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Dealing with Bullying – Tips from the Teacher

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BY NATURE SARGENT

Greetings beautiful people!

What’s up with all the bullying?  For the purpose of this article, we’ll use Dr. Dan Olweus’ definition of bullying.  Dr. Olweus, a psychology professor at Norway’s University of Bergen, defines bullying as an accumulation of negative actions, occurring repeatedly and over time, directed toward one student by another student or students.

There are many myths about bullies and their victims that parents, students and even teachers believe.  Dr. Olweus has identified through his research 10 specific myths I will outline and hopefully you can add this information to your parenting tool box.

Myth #1 Bullies suffer from insecurity and low self-esteem. They pick on others to feel more important.

Research suggests bullies have average or above average self-esteem.   The real issue is lack of compassion, empathy, neglectful parenting and uncorrected aggressive behavior.

Bullies must have aggressive behavior patterns stopped through effective classroom procedures, enforced discipline at school, and attentive parents who teach children how to deal with disappointment.

Do not allow a child’s circumstances to dictate whether or not you will discipline them.  All children require discipline, no matter their home situation or ability level.  It is inappropriate to give a bully a pass because they are in a single parent home, have a parent in jail or living with a disability.

Curtailing aggressive behavior is essential!  A favorite saying of my mother’s is, I can discipline you now or the police will later.  Bullies only grow more aggressive over time.  Do not allow your sense of empathy to blind you to their real need for boundary setting.

Myth #2: Bullies are looking for attention. Ignore them and the bullying will stop.

Bullies are interested in controlling others, physically and socially.  Ostracizing is a very popular, emotionally devastating social bullying practice.  Often, one girl will get angry with another and convince all the other girls in the class to ignore her.

I have witnessed a class of girls drive a peer to hysterical tears because they won’t speak to her.  She was unable to eat her lunch and she wanted to go to the nurse.  Needless to say, she was in no way able to focus on learning.

If it is difficult for adults to ignore a bothersome peer, how much more difficult is it for a child?  During the school day they must interact in a thousand different ways.  Moreover, getting hit in the back of the head isn’t something one can ignore.

Do not tell children to ignore a bully.  It sends the message you in some way believe what they are experiencing is their fault.

Myth #3: Boys will be boys.

Research says bullies grow in their aggressive practices and redirect them.  Approximately 60 percent of middle school bullies will commit a criminal act before the age of 24.  Bullying behavior you don’t correct may lead your child to at least one criminal act.

Also, in Why Kids Kill: Exploring the Causes and Possible Solutions, Dr. Sylvia Rimm identified one constant among the children she worked with, “All of them [children who expressed anger violently] had been teased by others more than what is typical.”    Victims may eventually respond to bullying by acting violently.

There is no way to prevent all bullying, however, once a parent or teacher is aware of the harassment, it is essential to respond firmly.  Bullies may grow to be criminals or make choices with far reaching consequences at an age when boundary setting by adults could make all the difference.

Victims may grow increasingly frustrated and bitter.  They may begin to view adults as powerless, stupid individuals who seem to look the other way or be uncaring.  An inability to successfully resolve the problem can lead to a violent and unexpected response to something small, such as teasing or name calling.

Children do not understand a proportionate response.  After years of bullying, one more incident is just too much.

Myth #4: Kids can be cruel about differences.

Most victims of bullies tend to be sensitive children who are unable to retaliate.  Peer response to bullying makes it clear that picking on obviously handicapped children and use of racial slurs are unacceptable.

I have witnessed children setting boundaries as it relates to ethnicity, but not as it relates to skin color.  What is the difference?  They do not allow slurs, but will tease about dark skin.  They have been taught about other cultures and the changes in America over time; they can identify prejudiced behavior and will challenge it.

However, appearance, clothes, hygiene, family circumstances such as jailed or absent parents and academic struggles are all reasons to tease.

Myth #5: Victims of bullies need to learn to stand up for themselves and deal with the situation.

