Thanks for joining us for today's online Q & A on bullying in schools, featuring Wendy Craig of the Canadian Initiative for the Prevention of Bullying. Next Tuesday's topic is special education with experts from the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario.
Q: My son has learned how to deal with bullying at school with students, but not with teachers or parents of other kids. Any advice on how to "respect your elders," but not cowtail to adults doing the bullying? It is shameful in my opinion, but strategies are still needed.
A: When adults bully children it is a serious problem. This is definitely a case where your child needs you to intervene and stand up for them. There is a power imbalance in this relationship, an adult and a child, and you need to come in and right the power imbalance.
Parents are the best advocates for their children. If this is happening at school, you need to work with the school principal and inform him/her of the situation. Togther you need to make a plan to address the problem - i.e., the principal should speak to the adult involved, the principal should monitor the situation every day until it has fully stopped and then keep monitoring it to ensure that it does not start again.
If the problem is with another parent, I would also involve the principal. S/he can act as a mediator. The principal likely has a vast amount of experience in working with parents. In this case, the principal should ensure that this parent does not interact with your child on school property. It is your job to make sure they do not interact at home or in the neighbourhood. If they do, you need to identify for this parent when their behaviour is inappropriate and that you expect them to stop talking or interacting with your child in this way. If that does not work, unfortunately it is time to call in the police. They typically have community police officers who deal with this type of issue.
Q: What kind of support groups are there within the schools today for children who are bullies? How can a child living in fear of bullies be encouraged to speak up?
A: The type of support for children who bully varies by school and the programming that has been prioritized within a school. Typically, each board has special services and in some boards there are dedicated individuals within these services who specifically work with children involved in bullying - that is something you could check with your school about. We do need a more systematic approach to the problem and Ontario is starting to move in that direction. Let's hope that this progress continues so that these children can get the support they so deserve.
Q: What kind of behaviour should parents look for in a child, if the child is a bully or a victim of bully?
A: Children and youth who bully may show behaviours or emotional signs that they are using power aggressively. They show little concern for others’ feelings and do not recognize the impact of their behaviour on others. They are often aggressive with siblings, parents and others, and are bossy and manipulative in order to get their own way. Parent should be on the lookout - they often possess unexplained things and/or have extra money and are secretive about possessions, activities and whereabouts.
Children and youth who are being victimized often show a change in behaviour and/or emotions. They don't want to go to school, and are anxious, fearful and overreactive. They'll often suffer from headaches and stomach aches. They'll also have a lower interest in performance at school. They may lose things, need money or be hungry after school. Parents should be on the lookout for any injuries - bruising, damaged clothing, broken things. Emotionally, bullying victims are often unhappy, irritable, and show little interest in activities. They may have trouble sleeping, suffer from nightmares or wet the bed. Some even express threats to hurt themselves or others.
Q: Why do kids become bullies?
A: This is a challenging question and there is no one factor that leads children to bully others. There are a mix of family, peer, school, and individual factors that could be involved. Children who bully others are not all the same - some come from families where there is significant stress (financial, single parenting, low income, family criminality) and difficulties within these family relationships (lack of trust, lack of communication, modelling of aggression). Others do not come from these types of families, but rather are rewarded within their peer group for being aggressive.
Some children have difficulty interacting with other children maybe because they are hyperactive or lack social skills; sometimes they bully for the attention it brings them and as a way of getting in with peers. Some children who bully have well-developed social skills and use their social skills to manipulate others. Sometimes, children who would not normally bully are at a school where the rules are not consistently reinforced and so sometimes when they bully others there are no consequences so they come to believe it is okay to engage in these very negative behaviours.
As you can tell, bullying is a very complicated issue. It is a relationship problem that requires relationship solutions. We need to provide students with a strong foundation of skills, capabilities and competencies to engage in healthy relationships. They need support at home, at school, and in the community and they need the support and guidance from adults who can promote and models these skills for them.
Q: How can bullying go on for so long (as the recent case at the Toronto high school)? Don't they know what is going on?
A: It is tragic that the bullying went on for so long without detection from adults or without other students reporting what was happening. Sadly, this is not uncommon. Students tend to have a code of secrecy around bullying - they are reluctant to tell adults - for fear of reprisal, for fear of the reputation of being called a rat, for fear that they will be the next victim. We as adults need to create a climate where students feel comfortable talking about these horrific acts and we as adults need to respond to students when they do tell - it is not helpful to say that is "students just being students."
