their angry emotions carry them away so they're not thinking clearly. If so, we could discuss with them ways of controlling their anger. One way of doing that would be for them to realise they might have misinterpreted the intentions of the person they feel provoked by. For instance, a bully might assume someone is laughing at them and hit them, when actually the person had been laughing at a joke a friend of theirs told. Other ways a bully could control anger could be recognising that if they act immediately their anger might make them over-react, and try counting to ten first, and also try burning anger off by playing vigorous games in the playground, and so on. We could research more techniques that children can get rid of anger.
We could discuss with bullies how the consequences of bullying for them can often make life more difficult for them. For instance, they can get hurt if the person they're bullying fights back; people can think less of them; they get into trouble with teachers more, and so on. Responding in non-aggressive ways might not be so much fun or gratifying at the time, but they'd avoid all that. We can ask them to imagine how they and their victims might have felt differently in the end if they'd responded differently.
So hopefully they'll end up deciding to respond in other ways to situations where they feel provoked.
Bullies often target people who are different to them in some way. It could be people who are fatter, people who like music considered uncool, people of a different race, those of a different religion, and so on.
One thing that can reduce bullying is helping the children get used to differences and in fact even enjoy many of them. We can show them they're not something to be immediately reacted to with hostility or alarm or superiority.
We can try to make the children more comfortable with differences by doing several things, including reading them and giving them books to read about people of other cultures and races, and people with disabilities, and so on. Also, we could perhaps have a "culture fair" some days, where children from different cultures bring food and clothes and things in from that culture or their family and other children look at them or sample them, and the children can tell stories from their culture, or stories from their family.
Also, when the children are working in groups, we could arrange them into groups with a mix of children from different races/ethnicities, religions, gender and other differences, so the children will get used to talking with and perhaps making friends with people with differences; and also working together to solve challenges will hopefully mean they get to respect each other's talents and abilities.
We can also do role-plays with the children where they pretend to be people with differences, or we can simulate certain differences, such as putting an arm of theirs in makeshift slings and asking them to do certain tasks, blindfolding them and asking them to walk around somewhere where we know it's safe but they might not have much confidence, and things like that. We could split them into small groups so they could take turns and we don't have trouble watching them.
Bullies are often impulsive, reacting to things before they've thought through whether it's a good idea to react that way. If they feel a surge of anger, they might not stop to think about whether the victim deserves what they're about to mete out, or they might do things that are reckless, such as hitting a teacher.
Just telling them to stop and think might not be that effective, but teaching them skills to replace their faulty ways of behaving and then encouraging them to practice them might work. So we can try teaching them assertiveness skills. That way they can take control of a lot of situations without letting anger carry them away into doing something reckless or over-hastily like physically attacking a victim. In fact, all pupils would benefit by learning assertiveness skills, since it'll benefit everyone to learn how to stand up for themselves and their rights better.
We can probably find some resources for teaching children assertiveness skills on the Internet, or we could ask other teachers if they know of any we could use. But I know about some we could use. Basically, we could teach the children that assertiveness means standing up for ourselves respectfully, not demanding things, or giving in when we'd rather not.
We could tell the children about various techniques, give them examples, and then get them to practice on each other till they've got the hang of how to use them.
For instance, here's one technique we could teach them for if someone does something they don't like: We could maybe use the example of someone taking a book that belongs to them. An aggressive response a bully might use could be to shove the person and say, "Oy you moron, give me my book back!", and it might start a fight where both get hurt. A more timid person might just sit there in silence and be upset that their book was taken. An assertive response, on the other hand, is one where a person would ask for their book back, but with respect, possibly explaining why it's such an inconvenience for it to be taken. So they might say something like,
"When you take my books without asking, I can't find what I need for my work. Because of that, I feel really annoyed. I'd like you to ask if you'd like to borrow my books from now on."
That way they say it in such a way that it not only doesn't use bad language, but it doesn't even imply that the person who borrowed the books is at fault, instead presuming they just didn't realise they were causing inconvenience, and appealing to their better nature that hopefully doesn't want to.
Naturally it might sometimes not work, but it probably will sometimes, and it's better than going in aggressively with bad language or being too fearful to do anything.
one technique for avoiding conflict we could tell them about is called fogging. It allows us to keep quiet about what we think of what someone who's made a criticism has just said, but to carry on doing it anyway. For instance, we could tell the class that if someone's eating lunch and someone tells them their sandwiches look as if they contain vomit, if they're a bully they might swear at the person who said that and hit them, a timid sensitive person might be too ashamed to eat in public from then on, but an assertive person might say back something like:
"That may be your opinion, but I like them."
If the person laughs, the assertive person could say something calmly like,
You might think it's funny, but I like them."
They could carry on using other phrases if necessary, but always ending by saying they like them, such as,
"You might think they're bad, but I like them."
We can teach the children that just because another child expresses an opinion, it doesn't mean it's correct or needs to be taken seriously. We can explain that people can sometimes say things they don't even mean, just to be nasty. And even if they do really believe what they're saying, it doesn't mean they're right or that most people will share that opinion. Even if most people in their group do, it doesn't mean everyone in the class or school would, or that they're right.
Another technique we can teach them is giving the impression the person might be right in what they say, while not really believing they are, although there's a possibility they could be. For instance, phrases used could be like, "I can see how you might feel that way", or, "You're possibly right". That might often mean conflict is avoided.
Another technique that can help people avoid conflict is called negative assertion. It means if someone goes up to another person and says something angrily that's actually partly true, the person can admit to the bits that are right and ignore the anger as if it wasn't there. For instance, if a child went up to another one and said aggressively, "You're far too fat! I bet you stuff your face with junk food all day!" the other child could calmly admit there's a bit of truth in what they say by replying with something like, "Yeah, I am a bit overweight". If the child who made the accusation realises it has no power to hurt the other child, they might realise that bullying them wouldn't be any fun and not bother.
Another technique is called negative inquiry. It means if someone says something nasty to someone, instead of responding with an insult, they ask them a question about why they said it. For instance, if a child said to another one something like, "Why do you always walk in that silly way?" the other one could maybe say, "Why does it bother you if I walk in a silly way?" (The child doesn't have to accept the other child's view of them.)
Then the idea is that whatever the first child says, the second asks them questions as to why they think that.
So for instance, if the first child doesn't answer but walks around in an exaggerated silly way and says, "You walk like this", the second one could say, "Come on, you're exaggerating. Why do you feel the need to exaggerate?" If the first child says it's fun, the second one can ask why it's fun. And so on.
Another technique is where a person who's just been insulted ignores the insult itself but says something like, "I don't like the disrespectful way you said that."
So, for instance, if one child said to another one, "You're a fat slob", the other child could say something like, "I don't like the aggressive way you said that."
Other phrases like that we could teach them could include: "I don't deserve to be spoken to like that"; "Telling me I'm a fat slob doesn't mean I'm a fat slob"; "Don't take that unpleasant tone with me, please", or, "That isn't very nice".
All those things would mean the person didn't get into an argument about whether they were a fat slob or not. The person might have only said it to be nasty anyway, not really meaning it; and if they did mean it, it's only one person's opinion. It's possible the person who insulted them could argue back, possibly by calling them a wimp for objecting to the way they said what they said. But they could perhaps reply by using the same kind of phrases, for instance by saying something like, "Just because you say I'm a wimp, it doesn't mean I'm a wimp", and, "People don't deserve to be spoken to like that".
Different techniques will work better in some situations than others. Some might not work that well in some situations. We can instruct the children to think about when people have said horrible things to them in the past and think through what technique would have worked best in each situation, so they can be better prepared to know what techniques will work best in what situations. We could even discuss with the class their thoughts on what techniques would work best when.
We can teach the children how in an argument, instead of just making accusations and attacking with more of them the more the other person says, it's better to really try their best to explain their point of view, and listen to what the other person's saying without interrupting before responding. If they don't quite understand what the other person means, it can be good to question them to find out exactly what they mean before responding. After that, when their meaning's become clear, it can be worth picking them up on any things they said that don't seem fair, and asking them politely to justify or rephrase what they said. Once the other person's point of view has become clear, then it can be good to respond to the accusations.
All that can be difficult to do, because it takes self-discipline not to immediately angrily rush onto the defensive. But trying to do that can calm a situation.
We could try working out ways the class can practice all the techniques, and then let them practice on each other.
We can also teach the children ways of starting discussions about things they aren't happy with that will make each conversation less likely to turn into an argument.
For instance, we could teach them that if they're irritated with someone who comes in and turns the television over when they were trying to watch something, instead of saying something like, "You're always turning the television over when it's my favourite programme" which might lead to an argument over whether the person really does "always" do that, when what they really wanted was for them to turn the television back to what they were watching, they could instead say something like, "I was watching that. Please can you turn it back over?"