Bullies choose weaker, younger and less socially capable children to harass.  None of those qualifiers lead a child to stand up for themselves.   Suggesting a child stand up for themselves is on par with telling a runner with a broken leg to shake it off.

It is essential to give your children tools on the best way to deal with aggressive behavior, tactics include defusing, deflecting, distancing and reporting.  Teach your child how to change the subject, calm down an angry peer, remove themselves from a situation and to get help from adults.

Give them what if scenarios and let them practice.  The best way to learn is to practice.   Prepare them for difficult circumstances and discuss ways to handle it.  Practice social skills for the same reason schools have fire and tornado drills.

An emergency is not the time to discover no one in the portables can hear the siren.  You should know the building will be empty in 2 minutes because you have done it!  It is never too early to learn how to deal effectively with uncooperative and mean people.

Myth #6: Large schools or classes are conducive to bullying.

Primarily, research suggests there is no correlation between bullying and increased class size.  There is the suggestion of a correlation between increased size in schools and classrooms leading to less bullying because of greater opportunities to develop friendships.  The more children there are, the more likely your child will find someone who is like-minded.

Myth #7: Most bullying occurs off school grounds.

Of course bullying happens mostly at school.  School is where children spend most of their time around peers.  It goes without saying that some incidents happen in the neighborhood, apartment complex, and other places where children gather while unsupervised.  However the majority of bullying incidents are on school property.

Myth #8: Bullying affects a small number of students.

The National Association of School Psychologists estimated 160,000 children stay home from school daily because they are afraid.  Parents, if your child constantly complains of not feeling well and there are no accompanying symptoms such as fever, sweating, or vomiting, you should ask them if there is another reason why they don’t want to go to school.

During the course of the school year, almost every child will have to deal with bullying.  Observing a bully and knowing that you could be next is often as stressful as being the victim.

Bullies don’t just frighten their victims, they control other children in the class because of the possibility they may turn their terrible eye toward them.  This may cause a smart student to shine less brightly in order to avoid the attention of a jealous peer.

It may lead a natural athlete to lose races and other physical contests to avoid angering a bigger student who feels they deserve first place.  Bullies can control large numbers of children even when two or three are there preferred victim because of the possibility of their wrath.

Myth #9: Teachers know if bullying is a problem in their classes.

I cannot say this strongly enough: teachers don’t know!  Bullies are sneaky.  Tell the teacher.  No professional, well trained, committed teacher would knowingly observe and ignore bullying.  Also, be mindful that a single teacher is dealing with 20 to 30 children in a classroom.  Sometimes, you may have to tell us more than once!

Sometimes, when a lot is going on a teacher may say, “Sit down; I will be with you in a minute.”  Teach your child how to respectfully get the attention they need.  “Ms. Sargent, I need you to stop, look and listen to me,” was the code my students agreed upon as a no matter what I need you right now.  What is the code your child’s teacher has as an immediate attention getter?

Myth #10: Victims of bullying need to follow the adage “Sticks and stones will break your bones, but names can never hurt you.”

Children who are bullied over a long period of time often suffer from depression, consider suicide, and have other mental health difficulties.  Words hurt.  Some words inspire greatness while others ruin lives, careers, and marriages.  The power of life and death are in the tongue.  Teach your child to value words and to use them in a helpful, healthy manner.

What can you do?

First, talk to your child about their responsibility to protect themselves by using their resources.  It is important for you or your child to tell the teacher.  If this proves ineffective, immediately schedule a meeting with the principal.  Parents, be aware of your district’s policy and procedures.  In Dallas, parents get a Student Code of Conduct book.   Read it!  Make sure your children know the rules.  Information is power.

There are many great books for children that deal with bullying.  Please read this Bullying Resource List that will help you if you want to use picture or chapter books to prompt this conversation with your child.

In closing, I hope these Tips from the Teacher help you have a safe, successful school year.  Write to you soon!

Categories: Education, Nature M. Sargent
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