Some thoughts on bullying…

Posted on August 8, 2017

After a teaching career of over thirty years, I believe I have worked out why bullying is – to a greater or lesser extent – a universal problem in schools. It’s because schools have children in them. And children are small people. And people (both big and small) are often selfish and occasionally downright mean.

Let me clarify at the outset that I am not suggesting bullying is a major problem at St Paul’s School. Indeed, in the little over a term since I arrived, I have seen very little evidence of it. However, I also wish to stress that the School has zero tolerance for bullying, and constant vigilance and on-going education are an important part of ensuring that bullying never becomes a major problem.

So, what is bullying? The following definition (and some of the thoughts that follow) is taken from Michael Grose – one of Australia’s leading parenting educators. He defines bullying as – “the selective, uninvited, repetitive oppression of one person by another person or group”. Note the use of the word “oppression”. Bullying is all about an imbalance of power, with one powerful individual (or a group, combining their power) picking on another. Note also that the bullying does not have to be physical. It can also include emotional abuse, intimidation, harassment and even exclusion. Increasingly these days, bullying also may occur via social media (which may mean that victims cannot even get respite when they go home).

What isn’t bullying? This is a tricky question – especially when it is your child who is the one in tears. However, bullying should not be confused with the bickering, teasing, rejection and occasional instances of verbal or even physical conflict that are an inevitable part of growing up. While unkind behaviour should never be condoned, we need to help our children to both develop the skills to regulate their own behaviour, and also the resilience to bounce back from the “sticks and stones” that may be wielded sometimes – even by their friends!

If your child is being bullied at school – or even if you think they might be – what can you do? Michael Grose suggests the following strategies –

  1. Remain calm and listen carefully to what your child is telling you. Try to distinguish between actual bullying and the more common random, non-selective, antisocial acts that many children are occasionally victims (and sometimes perpetrators) of.
  1. Support your child and help them to both express and deal with their feelings. Reassure them that it is normal to feel angry, sad, scared or just confused.
  1. You might also be able to help your child to develop coping skills or strategies to avoid the bullying context. Build up their sense of self-worth, and help them to develop an assertive vocabulary (“Stop. I don’t like that”) and body-language.
  1. Get the School involved. Speak with your child’s classroom teacher (P-6) or Tutor (7-12) and pass on the details of what your child has reported to you. You can count on us to investigate all such reports thoroughly and then to report back to you on the outcomes of our investigation.

As I said earlier, the School takes a “zero tolerance” view of bullying. We recognise the negative impact that sustained bullying may have on children and we take seriously our responsibility to protect your children while they are in our care.

Nigel Grant
Executive Director of Faith & Community

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