If we see an argument going on, we could talk to the children involved later about how they could have handled things differently, asking them to brainstorm with us different ways they could have communicated with each other that would have meant the conversation didn't turn into an argument.
It may be that some children won't want to think about how they could have said nicer things to the person they were arguing with because they'll say the person deserved what they got. We can remind them they're breaking the class rule about how everyone should show respect to others, and explain that even if the other person was behaving badly, part of learning here is to learn how to behave better; so when a person behaves badly, the class needs to help the teacher train the person to behave better, not be nasty to them.
If students get used to solving conflict more amicably, they'll take the skills away with them into their homes, and they might serve them very well in the future.
If we can teach our class to respond more politely when they're provoked, it might stop some annoyances escalating into fights. It might also help people express their needs. For instance, if we teach them to say something like, "I feel unhappy when you take my things without telling me; please don't do it again", and they say that instead of what they used to say which might have been more like, "Oy! You've taken my things again haven't you, you bastard!", the other person might understand that it actually affects the feelings of the person complaining when they take their things, and sympathise and be willing to stop taking them without permission, rather than just feeling provoked by their insult and aggressive accusation and getting aggressive in return, which might lead to a fight. Things might not work out well all the time, but it will at least sometimes have a higher chance of meaning aggression is avoided.
We could give the class several examples, writing them on the chalk board for them to ponder. For instance:
If a boy pushes in front of you in the lunch queue, and he's done it a few times before, instead of saying something like, "you're always pushing in front of me you bully!" which might just lead him to argue about whether he's a bully and whether he does always push in, all the while not moving, you could say, "When you push in front of me in the lunch queue, I feel angry. Please don't do it again." The boy might not take any notice, but he might apologise and not jump the queue again. Speaking calmly is more likely to get a good result than making an exaggerated accusation that'll probably just start an argument.
Similarly, if a girl feels left out because another girl doesn't like her joining in her games, instead of saying something like, "I think you're really mean for not playing with me", which might only start an argument about how mean the girl really is and why it isn't mean to refuse to let her play, rather than a conversation about whether she could play after all, it might get better results if the girl who wants to play says something like, "I feel sad when you leave me out of your games. Please can I play?"
After we've given a few examples, we could call out some impolite phrases and ask for volunteers to change them into ones where people say how they feel and ask the bully to change their behaviour. If they have practice, the children are more likely to be able to think of that kind of phraseology when they're actually in a situation where it would come in useful.
So, for instance, we could ask someone to rephrase "Don't keep interrupting me you scumbag!" Perhaps a good rephrasing might go something like, "When you interrupt me, I feel angry because it means I can't get my point across. Please don't do it again."
"Give me my toy!" might be rephrased as "I feel angry when you take my toy. I'd like you to stop doing it."
Naturally there are times when people need to get their point across as quickly as possible so there won't be time to explain how they feel. We can tell the class they can't be expected to explain how they feel all the time, but that at least phrasing things politely can be advantageous for them as well as for the other person.
We can ask the class how they feel when someone talks to them in an unkind way or unfairly blames them for something, and whether they think telling someone who's said or done something they don't like how they feel and then asking them to stop sounds better than talking to them in a disrespectful way. They can discuss any issues they're not quite happy with, such as whether telling some people how they feel will just make the people bully them more because they think they're getting to them. They might come to an agreement that it's better to talk to some people that way than others, but that still, it's better to talk that way than saying something insulting to the person that'll just make them more angry so it'll be more likely to lead to a big argument.
We can also try and encourage students not to shout and interrupt each other when they have a disagreement but to listen to what the other person's saying and then consider a response before making one. There are a few things we could suggest students could do:
We can tell them that the way we talk can actually make a big difference to how well we get along with others, since we can say some things that'll provoke them and make it more likely an argument will break out, but communicating in a different way can help both sides come to a friendly agreement, because they're not being provoked and they feel respected.
We can say we know it's more difficult to be respectful when we're angry or when someone's just insulted or bullied us, but there are things we can make an effort to do which will sometimes calm a situation. They won't always; but they can sometimes, especially when it comes to arguments among friends.
We can demonstrate things to the class that can give people the impression they're being listened to by us, such as looking at the person talking so they know they've got our attention, nodding, facing our body towards them, and sitting still rather than fidgeting, all of which will add to the impression we're giving them our full attention. Another thing that gives a good impression is not interrupting the talker but waiting till they've finished before we talk (we could maybe pretend to zip our mouth shut when we tell the class it's good not to interrupt).
We could do a role-play with a student volunteer to demonstrate the difference in the impression we can give. First, we can demonstrate not being a good listener, by having them talk to us about something, and looking away, turning in a different direction, and interrupting them all the time. We can ask the pupils how they think we did at listening. Then we can demonstrate being a good listener, by looking at the volunteer, facing in their direction and waiting till they've finished speaking before talking.
Then we can discuss with the children how the way we listen can help to calm things, or aggravate the person who's trying to talk to us so things are more likely to turn into an argument. We can raise the issue of how when we're angry, scared or frustrated, it can be difficult to keep calm and not interrupt, especially if the other person's saying unkind things to us. We might feel provoked and want to call them names or interrupt them and accuse them of doing things wrong. But listening to what they say calmly can help calm the situation.
When they've spoken, one technique is to repeat what they said back to them, asking if we've understood them correctly and they really wanted to say what they said. For instance, if a bully says, "You've got a head like a potato and you're no good at schoolwork, and I hate the way you always eat so much at lunch; it makes you look like such a pig!" the person on the receiving end of the insults could wait till the other one's finished and then try calmly saying something like, "You're saying I've got a head like a potato and I'm no good at schoolwork and you think I eat too much at lunch? Is that really what you think? Can you explain yourself a bit more?" The bully might feel uncomfortable having to explain themselves. Some might just use it as an opportunity to say more unkind things though, so we can discuss with the children how if someone seems to be saying unkind things for no good reason and doesn't seem to want to come to a friendly understanding but just seems to want to be abusive, it's perfectly allright to stop listening patiently and say something like, "Well, that's your opinion" and walk away. We can discuss with the class how not everything people say deserves to be taken seriously. While listening patiently instead of responding angrily with accusations against the person talking can stop disagreements escalating into conflicts where two people are angrily arguing about lots of things instead of the mere one the conversation may have started over, there comes a time sometimes when listening just gives a bully the opportunity to say more hurtful things, so it's best to end the conversation. We could try thinking up role-plays to illustrate that, perhaps giving a student volunteer a script, where they read the part of a bully and we play the part of someone who starts out listening patiently to them and then decides they're just going to be more abusive the more we carry on so we end the conversation.
Some friction can be caused because some children don't pick up the social skills that make for considerate communication that other children do from their home environments. We could make a list of things that make for considerate communication to reduce the possibility of the children irritating one another when they work together, and then we could often remind them of the things on the list before they go to work in groups in the class. Such things could include:
If we notice a child's making an effort to do those things when they didn't before, we can quietly praise them for it, cheerfully pointing out what they've done and how their new skills will help them in groups in the future.
We could discuss in class why the things on the list are a good idea. Then every now and then, we could remind the pupils of the skills.
If a bully notices that someone in the class seems to be a bit of a pushover/doormat, not confident enough to stand up for themselves but giving in when people ask them to do things they're bound not to like, for instance letting someone borrow a book they need for their schoolwork despite the fact they might get into trouble later because they won't be able to do their own work, they'll think they must be an easy target who'll be fun to bully. So if we teach the class to stand up for themselves more, people who are often victims in it will learn those skills along with everyone else.
Anxious people can feel awkward about saying no to things because of what might happen if they do, such as having to get involved in an argument. But there are ways of saying no that reduce the likelihood of that. No has to be said firmly or else the other person will think there's a chance of persuading the one who said no and try to. But it can still be said politely.
For instance, if a school play was being rehearsed and an older pupil asked a younger one if they'd like to help put the scenery away but they really had to get home, a timid pupil might say yes to helping even though they'd miss their bus, because they felt awkward about saying no. But if they were confident they could say no in a way that would definitely sound polite, they might be more willing to say it. Just a "No thanks" would probably sound polite enough. But another way of saying no that sounds polite in a situation like that could be something like, "Thanks for asking; it's nice that you thought of me, but I'd rather not this time". If there's an obvious reason, giving it might be good, but it shouldn't be necessary to give a reason.
Or if one child asked another child to stay behind after school and help them learn their lines for the play, the child could perhaps say something like, "I know it's important to you that this gets done; I understand the difficulty; but I'd like to get home now."
Giving several reasons can begin to sound like making excuses though, which might give the impression a person's open to persuasion after all; so it's best to give one or two and be firm about them.
It can also be good if the person can give the other one a suggestion as to how they might be able to solve their problem. For instance, if a bully asked another child to go to their house and help them with their homework, the child could maybe say something like, "I know you'd really like to get it done, but I'll be busy with my own work tonight. If you're having difficulties, I expect the teacher would help if you asked."