The adults need to support and ensure the child who is being victimized is safe and ensure it does not happen again by regularly monitoring and checking in with the student. In addition, we need to empower the students who know but do not tell by changing the peer culture to a culture that values protecting each other’s rights. We know that when peers intervene in bullying, it stops the bullying within 10 seconds every second time - so they are effective when they intervene. We also know from the research that telling adults reduces children’s experiences of being victimized in the future: Telling works. Adults need to be educated on what signs to observe for bullying, they need to learn effective assessment and intervention strategies, and we need to empower the other students to get help for children who are victimized.
Q: Many of the initiatives of the "Canadian Initiative for the Prevention of Bullying" are union-sponsored. How can you justify the action of unions (particularly when on picket lines) with any initiative to prevent bullying? Union bullying of both members and non-members approaches extortion. The one thing children do not miss is adults saying one thing and doing another.
A: I agree that adults are extremely important role models for children and children learn how to address conflict and deal with anger from adults. The CIPB believes that children’s positive peer relationships depend on positive relationships with adults. Teachers, parents, and other adults involved in children’s lives not only model relationship skills and attitudes, but they are also active in creating contexts in which children and youth interact. Children will only learn positive relationship skills and attitudes if they observe and interact with adults who exemplify these elements of positive relationships in their interactions with children and with other adults.
The CIPB is creating partnerships to link researchers together with organizations and governments to disseminate understanding, assessment tools and effective practices related to bullying to every community in Canada. The CIPB involves the collaboration of two groups with research and applied expertise related to bullying. The first group comprises Canadian researchers committed to studying the nature, causes, and consequences of bullying and victimization, along with the most effective measures and interventions to effect positive change. The second group comprises stakeholders in promoting the healthy development of Canadian children and youth: national non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and government ministries. The partnerships are essential because they will ensure that the child playing in the park in Victoria and the child in the park in Goose Bay will be given the same information about bullying and the interventions to address bullying problems will be similar and based on what we know from the research. It is our hope that the organizations that we have partnered with will also on an organization level implement and think about the information we provide in guiding their own day-to-day interactions.
Q: My stepson was bullied his entire time in grade school by one small group of kids. It was pointed out on a monthly basis, but the school system seemed to be apathetic to his plight. He is now 23 and still shows signs of how this most likely has scarred him for good. Can he be helped at this point?
A: He likely needs some professional support to work through the trauma that he experienced at the hands of children who bullied him. Unfortunately, there are serious long-term effects of being victimized and we need to support those individuals early to prevent these long-term problems. It is not uncommon for children who experience regular and frequent bullying to have anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal when they get older. The important thing is to get your son the help that will allow him to overcome these terrifying childhood experiences. With ongoing support from a professional, and you his family, he will be able to do that.
Q: I am wondering if it is the "norm" for me to take a principal's word for it that a disruptive child is "being dealt with"? My daughter has been harassed on a number of occasions this school year by a classmate, the last two times the physical aggression has gotten worse. I was told by the principal that they are in the process of finding out how to handle this girl.
I have gotten to the point, and am standing firm, that my daughter will not return unless she can be transferred to another class. The whole thing is getting out of hand, I believe it is not being taken too seriously because of their ages. They are only in Grade 2. There is a history of some problems going on in the girl's family; I can fully understand why she would be acting out. My priority is my daughter who is fearful and feels unsafe now at school. When I push to see if there really is anything being done I am left with the "confidentiality of the student" card being played by the principal. Is it true that all means of discipline are left in the principal's hands?
A: The principal is ultimately responsible at the school to ensure that every child is safe. If you are not satisfied with the way the principal is handling the problem at your school, I would recommend to meet with them. While acknowledging that they may be delaing with the who child is being aggressive, I would clearly state that your child does not feel safe and ask what are they going to do to address that problem - changing classes is one solution. In addition, I would suggest having an adult that your child feels comfortable with checking in with your child every day.
Furthermore, it may be important to identify what are the times that are particularly scary or stressful for your child. Is it at recess? Is it in the classroom? If it is while they are outside and where there is less supervision, work with the school to make a plan to ensure your child is safe - have them assign a recess buddy, or maybe she would feel more comfortable being inside (have them arrange for her to go to the library or go to the office to help out). Work with them creatively to ensure your child feels safe. It is not enough for schools to ONLY work with the aggressors - they need to work actively to support the child is is being victimized and that requires checking in with them, monitoring the situation, and constantly accessing whether they are okay. If you find the school is not co-operative and you are unable to work withthem, then work your way up the channels of the board - call the board, your trustee, your school superintendent. It is your child’s right to feel safe and protected at school. As a parent, advocating for your child is one of the many roles that you take on.
