Bullying continues to be a serious societal problem that affects countless children and adults. Most bullying is non-physical and if not addressed can lead to life long emotional distress for the victim. Experts agree that bullying is generally first experienced during our children’s elementary years. Indeed some studies have evidenced patterns of bullying behaviour as early as pre-school! The greatest challenge for children, parents and educators is being able to accurately identify “bullying.” The reality is that not every negative interaction between children (or adults) warrants being labeled as bullying. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that name calling, teasing and host of other conflicts between children are acceptable, only that isolated behaviours do not necessarily constitute a bullying situation. Researchers in the field of bullying prevention recommend that parents and educators employ key filters to a given situation to help determine whether a child is the likely victim of bullying or instead subject to inappropriate behaviour (which still needs to be addressed).
The method is called The Bullying Equation and it works like this. Ask the following six key questions (there are more) regarding your child’s situation. The more (and stronger) “yes” responses you get then the more likely you are dealing with a case of bullying.
1. Is there an apparent desire to hurt others on the part of the suspected bully? In other words is the aggressor’s behaviour malicious or is the hurt being experienced a byproduct of their unruly conduct?
2. Is the suspected bully’s desire to hurt followed with a deliberate hurtful action? This can include pranks, teasing, and name calling.
3. Is there a power imbalance? Is the aggressor older, bigger, or have assigned authourity of some kind including positional rule within the social pecking order of the peer group.
4. Is the hurtful behaviour repetitive? Typically bullying is not a “once off” phenomenon. Usually, bullying develops over time with an escalating number of negative, repetitive behaviours.
5. Is their evidence of enjoyment on the part of the aggressor? This can include bragging and seeking social recognition from peers for the negative behaviour.
6. Is there a sense of being oppressed on the part of the victim? Loss of appetite and sleep, not wanting to go to school, a loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed are some of the warning signs. If a child “feels” they are being bullied they should be listened to and the situation thoroughly reviewed.
If after applying these filters you feel that your child may be the victim of bullying, the work begins to improve the situation. Open and ongoing communication with your child and your child’s school (both teachers and administration) is a necessary first step.
Ultimately, prevention is always a better plan than the cure. Character education is arguably the best defense for children being bullied and for those engaging in bullying behaviour (you know – other people’s kids!) Many K-12 schools have recognized this reality and now purposefully teach character education utilizing resources such as the Virtues Project or similar programs to help address the impact of bullying. In addition, many professional martial arts schools in recent years have also shifted their teaching focus to include physical bullying prevention curriculum that serves to bolster the attitudes that help children avoid being victimized by bullying. Verbal Judo, Powerful Words, and Gracie Bullyproof are some examples. Building and rebuilding a child’s confidence is the bullying antidote!
Cathal Walsh is a former school principal. He is an education consultant and co-founder of SKILLZ Canada Martial Arts with locations in Victoria, Langford, Duncan, Ladysmith & Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. You can contact Cathal or by email at Cathal.Walsh@icloud.com or follow on twitter @CathalPWalsh.