It's useful for children to learn all kinds of assertiveness skills. One way we can encourage children to develop their ability to stand up for themselves assertively, rather than trying to get what they want through aggression, or not speaking up because they're too timid, is by giving them the opportunity to use such skills so they end up coming more naturally. For instance, we can specifically ask the more shy members of the group to tell us their opinions on things. There might be a few pupils who usually do all the talking, perhaps sometimes thinking they can speak for everyone. But we could give children turns at answering by asking other children their views. For instance, in a discussion about bullying, some of the people whose views might matter most, those who've been victimised and so will know the most about what it can feel like and how it can affect lives, might not speak up because they're too timid. They might say something if we ask them to though. And they might find they get better at expressing their views the more they do, and that it makes them feel good. We'd have to be careful though that we don't ask them questions that require answers that can't be given without incriminating specific bullies in the class or making it obvious they're referring to bullying incidents where they were picked on by certain other children in the class. If they make another child look bad, the bully might victimise them again afterwards, or the bully might not get so much out of the lesson because they're busy fuming over what was said about them.
Another thing we could do is encourage the children to share things and to ask for them nicely. For instance, if there's an aggressive child who tends to take what they want from other children without asking, we can try teaching them to ask nicely.
Also, when we talk with children individually, we can ask them questions, and if they're getting stuck for words or finding it difficult to come up with ideas, we can suggest some to them and ask them if they're close to what they think or what they'd like to do. They might learn some new words that'll come in useful to them when they're trying to express themselves in future, and talking through new ideas with them might stimulate them to come up with ideas of their own more often after that.
If some children constantly ask for help with things when we feel sure they can do them on their own and all they need is more confidence to believe they can, we could encourage them to do more and more on their own till they build up more and more confidence.
Some children won't ask for help as often as they should though. Perhaps some will have come to believe it's a sign of weakness or incompetence, especially if they've been ridiculed for asking for help before. We could try to show the children that asking for help's acceptable by sometimes asking for one or two of them to help us when we need to put class materials away and things like that. We can also directly encourage them to ask for help if they need it.
One way we can do that is by teaching them a technique to help them decide whether they need help with something or can sort it out themselves:
Firstly, the idea is to think through exactly what the problem is. What the problem is might seem obvious, but sometimes thinking about it a bit more can clarify things, and actually give people ideas on how to solve it, because putting a finger on exactly what the problem is can mean a solution's more obvious.
For instance, if there's a homework club at school where several children stay behind to do their homework instead of going home, but it isn't strictly supervised and two of the pupils talk loudly behind another one, the main thing the child in front of them might feel is irritation, especially if they've turned and said something like, "Shut up you two", but the noisy pupils didn't take any notice.
If the pupil getting annoyed thinks through just why the loud chatting's irritating them, they might realise it's because they can't concentrate on their work with that going on. When they've realised that, they might have a better chance of persuading the noisy pupils to be quiet, because they can explain to them just why they'd like them to be quiet, for instance saying, "When you talk that loud, I find it hard to concentrate on my work. Please can you keep the noise down?" It may be that because they've been given a good reason, the noisy pupils will quieten down this time.
If they don't, the pupil finding it hard to concentrate could decide to seek help from the person who's supposed to be supervising the homework club, and when they do, they'll be able to make a more convincing case that it would be a good thing if the noisy pupils could be told to be quiet than they would if they simply said the noise was irritating them.
If that doesn't work, the pupil who can't concentrate on their work will know they've got a good reason for telling a teacher at school.
So in lots of situations, it can help if people clarify in their minds first exactly what and who it is that's causing them the problem. After that, they can ask themselves if they think they'll need help with it, or whether they think they might be able to solve it on their own.
To help them decide, they can try to think back to remember if they've ever solved such a problem in the past before, or if they can think of anyone who solved something similar and how they managed it.
If they decide they do need help, they can think of all the people it might be possible to ask for help and which ones would be best. For instance, some options might be a teacher, the school counsellor, a classmate, an older pupil and so on. The next step would be to ask the chosen person if they're available to talk about the problem, and then discuss it with them. Perhaps more than one person would be best to speak to if it's a difficult problem.
Since bullies like to pick on easy targets, anyone who doesn't look confident or who doesn't respond with confidence if they're taunted will seem like an easy target and be more likely to get bullied. So if we teach the children how to look more confident, they might not attract the attention of so many bullies.
Until bullies really think about what it feels like to get upset in response to being bullied, they can think it's amusing to see people looking a bit upset in response to things they say. They can feel more powerful because they know they're having an effect, and that makes them feel good. So if victims start to look as if they couldn't care less when they're taunted, bullies can give up bothering. Part of helping victims to give off an attitude of not caring involves teaching them to stand up for themselves and teaching them to take a different attitude to what's being said to them, for instance dismissing it as merely one person's opinion when they're told their music tastes are rubbish rather than being embarrassed to admit to liking their kind of music ever again or making a big silly fuss about how unfair the person's being to say that. But part of learning to give off indifferent signals is learning to look more confident. That doesn't mean putting on a false act all the time. It might feel false at first while they're just practising, but once they start looking more confident, if they notice it makes a difference in people's attitudes to them, or even if they just feel better within themselves, they genuinely will start feeling more confident.
Practising holding a good posture can help, since standing up straight and smiling makes a person look much more confident than hanging one's head and looking disconsolate, as a victim often might when being taunted or worrying about being taunted. Standing tall with heads up and shoulders back, military-style, can make people look confident and competent. The look of self-assurance doesn't advertise someone as an easy target like a timid bearing does. It can also make it look as if the person's open to talking to people, so others might think they'll be easier to approach and they might make new friends. Being less isolated will also make them seem less easy targets.
Another thing that can make people look more approachable is if they sit with legs and arms uncrossed and not really close to the body, looking relaxed, leaning forward slightly, making eye contact with the person they're talking to, and smiling.
A smile can give the impression a person's friendly and interested in the people around them, which again can encourage others to approach them, which could be useful in making friends. It might be difficult for a person to smile if they're used to being victimised, but some people have found that just putting on a smile has made them feel more cheerful; so we could ask the pupils to practice doing that, while giving them suggestions on good posture and asking them to practice those. We could do role-plays, perhaps splitting the class into groups and having one group practise at a time while we supervise them, with half the group pretending to taunt the others while the others look confident and perhaps shrug as if to suggest they just don't care, and then the half who've just practised the confident posture pretending to taunt the other half while the other half practise the confident posture. We could make suggestions for improvements where necessary. We could ask everyone to practise on their own whenever they remember throughout the coming week, and we can compliment them if we notice they're doing well, and make suggestions if we think their attempts could do with improvement. Of course if they look genuinely upset, we'll need to ask them what's wrong, not make suggestions on how they could improve their posture and facial expression.
Smiling all the time doesn't give a good impression though; smiling throughout a conversation might give the impression we're willing to agree to everything the person we're talking to says. Smiling in a friendly way when we meet people can be good though, and when we're going about our business.
Eye contact can give clues to confidence as well. Anxious people often look at others all the time to see if they can pick up clues as to what people are thinking of them. An impression of a more confident person might be gained if a person looks at someone just before they speak to them and smiles, then maybe looks away when they speak, and then looks at them again when they finish speaking and smiles again to encourage them to say something. If they're saying something long, it might be good if they look at them a few times during it to check the person's still interested, but not for too long, or the other person will likely interpret it as a signal to start speaking.
Anyway, we can teach the children that kind of thing.
It's not fair to blame victims for being bullied, even if we can see how their behaviour encourages it, for instance if they don't stand up for themselves, or protest in an over-the-top way that seems amusing or pathetic to others so they make themselves easy targets. But there are skills we can teach them that'll make them less attractive targets for bullies. The hope is that we'll be able to teach both victims and bullies new skills so they can interact more peacefully.
We can teach the whole class the skills victims can use to make themselves less attractive targets for bullies, because all students could benefit by learning them. Or we could try asking the school counsellor if they'll teach some classes on them. If any children are having particular difficulties, we could maybe see if we can get them some one-to-one sessions with the school counsellor for more intensive teaching.
One thing that can make someone an easy target for bullies is if they spend a lot of time alone. Sometimes they might do that because they haven't learned the skills to make friends. If we teach the class some skills that could be useful in helping them make friends, the whole class will probably benefit, but anyone who particularly needs help to learn to make friends will hopefully particularly benefit.
