How to deal with bullying at school
From abusive behaviour on the school playground to disrespecting classmates on social media, bullying is a widespread problem that can affect your child’s mental and emotional health.
Western Cape Minister of Education Debbie Schäfer has urged parents and learners to report incidents of bullying. “It saddens me both as a parent and the provincial minister for education that bullying is a real issue in many of our schools.” She said parents are key to identifying behavioural changes in their children.
What is bullying?
Bullying is when a child or a group of children abuse their power to hurt others. Parents should remember that both the bully and the child being bullied need help.
What are the signs of bullying?
Bullying can be identified by the following types of behaviour:
- deliberate aggression,
- an unbalanced power relationship between the bully and the victim, and
- the causing of physical pain and/or emotional anxiety.
A bully can be identified by the following behaviours:
- they are aggressive and get into fights often, and
- they never take responsibility for their actions.
What are the effects of bullying?
There are many effects of bullying that you can look out for. These include:
- faking illnesses to avoid having to attend school,
- a low self-esteem,
- social isolation,
- unexplained bruises and injuries,
- becomes upset after using the internet or cellphone, and
- becomes very secretive about online activities.
What are the different types of bullying?
There are 4 main types of bullying that you should look out for:
- Verbal and written (name calling, negative comments, intimidation, and threatening or humiliating SMSes),
- Physical (bumping, scratching, shouldering, hitting, tripping, biting, rolling eyes or showing suggestive signs),
- Social or relationships (gossiping (verbal or written), revealing personal information, manipulation of the child with a view to humiliation or exclusion from a group), and
- Cyber bullying (intimidating or harassing a child using a digital platform such as social networks).
What are the consequences of bullying?
There are many effects of bullying that you can look out for. They include:
- absenteeism and a fear of attending school,
- feelings of inferiority,
- self-esteem problems,
- feelings of loneliness,
- social isolation,
- emotional problems,
- communication problems,
- struggle to achieve academically,
- some victims commit suicide,
- rule breaking, anti-social behaviour patterns, and
- risk of criminal behaviour later.
Prevention of bullying
Once bullying has been identified, it's important to address the situation as soon as possible with the school, where appropriate measures and actions can be discussed and implemented.
The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) has provided guidelines to schools on how to deal with bullying. Schools need to deal with the issue in line with codes of conduct, and intervene appropriately to support the victim and to change the behaviour of the culprit.
- Provide a clear guideline for acceptable behaviour.
- Create class rules which state that bullying is unacceptable.
- All learners who are guilty of bullying should be called to account. It will send out a clear message that bullying will not be tolerated.
- It is, however, important that the focus shouldn't be on punishment so much as on the changing of behaviour.
Support to the victim
Support to the victims of bullying is provided through:
- protecting them from further bullying,
- helping them to understand the bully's actions, which will enable them not to look for the cause of the bully's behaviour in themselves,
- involving them in educational games of therapy through which they can give expression to their feelings through drawing, writing, and drama,
- involving them in a support group consisting of other victims, and
- linking them with a different group of friends who will act supportively.
If your child has a cellphone, they may be at risk of being cyber bullied. Bullying may occur through social networks, SMSes or emails. You can support your child by using the guidelines provided by South African Police Service (SAPS) listed below:
- Don't respond. If someone bullies you, remember that your reaction is usually exactly what the bully wants.
- Don't retaliate. Responding with similar threats reinforces the bully’s behaviour
- Save the evidence. Online messages can usually be saved and shown to someone who can help. Save evidence in case the bullying gets worse.
- Block the bully. Use your social media preference settings or contact the administrator to block an online bully.
- Reach out for help. You need to ask for help. A trusted adult can provide support.
Help for bullies
It's important to remember that the bully often comes from a background where there is insecurity, little parent involvement, and inconsistency in actions of parents.
These learners are often subjected to physical punishment and emotional outbursts. Before formal counselling is necessary, the bully must come to the realisation that his/her behaviour is always going to have negative consequences until the behaviour is changed.
Helpful questions for the bully:
- What did you do?
- Why was it the wrong thing to do?
- Who did you hurt?
- What did you want to achieve?
- What will you do differently next time, without hurting anybody?
The bully must learn the following:
- To accept responsibility for their own behaviour.
- To accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions for themselves.
- To become uncomfortable (my behaviour got me into trouble and I want to avoid it next time).
- To change their behaviour in order to stay out of trouble.
- To find other ways of satisfying their needs.
- To take responsibility for the effect that their actions have had on others.
- To feel guilty about their actions.
- To trust others.
- To build relationships with supportive adults.
You don’t need to deal with bullying on your own. Reach out to your loved ones or use the WCED’s Safe Schools hotline to report abuse, available to teachers, learners and parents. Contact the hotline on 0800 45 46 47.