We could teach a bit about conversational skills. Some children are very good at asking questions and have no hesitation about talking a lot. But other children, maybe more shy ones, can have more difficulty. We can suggest to them ways of asking questions in such a way as to encourage a person they're talking to to talk quite a bit, rather than asking questions that are likely to elicit a mere one-word answer. Some shy children might not like talking themselves much; but if they get better at asking the kinds of questions that encourage others to talk quite a bit, they might be able to make some friends who enjoy talking while they enjoy listening. Also getting them involved in activities where they take an active role can help them make friends. But we could have a lesson on teaching them about questions that can get people talking, and encourage them all to practise asking each other those kinds of questions.
We could tell them that there are two kinds of questions, closed questions and open-ended questions. Closed questions are ones that don't leave the other person much room for giving much information, and open-ended questions are ones that encourage them to say more.
For instance, an example of a closed question would be, "How old are you?" The most likely answer would be a one-word answer, like "six" or something. Another example of a closed question would be, "Do you like school?" A talkative person might use the opportunity to give their opinion on just what they think of it, but the question doesn't in itself encourage the person being asked it to say more, but merely suggests a yes/no answer is required.
Open-ended questions, on the other hand, have to be answered with more than one or two words. They're questions like, "What do you like about school and what don't you like about it?" "You seem to be bored in lessons. Why is that?" "What does your dad think of his job?" "I've noticed you're good at this game. Can you give me a few tips on how to play well?"
We could give the children several examples of questions that encourage other people to talk, and then perhaps split them up into groups and instruct them to take turns asking someone in the group a question. Each of them can perhaps choose who they'd like to ask a question, and they can take turns round the group asking them. Hopefully by the end of the lesson they'll have had quite a bit of practise. We could go around hinting at questions they could ask if any of them are stuck.
Another thing we could give them practise in is making small talk, since it's probably best to start conversations a lot of the time by asking questions about trivialities rather than going straight in with important questions. So we could again give them examples of things they could say, and then get them to practise saying trivial conversation-starters to each other in groups, helping them if they can't think of anything.
Examples we could suggest to them could include things like: "The weather's nice today, isn't it." "There are some pretty things in here, aren't there." "Did you enjoy dinner?" "You enjoyed that game, didn't you. What are your favourite games?" "These chairs are a bit close together, aren't they!" "It's a bit noisy in here, isn't it!" "Your hair looks nice!" And so on.
We can tell them that complimenting people, as long as it's not over-done and is sincere, will help them get friends.
Unless they're taught coping skills, children might, when they grow into teenagers, easily fall for the lure of unhealthy things or give into peer pressure to do them, or get involved in them as an escape from emotional difficulties. Things like alcohol and drugs, violence and sexual activity. It might seem a bit too much to say that much about such things to them before then, but saying a bit carefully can help, because they'll probably know a bit about them from the media anyway, if they haven't already encountered them in their lives. We don't have to get too graphic. But we can talk with other teachers about prevention efforts, and then do a bit of work with the children.
For instance, one thing that could be arranged is for older students to do school plays about some teenagers trying to persuade others to engage in risky behaviour with them and the way the teenagers who don't want to do it get themselves out of the situation. And the plays can be about children using techniques of standing up to bullying. Hopefully the younger children will pick up some ideas on ways of doing things from what the older students do in the plays. For instance, part of a play could maybe be about a boyfriend trying to persuade his girlfriend to go shoplifting to get him something he wants. He could use lines like, "You would if you loved me". The scene can be about how the girl talks her way out of the situation, persuading him that she can still love him and not do what he wants, although even if she loves him, she can still decide not to go out with him any more if he's going to insist on behaving like that, since it isn't a fair way to treat shop owners and it might get them into trouble. Students might apply the technique to other situations they might encounter, such as if someone's using lines like that when trying to persuade them to have sex with them.
Younger students can become familiar with the kind of thing that'll be in the plays beforehand, by being told about them and asked to help make posters and signs and put them up around the school.
One thing that can reduce children's likelihood of getting involved in risky behaviour is if they feel good about themselves. So programs that help them do that can reduce their involvement in such things without even mentioning them. Of course it's good to have programs that directly address them as well. But just addressing them themselves might not be as effective as doing that in combination with helping children raise their self-worth so they like themselves too much to get involved in behaviour that could harm them and are optimistic they can go places in life if they focus their minds on things like education. Teaching assertiveness, problem-solving skills and trying to create an environment where they can feel respected can also reduce depression and anxiety in students because they can cope better with life's challenges and they feel safer.
A lot of people, especially children, don't think before they act. They do what their emotions tell them to do at the time and think over the consequences later. We could try and teach them to plan ahead more and think more before they act. That kind of thing comes with maturity anyway to some extent, at least with some people, but we could try to help it along, since it might mean, for example, that bullies start thinking more before they bully someone, or that children think more before joining friends in risky behaviours. Also, if they come to think of themselves as having decent decision-making skills, they might become more confident.
We could have discussions with the class about the importance of thinking before acting, giving examples of situations where it might be important, and asking them to think of some themselves.
For instance, we could maybe use the example of a boy who finds his sister upset because another boy asked to go out with her but a week later tells her she isn't good enough for him and dumps her, which is especially annoying because He isn't a nice boy anyway, into underage drinking and fighting; so for him to say she isn't good enough is especially insulting. The brother might be tempted to go and fight him for upsetting his sister. But if he thinks for a minute first, he might realise that might only get him beaten up by the boy and his friends, and that really, the more sensible thing to do could be to comfort his sister, perhaps trying to reassure her that she's better off without him, since after all, he was into underage drinking and other risky things.
Another kind of example we could use is of a friend who tries to encourage one of the class to go shoplifting with them. Because they're a friend and the pupil wants their approval, and because it seems an exciting thing to do, and because it might be nice to have what the friend wants to steal, it might be tempting to go right ahead without thinking. But if they do think a bit first, they might realise that it might be the start of a habit of committing crime because they wouldn't be likely to just want to stop at once; and eventually they might be caught and punished. And they might think there were more honest ways of having fun and bonding with friends like going to a sports centre where they could go swimming or something, so they could try persuading their friend to do that instead.
The children might be able to think of examples where they might be tempted into things but thinking a bit first might make them realise they'd be a bad idea.
We could also regularly coax them to make their own little decisions in lessons to give them a bit of practice. For instance, at the end of the day, instead of just telling them what they'll need to take home with them for homework, we could ask them to work out what they'll need and tell us what they think.
Problem-solving techniques are useful for all children to know, but they can help bullies think of alternatives to bullying. They might also help victims think of ideas on how to handle bullying. There's a problem-solving technique with several steps we could try teaching. We could perhaps give the class notes on what those steps are, and then encourage them to imagine they have a problem and they're using the technique to try and solve it. The steps are basically:
Perhaps we could think of a few practice problems to solve, and ask the class for ideas on solving them. Then maybe we could give some children one sample problem, some another and some a third, and ask them to go through the steps and try to think of solutions. When they've all thought of some ideas, perhaps we could get them to share them with the class. We could go around and help them if they can't think of possible solutions, by asking questions designed to give them ideas.
We could discuss a few demonstration problems with them first to help them get the hang of things.
For instance, we could ask the children to imagine they've just got a nasty email from someone threatening to bully them. They have to think about what to do.
First, they would write down exactly what the problem is, so what they say might be something like:
I've got a threatening email from someone at school who's bigger than me and I'm worried they're really going to hurt me.
Then the person would try to think of several possible things to do next. They would write them all down even if some were better than others:
The next step is to take each one of those possible solutions in turn and think about their advantages and disadvantages:
1. I could write him a nasty reply saying he'd better not dare pick on me or he'll get hurt worse, in the hope it scares him off.
2. I could take the chance that he's not being serious and do nothing. Perhaps he's just trying to worry me and if I seem as confident as usual tomorrow at school, he'll think it didn't work and give up.
3. I could try to talk him out of it.
4. I could take the chance that he's not all that serious and try to laugh it off in an email to him about it, in the hope it calms him down if he really is planning something.
5. I can spend as much time as I can in public areas that are supervised by adults like the library, where he isn't likely to bully me.
6. I could try and get a group of friends around me who'll defend me if he does attack me, and we might even be able to beat him up first.
7. I could take a weapon to school so if he attacks me, I can fight back.
8. I could play truant from school from now on in the hope I avoid him.
9. I could tell my parents.
10. I could tell my teacher.
11. I could tell some of my friends and ask them to help me think of what to do.
Since all the possible solutions have both advantages and disadvantages, the person trying to solve the problem needs to work out which ones have the least and least important disadvantages, and the best advantages. A ratings system can be used so the possible solutions are easier to quickly bypass later or examine more, where the person looks at each set of advantages and each set of disadvantages and gives them a number from one to five. A five rating for the advantages would mean they're really good. A five rating for the disadvantages would mean they're really bad. If the person can work out how to make the disadvantages of any solution less bad, they can give them a lower rating.
For instance, the main disadvantage of telling the teacher and the parents about the nasty email is that the bully might find out and bully them for that. But that can become less of a disadvantage if the person thinks their parents and teacher are trustworthy enough not to let the bully know, and that they can tell them about their concerns that the bully will find out they told on them and bully them worse, and they'll be willing to listen and approach the bully in a way that won't let them know they were told on.
A combination of solutions might sometimes be appropriate. For instance, telling a teacher, parents and friends and discussing what to do with them might be better than just doing one of those things. And emailing the bully to ask what's making him want to pick on them after talking things through with someone might be better than trying it on its own.
Another way of demonstrating problem-solving techniques to pupils in the hope that something rubs off on them is by showing them we can be forward-thinking in the way we think of their bullying problems. For instance, this dialogue is an example of an approach that encourages people to think about possible solutions rather than just being mired in thinking about whatever problem there might be. It shows that whenever we can think of ways how to, we can turn conversations about problems into discussions of possible solutions:
Teacher: David, you seem to be bullying other students. What's your goal in all this?
David: My goal? What do you mean?
Teacher: Well I have a goal. Mine is to help all the students get along with each other, to help them show each other respect, and to help them learn what I teach. When you bully other pupils, you aren't showing them respect, and you're making it more difficult for them to learn, as well as not concentrating on your own learning.
David: But they never stop; they always get in my face and it really annoys me.
Teacher: Ah, so you have the goal of getting along with other pupils too. That's good. But what are you doing to achieve it? You seem to be trying to do it by getting into fights and pushing quite a few of the other pupils around. When you do that, does that help you achieve your goal of getting on better with people?
David: I suppose not, but they should leave me alone as well; they look at me like they think I'm stupid or something.
Teacher: You're not stupid. But you do get angry. When you're angry, does that help you achieve your goal of getting on with others?
David: No, but what can I do?
Teacher: Good question. Can you think of any ideas?
Teacher: I've got some ideas. One thing you could try is to practise ignoring the looks they give you. After all, imagine it's twenty years from now and you're looking back on your schooldays, thinking about the way a couple of kids looked at you now and then. Will you think it's important? If you won't, then maybe you might decide that what a couple of kids think isn't important now. After all, they might think something else about you in a couple of weeks, if you stop bullying them.
Another thing you could try is to tell them that when they look at you like that, you feel hurt because it seems they don't like you. Let's try those out and see if they work.
Experiences of bullying can make victims feel powerless to help themselves. If they've been up against a stronger or cleverer bully and no one's supported them, they can lose confidence in themselves. Feeling helpless can lead to depression and anxiety. And that may be long-term if it carries on. So they need to be taught how to cope better, and also assured that there will be people around who will support them.
Victims can feel safer if they get to be part of a group rather than doing things on their own; so we can pay attention to trying to encourage any victims to join groups of children sometimes. That will have the added benefit that the victims will get practice at talking over things with other pupils, and they will witness other pupils handling disagreements and might learn from them, and that might help boost their confidence that they can handle conflict.
It'll boost the pupils' confidence in their general abilities and help them make friends if we try to arrange things so the children are put in groups where they have to do tasks where each of them has a role and they all work together on solving puzzles or something. If we can try and make it so each member of the group will do something that will make them feel useful, it will boost their confidence and the amount of respect they have in the group.
It can also be useful if sometimes we put bullies and victims in the same group, both working towards a common goal. If they have to work together to achieve something they both want, and we can be sure they'll both be able to make valuable contributions, they may come to respect and value each other, so the bully won't bully the victim so much. The exception though should be if a victim has been so upset by what a bully has said or done that to put them together would just make the victim feel worse.
It can also help if we sometimes put children who seem shy and lacking in confidence, who might be most vulnerable to being bullied, in groups with confident outgoing children, who might encourage them by example to become more confident. If they make friends, the shy children might come to believe in themselves more, and they might pick up some of the communication skills from the lively children that they can use in conflict resolution in situations where the bullying isn't too bad.
One task we can give the children is to discuss any ways they've found useful of handling bullying. One way of doing that is to split them into small discussion groups with one member of each group writing down the ideas the group comes up with, and then we ask each group what ideas they came up with later in the lesson.
We might get an interesting insight if we ask bullies themselves how they think victims can stop being bullied. That won't mean we're blaming the victim, and we'll have to make sure nothing begins to sound like it; but some bullies might have been victimised in other situations and have experience of trying to stop it, or they might have ideas on what people could do to stop them, such as standing up to them more.
We can ask students to write down a list of the best suggestions their group has come up with for dealing with bullying, or if we're talking to them as a whole class, we can write down what they suggest ourselves. Then we can go through the list, discussing each thing on the list with them with its advantages and disadvantages. If students raise disadvantages with things we think it would be good for them to do, such as coming and telling us about any bullying going on, we could talk about ways of overcoming those problems. For instance, if they have suggested that a way of dealing with a bullying situation would be to tell us about it, but some object that that would make the bully more likely to pick on them, we could discuss how they could report things anonymously, or how since we encourage every person in the class to report bullying, we'd like as big a group as possible to report it if the bully tries picking on anyone. We can stress that bullies will get in more trouble if they try getting revenge on anyone. And so on.
If students are more confident they'll get our support if they report bullying and know of other things they could try to stop it, things they think could work, they might start feeling more confident and empowered.
Another way we could help them to feel more confident is if we encourage them to push themselves in new ways where we feel sure they'll experience success so they'll feel good about having achieved new things and have a better opinion of their abilities. For instance, we could encourage them to join a new activity and meet new people if we're sure they'll get a friendly reception and be able to do the activity well. Or we could make homework assignments gradually more difficult so they have to use more brain power to complete them, and then maybe say something like, "It must feel good knowing you could do that" if they did it well. Obviously we need to make sure we're not giving children things that are too difficult to do. But challenges they actually enjoy and that we're sure they'll be able to do if they try can boost their confidence in their abilities.
Also, challenges in class can sometimes stop some students being disruptive, because some get disruptive because they're bored.
If we're not sure what they're good at, so we're not sure what best to challenge them in, we could ask the students to each write us a letter telling us about any special characteristics they have, anything they know they do well, even those no one's ever complimented them on. If they have trouble thinking of anything, we could talk with them about what new interests they might like to take up, and ask them questions and tell them things we've noticed about them that might help them work out what strengths they do have.
Identifying their strengths might in itself make some of the children feel more positive about themselves and confident.
We can help them along the way with any new challenge we've encouraged them to try but that they're a bit stuck on.
A lot of bullies might not realise that they can get good feelings if they behave in positive ways. They might like behaving aggressively and think they need to to protect themselves, and just not realise they could get fulfilment by behaving in any other way. If we can channel their energies into things that give them good feelings for behaving in positive ways, they might become more interested in doing so.
We can think about whether bullies and pupils who might become bullies in our class have any skills that could make them useful to the rest of the class or others. For instance, perhaps some have what could be leadership or organisational skills with a bit of training, or some might be particularly good at certain subjects. If we give them responsible jobs around the classroom, some might take a pride in their new responsibility and respect and feel good that their abilities are being recognised, so they no longer want to get attention and status by bullying. Naturally that won't work for every child. But it might for some.
So maybe some could help us prepare some classroom materials, for instance by photocopying or stapling, or they could help us rearrange the classroom, make a new noticeboard, help tutor other students, or lead a class activity. We could ask them if they could recommend other students who could help us, and maybe take them up on some of their recommendations.
We could talk with them while they're helping us, asking them about their lives, and showing interest in what they tell us. Perhaps some will develop a bond with us that'll make them more willing to help. We could praise them for helping us, let them know just how they've helped us, and encourage them to help other people as well. If they like the praise and appreciation, they might well want to help some more.
When children are optimistic that they can do something good with their futures, they're less likely to indulge in behaviours that will harm them or others than if they don't see any future for themselves so they're not motivated to look after themselves. Bullies often don't do well academically. We could encourage them and the other children that there could be a good future for them if we often talk about what they're good at and what it could lead to, and sound optimistic that they are capable of achieving things if they try. We could give them an idea of the variety of career choices there may be available to them. We can tell the children we believe in them, and ask them, and in particular the bullies, what they'd like to be when they grow up. We could ask whether they know anyone who has the job, what they want out of a job, and how long they'd like to stay in education. We could try to encourage them that they could be very successful in a career or education if they find what they're good at and work at it. If they're focused on aiming to do well in life, they're hopefully less likely to get into delinquent behaviours.
Also, some people get into bullying and even crime because they haven't got much to do they find interesting, so their brains are idle and get to stewing on petty grudges and looking for ways of making their lives more exciting. Bullying can be fun and an adrenaline buzz and can be a way of venting anger at the same time, so it can easily be resorted to in that kind of circumstance. If people have got something to focus on that interests them, something they care about, that'll absorb the brain's energies and give them new direction, so their desire to bully or engage in other delinquent behaviour can fade.
Also, if they're in different environments from those they usually bully in, for instance in a part of the classroom where they're with different children doing different things from those that usually set off their urges to bully, it can help them stay out of temptation's way.
Teachers sometimes find it difficult to distinguish between rough play in children and bullying. There are definite differences though. In rough play where every child's equally enthusiastic, if it gets too rough and one says they're getting hurt or doesn't like it, the others will stop. With bullying, the bully might behave worse if they can sense their victim's suffering.
Bullies often go for weaker opponents - either physically weaker, or people with less skill at defending themselves. A person can't be defined as a bully if they just occasionally get aggressive with other children. Bullying behaviour has to be repeated over time before someone can be defined as a bully.
It might be useful if we discuss with children what bullying is and isn't, so they know what kinds of things to report and what kinds of things are just harmless play. The book says there are certain things that can distinguish bullying from playing:
The same actions might be play when they're done between two pupils who are well-matched in physical strength or skill, but bullying when they're done on someone weaker.
Though quite a lot of bullying goes on on the way to and back from school, such as on the school bus, the book says most happens in school, where there are more victims. It mainly happens in places unsupervised by adults. Bullies sometimes have quite a bit of unsupervised free time, and they can use that to find victims and bully them. Bullying could happen anywhere in the school where children are unsupervised. We could speak to other staff to try to increase the supervision in some of the places bullying's most likely to occur, such as playgrounds.
If we discover there's somewhere in the school where children seem to be being bullied fairly often, we could try and find out what it is about that place that makes it attractive for bullies to bully in, and speak to other staff about trying to remedy the situation. For instance, cameras could be put there, or a staff member could supervise it more, or older students could take turns policing it, and so on.
It might be that when we try to persuade other school staff to get involved in anti-bullying efforts, they won't be interested, because they'll have beliefs about bullying that make them think it isn't a significant problem or there isn't really much they can do. The book mentions some beliefs it says are quite common among teachers but aren't true. If we come across them in our own school, perhaps we could do some research on them to try to find information that will convince them the truth is a bit different. Here are the kinds of false beliefs the book says some people have and why it says they're not true:
Some teachers wonder what to do if they have a suspicion bullying's going on but can't prove anything because people are reluctant to report it, even the victim. Teachers may be able to persuade a person who they have a suspicion is being victimised to confide in us if we try to build a friendly relationship with them and provide safe places where they can confide in us if they want to. It's best not to be so obvious about it that they start getting picked on for being a "teacher's pet" though. If we can be friendly to all the children to some extent, it will hopefully help.
We can look out for signs a child might be being bullied if we don't know for sure. Some things a child can sometimes do when they're upset by being bullied are stay away from school, avoid certain activities at school, get depressed or anxious, or sometimes suffer physical complaints like headaches and stomach aches. Headaches can sometimes come on because of tension, and people can get butterflies in their stomach for much of the time if they're chronically anxious.
Actually, my sister got bullied at school a bit. A few girls in the class used to throw little things at her sometimes like little bits of clay after they'd had a pottery lesson. She started complaining in the mornings that she had a tummy ache. Our parents took her to the doctor, who said a lot of children came to the doctor with tummy aches, and often it was because they were anxious because they were being bullied at school. That turned out to be what was wrong with my sister. Our parents took her to martial arts lessons. Just a few days after she started, she told the girls who'd been tormenting her that she'd started doing martial arts, and they never bothered her again after that, as if they were scared she'd throw them around the room or something.
The book says some teachers aren't sure of the difference between bullying and rough-and-tumble play; but it says if a child's harmed during play, it won't be deliberate, but that if a child keeps on being harmed, supposedly accidentally, we ought to do some investigation to find out whether bullying's going on.
Also, if a child has an injury or avoids certain places where no adults are supervising, where bullies could bully others in secret, we can start to question whether they've been bullied.
We could try to find out as much as we can about bullying by looking at the newest research, some of which we might find on the Internet, going to any anti-bullying seminars we can, talking about what we've found out with other school staff and trying to get them interested in adopting the same anti-bullying policies as we're trying, and asking them if they've tried anything before that's reduced bullying, so we might get some good new ideas if they have.
Even victims of merely verbal bullying can suffer long-term effects such as depression and low self-worth. For instance, if someone's told every day by a group of other children they're a dim-wit, they might very well start believing it, especially if they can tell their grades tend not to be as good as those of many other children in the class. Once they've started believing it, they might not bother trying to work harder because they don't believe they're capable of achieving much if they do, so they carry on getting bad grades, and the bullies are reinforced in their view that they're a dim-wit and keep teasing them. The victim starts being convinced they'll never achieve anything in life, and starts to feel helpless and worthless and gets depressed. If they're never encouraged to try achieving more, they might never find out they can. So their depression might go on for years after they've left school.
The book says there are several myths about victims of bullying and victimisation that keep some teachers and other pupils from intervening to help victims because they believe them and think victims are at least partly to blame for what's happening to them:
The book says that sometimes, teachers have no sympathy for victims because they think they're attracting bullies, because they keep doing the things they're supposedly getting bullied for, for instance wearing glasses, wearing certain clothes, or talking in a certain way. But children should have the freedom to behave the way they want to, within reason. Besides, bullies can bully people they think are easy targets. If they notice someone changing the way they dress or something in response to their bullying, they might just be please with themselves that they had that effect and feel powerful, and like the feeling so they go on to try to get more of it by bullying them about something else to see if they change that as well. Or they might bully someone else. They're not bullying because some children are wearing tatty clothes or whatever; they're bullying because they want to bully and they've found someone they think it'll be easy and fun to pick on. If no one's wearing weird clothes and so on, they'll just find something else they can bully someone over.
That reminds me: There was a television programme about people who'd been bullied so much they couldn't stand school any more or had hit back and been excluded, and they were being educated in a place specially set up for victims of bullying for a while. One boy who'd been very upset by the way he was bullied said a group of kids had started saying he had body odour, and he got more and more self-conscious until he was putting deodorant on himself at the beginning of every lesson. The bullies just thought it was amusing and so they teased him more and more about having body odour and other things the more they could see it was getting to him. His attempts to change had backfired. It's possible he wouldn't have been bullied at all if when he'd first been accused of having body odour, he'd shrugged off the accusations as if he couldn't care less, or made a joke of them, for instance by sniffing himself under an arm and then exclaiming in mock horror, "Oh no, I can't cope with this!" and then pretended to faint. But it's the duty of teachers to help victims find ways to overcome any bullying they can and encourage them to develop a new perspective on some of it that helps them not to take it so personally. For instance, we could reassure them they don't need to take everything a bully says seriously because they often don't know what they're talking about. That might be good news to a victim.
Our job isn't to blame the victim; after all, they might be doing the best they can. Our job's to stop the bully bullying, as well as teaching the victim more skilful ways of handling any bullying that isn't too difficult to handle alone.
While children can sometimes be hurt in what was intended as mere play, victimisation is done deliberately, with the intent of getting gratification at the expense of another person. Some children can be victimised for some time, and might go on to have psychological problems in adult life.
Bullies deliberately target children who are weaker in some way, be it physically, having less intellectual ability, not having so many friends, or whatever. While they're being bullied, the children are likely to be experiencing a strong emotion such as fear, and when feeling fear or anger or some other strong emotion, it's difficult to learn anything. Victims can benefit by learning assertiveness skills they can use to handle the bullying better; but they can learn those best in a supportive and caring environment where they've got time to practice the skills before they use them for real.
It isn't only physical bullying that can cause problems for children. For instance, if a bully spreads a nasty rumour about someone and other people start teasing or avoiding the person because of it, spreading the rumour to others in turn, the rejection caused by former friends turning against them, and the sense of helplessness to stop what's happening and the sense of injustice at having it happen and fear at wondering what'll happen next, can leave long-term emotional scars. It could also lead the child to truant from school to avoid the discomfort and humiliation, and that could lead to them not getting as good an education as they would have done otherwise and so not doing so well in life.
Some research has found that that isn't true; boys tend to bully both boys and girls, and girls bully other girls, though often not physically as boys tend to, but by doing unkind things like spreading rumours about them, telling lies so people won't be their friends, and excluding them from groups of friends.
Leaving the issue of bullying out of lessons is a false economy. It might appear to save time, but long-term, children can do worse at school than they would if we'd discussed bullying with them and taught them conflict resolution skills and so on. It's difficult for children to concentrate on lessons when they're feeling upset because they've been bullied, or feeling fearful because they're scared of what'll happen in the next break between lessons. Also, bullying doesn't go away if it's ignored; instead, it tends to get worse, so teachers who don't deal with it tend to end up with worse problems that take up more time than addressing bullying early on would have done.
Some teachers don't know much about the best ways of stopping bullying and think that if they try, they might do the wrong thing and do more harm than good. But their confidence and know-how can increase the more they read up about ways of tackling bullying.
Teachers can encourage pupils to take some of the responsibility for detecting and standing up against bullying. After all, it's impossible for a teacher to be everywhere at once; so pupils who are dedicated to reporting bullying wherever they see it can help reduce it. Also, if other teachers in the school have the same dedication to reducing it, bullies are more likely to get the message that bullying is unacceptable in the school.
It may be that in some classes, there genuinely is no bullying. But in some, it's just that the teacher doesn't get to hear about the bullying, because there's a "code of silence" where no one mentions it for fear of what the bullies might do to them. If we bring the subject out into the open and discuss it a lot, students might start talking about it more and bringing incidents of it to light.
Bullies often pick on people they perceive to be weaker than themselves. Children who might seem ideal candidates are those who are quiet and isolated, not having many friends, and who are anxious and timid, not being good at standing up for themselves. If there are children like that in our class, perhaps we could pay special attention to teaching them assertiveness skills and how to look confident.
There are things that could be possible warning signs of victimisation. If we notice them in a student, we could try to find out if they're being bullied, if there isn't another obvious cause. For instance, a victim of bullying might start doing badly at school when they were doing quite well before. Worrying about being bullied can be a distraction from learning, and if they're being bullied about having done well, they might be scared to continue to.
Stress and tension can even make people physically ill. If someone's off school a lot with stomach aches or headaches, or anything else that hasn't been put down to an obvious cause, we could speak to them about whether they're being bullied.
If they're truanting or look like dropping out of school, they may be being victimised, and truanting so they can keep away from their bully or bullies. Also, if they seem to be trying to avoid certain areas of the school or to avoid being in certain situations, they might be being bullied there.
If children have stopped wanting to be friends with another child, it might possibly be because the child's being bullied and other children don't want to associate with them anymore, either because they've been convinced by the bully that the child's an uncool person to be around, or because they're scared the bully might turn on them if they do. or it could be that the victim stays away from other people to try and avoid situations where they might be bullied.
If we see a child often looking lonely or stressed, or find out they're sleeping poorly and feel depressed or not very confident, they might be being bullied.
They might never tell us they're being bullied, perhaps because they're scared of what the bully will do if they find out, or because they assume we won't be able to do much about it. And bullies often bully their victims in places where no adults are likely to be around to see them doing it. So it's important that we look for any changes in children's behaviour that might be signs that it's happening. There are several possible warning signs we could be on the lookout for, according to the book:
If we notice a child behaving in a way that might indicate something's wrong, we could go up to them and say quietly that we've noticed they're not their usual self, and ask if anything's wrong. They might not necessarily be being bullied; perhaps other things will be going on in their lives that are making them unhappy, or they might not even be unhappy. But it'll be worth asking them in case they are being bullied. We can ask them if they'd like to talk about it, and assure them we'll give them a listening ear in private and care about what they say if they'd like to talk. If they tell us they are being bullied, or if they tell us about any other troubles, we can decide who can help them best, either us, the school counsellor or someone else.
The signs won't always be obvious. For instance, a child might say three times in one week that they feel ill just before lunch and request to go to the nurse, but that could easily be the sign of a genuine ailment, so it could easily just be assumed to be one. Or if a child doesn't want to participate in an activity it could be interpreted as mere defiance and naughtiness and a teacher could get angry and try to make them take part. Teachers need to ask questions if they see anything that just might be a sign of victimisation, such as a marked change in behaviour or something that just doesn't seem right. Victims need encouragement and support.
It's important that we show concern, even if it might turn out nothing's wrong, partly because bullies can sometimes be subtle and say or do things that upset victims when we're nearby, and the victims might assume we know but that we just don't care, when in reality we haven't realised.
A lot of victimisation takes place on the way to and back from school and on the playground. So it'll be useful if we can talk with bus drivers and playground supervisors to try to work out some means where they can report bullying to us. If bus drivers make a point of learning the children's names and having a little word with each one personally as far as possible when they get on, it'll be easier for them to identify culprits when they report bullying, because they can just tell us the names of the people involved. Also, it's possible there won't be so much bullying if the children think of the bus as a friendly place where the driver cares about them, rather than an impersonal place.
If the victims seem to be bringing the bullying on themselves, by, for instance, not standing up for themselves, instead of criticising them, we can ask ourselves what they need to learn so they won't be so much of a target. For instance, we could ask ourselves if learning assertiveness skills might help them, or whether confidence-building skills might help.
It's important to encourage victims to ask for help rather than just expecting them to, because there are several reasons why they might not. There might be a tradition in the school that it's shameful to report things. Bullies might intimidate people who do. And the victim might think reporting would be telling tales and coming across as helpless because they think they ought to be able to stand up for themselves. But they might not know how. Instead of asking for help to learn how, they might just feel ashamed that they don't know how, thinking it reflects badly on them. And if they spend quite a bit of time alone rather than with friends, they won't be getting second opinions on whether those beliefs are right, or encouragement to report the bullying, or suggestions on how to deal with it. So they might just feel discouraged, worrying more and more about how to deal with it because of all their thoughts about being inadequate to cope and how shameful it would be to admit it by reporting what's going on and breaking the code of silence - being a grass.
It can help if we discuss that kind of thing with the class, pointing out that a code of silence is just a convenient way bullies have of keeping people quiet about what they're doing. We can point out that it isn't shameful to report things, since even if they're reporting something they can't cope with when they know a lot of other children can, it'll just mean there are a few gaps in their learning and we'll be willing to teach them the skills necessary to handle what they couldn't handle before or introduce them to someone else who can teach them. Also we can tell them that since we want everyone to have respect for each other in our classroom, any disrespectful behaviour is something we don't want, and even if it's minor, disrespectful behaviour tends to grow if it's ignored, because people think if they've got away with their behaviour so far, they might get away with more and more. So stopping it while it's only minor could prevent bigger problems later.
Victims of verbal bullying might also not report it because they assume they're being over-sensitive and they'd be making a fuss about something that shouldn't be bothering them. For instance, if they get called names, they might have heard the old saying Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me and assume that getting upset by being called names is over-sensitive. We can discuss with the class how name-calling can make people feel bad and that's a common feeling so anyone who does feel bad doesn't need to think they're being over-sensitive and think they just need to learn to cope better on their own. If victims realise their feelings are actually common, they might feel relieved and stop worrying about them so much. Worrying about them can increase their anxiety so the whole experience is worse for them.
Victims of bullying also might not seek help sometimes because they don't believe teachers have the skills to help them, or don't believe they care, if they've never intervened before. If we show them we do care, they might develop more confidence in us and report their bullies when they wouldn't have before.
One of the reasons that's a good thing is that some victims eventually can't stand it anymore and do something drastic to hurt either themselves or the bully, sometimes involving others. Dealing with the problems early can eliminate the build-up of resentments that can result in such things. Some victims won't ask for help. So it's important not to wait till they do, but to show that we're supportive. If we discuss bullying and the feelings of victims with the class and make it obvious we care, children will probably be more likely to approach us for support.
Some incidents of bullying might seem so small that we don't think it's worth intervening, or think students really ought to be able to handle them on their own. The trouble is that when students think they can get away with them, some will try bigger and bigger things, testing the limits to see just what they can get away with, while victims are the ones to suffer. So not tolerating any aggression is best.
Of course, we need to use our own discretion when deciding what to penalise. Some schools have apparently taken the idea of zero tolerance for aggression to such ridiculous extremes that children have even been punished for fighting back in self-defence against children who were bullying them. And there needs to be a bit of flexibility about the punishments for minor offences.
For instance, the book says a new boy came to the school and he was standing at the end of the lunch queue and started flicking the ears of the boy in front of him. The boy didn't do anything although it must have hurt, but another boy came over and said, "You're new here so you don't know the rules. We don't do that kind of thing at our school, so you need to stop it now". The bully stopped immediately, looking embarrassed. No further action was taken against him.
Where school administrators take a lively interest in what's going on in their schools and try to address problems as they come up, there can be much lower levels of aggression in them than if they don't really have much to do with the teaching staff or make efforts to understand and deal with their problems.
It's important for us to try to convince the other teachers and administrative staff like the principal to adopt a zero tolerance attitude to bullying as well as us, because otherwise it'll be more difficult to get children not to be aggressive, since they'll know they get away with being aggressive in some classes but not others. So they'll be getting mixed messages, rather than having a consistent message that bullying is unacceptable. All teachers need to be dedicated to making the school as safe a place as possible for an anti-bullying policy to really work.
The book says it's been found that the teachers most successful at reducing bullying in their class are teachers who really believe they can make a difference, so they work at things with more enthusiasm, stick with problems with difficult pupils longer, and look for more inventive ways of solving problems if things aren't going too well.
It says it's also been found that teachers can help control the class and keep students interested if we seem confident because of our posture and tone of voice and the gestures we make. It's best if we walk around the class a lot so we can check up on the students' behaviour better and have a few words with individuals to make sure they're allright. Very aggressive students might not like us close to them at first, but once we've demonstrated to them that we have their interests at heart and aren't just there to watch for misdemeanours and punish them, they might well relax and like the attention.
There are certain things we need to bear in mind about our own behaviour if we want to be fair to students:
It's important that we don't punish some students and let others off for the same behaviour, or punish some on some days and not others. If we show favouritism, or we can't be bothered to impose consequences on some students one day or anything like that, they'll keep doing what they shouldn't, because they'll know that sometimes they do get away with it; and they'll think it's unfair if they get punished when sometimes they don't or when other people don't. So even if we like some pupils much more than others, we need to try to treat them all fairly. Even if we think some are just unintelligent thuggish characters who don't deserve our attention, it might be that their backgrounds have made things very difficult for them and that actually they could do with extra nurturing.
It's also important that we think about what's happened when bullying has occurred before imposing penalties. If we react too quickly, we might be reacting in anger, and our judgments might not be fair because we haven't had enough time to really find out what's been going on. For instance, we might punish someone because of what the person they're with says about what they were doing, when actually, they're the victim and the person bullying them lied and said they were the one causing the trouble when they weren't. Or the bully might protest that the other one hit them, but not say that they provoked them into it. Asking questions to try to find out the truth before ordering a punishment will tend to be better.
If students know in advance what consequences they're likely to get for certain behaviours, they're probably less likely to protest about them than if they think they've been given some random punishment dreamed up on the spur of the moment. So if we can explain our rules to the class early on, and give them an idea of the consequences we think are appropriate for certain kinds of behaviour and let them know that's what they can expect if they engage in it, they won't be surprised by one when it happens, and will likely come to accept it as the norm. They're more likely to see the penalty as a consequence of their bad behaviour rather than something the teacher decided to impose on them because the teacher's nasty. If there's a feeling of inevitability about getting the punishment, the teacher can talk with the students about how they can behave differently in future in order to avoid the consequences.
So it can be good if there's a lesson early on where rules are made and agreed on, and consequences for breaking them are discussed. Then it's good to have a written list of rules and consequences up in the classroom so the children are reminded of them every day.
We could speak to other staff and ask if they'd be willing to adopt the same style of rules and consequences as we have, and to make them clear to the children in their class from early on. Or they might have some good ideas for what we could do that we didn't think of.
It's best if we give a student who breaks the rules a penalty every single time they break them. Then they'll learn where they stand and will be less likely to keep testing our limits to see what we'll put up with. If it's written in the rules that certain behaviours will be penalised with certain consequences, but then instead of penalising students who do them, we simply warn them that they'd better stop or we will, they'll notice the contradiction between what the rules say and what we're doing, and wonder what they can get away with. So they might carry on with the behaviour. If we warn them again without giving them a penalty, they might think they're getting away with it, so they might behave worse, to see if they can get away with that. If we still don't impose a consequence, their behaviour might get even worse, till in the end we're so frustrated we punish them with something much more serious than they deserve, or possibly punish the whole class. That might stop their behaviour, but they'll be angry because they'll think we've treated them unfairly, so they'll be more likely to behave badly in the future.
When we give them a penalty for a rule breach, it's best if we make it clear just why they're being punished, so they don't feel picked on. For instance, we can explain just what they did wrong, and possibly point to the bit in our classroom rules where it says people shouldn't do that.
All the while, it's best if we don't forget to watch out for any good behaviour the student does and compliment them for it, so they're encouraged that they're not all bad and might want to do the good behaviour more if it gets them approved of.
It's best if we look over a day when it's finished, and if we realise we've mishandled something, we don't have to spend time condemning ourselves over it, but we can think about how we can handle it better in future.
One thing that can help us enforce rules with less protest is if we examine our own behaviour to try and make sure it's respectful to students. There might be particular students who get on our nerves who it's difficult to speak in a civil tone of voice to or to discipline without being impatient and angry. But it's worth trying, both because if we succeed and they've got less grounds for protesting that we're being unfair it'll make our job easier, and because if we can get their confidence, we might be able to influence them for good more, especially if they decide they'd like to behave better after a while and come to think of us as someone worth imitating.
We can try being encouraging towards students and emphasising any positive characteristics we feel sure they could develop and put to good use. Also, we can explain to them how to use conflict resolution skills and use them ourselves when we're talking to them. For instance, if they call us names, instead of saying something unkind in anger, we could point out that they're being disrespectful and ask how they could rephrase what they'd like to say.
Another way we can show respect is by not being scornful of students who come up with ideas or behave in ways we don't understand at first and don't think are sensible. Asking them to explain further instead of jumping to conclusions might clarify things so we understand them better.
If students think of us as someone they can trust and confide in, they might benefit quite a lot. They might all be stressed by academic and other demands, particularly if they're being bullied. We can tell them we're willing for them to come and see us in private about anything they feel they need to talk about, and we'll try to help them. For some students, we might be the only adult they can trust and feel safe around. We can show an interest in their personal lives as well as their academic performance, and that might help them come to think of us as someone they can talk to about more than just their work.
We can assure pupils that as far as possible, we'll keep what they say private. If we think we ought to tell someone else, such as if we think they might be in danger, we can tell the pupil before we do.
It might be that some students will find it more difficult to trust us than others. Students from difficult family backgrounds, where they've learned not to be quick to trust people, might be those most in need of our help. We can try to encourage them to trust us by talking with them about various things and showing we'd like to understand the way they feel about them. We could speak to family members of theirs to try and gain more of an understanding of what their home life is like and what they're hoping to get out of education and what they feel they need.
We can discuss student needs with other teachers and see if they've got any good ideas on solving problems, and try to work together with them to find ways of helping students overcome problems and achieve more at school.
If we and other teachers show a genuine interest in students so they feel welcome and appreciated in school, and if they make good friends, they might even stay on at school for longer and so leave with better qualifications. We might be able to imagine the sense of encouragement they might feel if we think about how nice it is when someone appreciates something we've done, especially something that took effort, and if we're in a place where we feel welcomed and supported.
We can help children to feel cared for and encourage them to confide in us if anything's wrong so we can try to help them, if we give them a bit of special attention if we notice something's changed about them, for instance if they're in a different mood from usual, if their school performance has changed, if they seem to have more or less energy than usual, if their clothes are different, and so on.
It'll be best if we can give all students some personal attention though as often as we can, for instance by asking them how their day's going and listening to what they say, and try to recognise and compliment them on any efforts they make to improve their school performance or behaviour. Also, when they could do better, it'll help if we make a conscious effort to explain as clearly as we can what they need to do to achieve the success they would probably like.
Sometimes, we might get frustrated and fed up with students' bad behaviour an just want to punish them more harshly. But we might calm down a bit if we try to think of how things must seem from the point of view of the students, particularly those behaving badly. When children try to see things from each other's points of view and try to understand the way others feel, they're less likely to be aggressive towards them. And when adults try to understand how a child views things, we can sometimes be willing to help them more and spend more time on them.
So if we notice that a child's isolated or withdrawn, or they're disruptive or aggressive, we could ask ourselves what we know about what's going on in the child's life, whether they're coping well in the classroom environment and how they might feel. Sometimes, they might be coping with things we know we'd be able to cope with easily, such as trying to learn to spell new words or being called names that aren't that bad really. But if we try to think about what it might seem like from their point of view rather than ours, we might appreciate that it's more difficult for them and be more patient with them. After all, they might not have picked up the skills and life experiences that enable them to handle such things easily, so they might find things a lot more daunting than we would, with all our extra years of experience and our confidence that we can do things we've done well in the past.
It won't always be obvious to us what a child having difficulties is thinking or acting up for. But we can ask them questions to find out more.
It's best if we try not to take the behaviour of aggressive or disruptive children personally, even if it feels as if they're directly challenging our authority or something. That'll only mean we're more likely to respond in anger and say things we regret later. For instance, it might feel like a personal insult if we're talking to the class and they just joke around and insult us instead of listening to us. It might feel as if they think we're personally not worth listening to. Even if they do think that, perhaps they just don't know what's good for them. But maybe they'll be hyped up because their minds are filled with violent images from computer games or television and they can't concentrate, or maybe they're irritable because they haven't had enough sleep, or perhaps they're not much good at the subject so they're bored and they could really do with some help instead of a telling off; there might be quite a few possible explanations for their behaviour. So even if it feels as if they're deliberately doing things to annoy us, it's good if we can remember there's probably more to it, so we don't take it so personally and get so annoyed.
Since they might all have slightly different needs, and some more needs than others, it's ideally best if we think about their needs individually and try to work out what would be best for each one.
Note that if you choose to try out some or all of the recovery techniques described in this article, they may take practice before they begin to work.
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