Q: I don't think bullying will ever stop to exist or become less of a problem in a free and morally slacking society such as ours. The survival guide in high school is the same today as 20 years ago - choose your friends wisely, stay with the good crowd, and keep the group as big as you can.
A: You are right it is difficult to end the problems of bullying completely, BUT we can decrease the prevalence of the problem and reduce the stress and anxiety and the problems for a significant number of children. Other countries with a national compaign, such as Norway, have been successful at reducing the prevalence of bullying.
Interestingly, the prevalence of bullying has not changed over the last 10 years, but Canada’s relative ranking has. In other words, other countries have been more successful at reducing the problem then Canada. These data indicate that it is possible to reduce the prevlance, but right now Canada needs to do more and do a better job.
Q: At what age does bullying begin? At my daughter's nursery school there are a couple of boys I would say act like bullies sometimes; we've even seen one in the local park and his behaviour towards my daughter has been "aggressive" in nature (trying to scare her, push her off things). Can a child that young (3,4,5) be a bully or be bullied? What to do?
A: Yes, bullying starts early. In fact, children are most aggressive when they are two years of age - they learn not to be aggressive with age and as adults set boundaries with their behaviours. When children are young they are just learning how to interact socially in a positive manner; they are learning to regulate their emotions, and they are learning how to be prosocial. So at a young age, it is particularly important to intervene in the behaviour. It is through that feedback that children will learn what behaviours are acceptable and what are not. They need support in behaving differently; in other words, it is not enough to say "stop doing that." We need to tell children what to do or give them the words they need to say - "I am angry, I want you to stop." You can work with your child in scripting the language and the behaviour to help them when it happens. They also need you to step in and let the other child know that this behaviour is not okay. Similiarly, you can script the language for them to help them behave differently in the situation.
Q: Studies indicate that bullying and sexual harassment happen most frequently where levels of adult supervision are lowest (school buses, locker rooms, hallways, playgrounds).
An Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies reference document states: "Any person having charge of a child, less than 16 years of age, must make reasonable provision for the child's supervision and care, ensuring thec hild is free from physical or sexual harm."
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 3.3, reads: "States Parties shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision."
Are Ontario schools meeting their obligation to adequately protect our children from physical and sexual harm? What can schools do better?
A: These are references that I frequently quote and are very important principles to uphold and aim for. I think we all, as adults, need to do better to keep our children safe and ensure that their human rights are protected. Ontario is beginning to address bullying problems in a much more systemic manner that is based on what we know from the science about bullying; that is a good first step. It is a long road.
We need to ensure that all educators understand what bullying is and recognize that it has harmful effects. All educators need to assess the extent of bullying problems systematically, as well as by checking in with children who might be at risk for involvment in bullying. In addition, they need to be trained on what works when intervening in bullying problems- again both through programs and in moment-to-moment interactions with children. So what we need to do is push the policies within the ministry to more adequately address bullying problems and then evaluate the extent to which our schools are taking up the policies.
Further, adults are role models and leaders in addressing bullying. Students learn from their educators and educators need to ensure they behave appropriately. They also need to listen to students who report being victimized, and support and validate that student's feelings and experiences. Bullying is a serious problem that needs to be taken serious by all adults. Finally, adults are required to right the power imbalance in bullying and therefore must respond. Our data indicate that children who tell adults are much less likely to reduce their victimization experiences. So despite students' perspectives that we cannot help (which our data also say), we can if we respond.
Q: There was/is bullying going on at my son's school. His Grade 3 peers kept at him, calling him a thief and taking his things, until it escalated to "playful threats" to cut him and dismember him. The principal says there's no bullying going on at his school. Is this average?
A: Sadly, some adults do not recognize and identify behaviours as bullying - they see it as kids just being kids. What you have described is definitely bullying: it happened on many occasions, it was with an intent to harm, and the child who bullied your son had more power over him. Adult support and involvement is critical to helping prevent bullying problems. We need to recognize bullying problems, respond to them, and address them, and ensure they stop in the future. Students depend on adults for this type of leadership. In addition, if we do not act as adults, we are saying the behaviour is okay, which it is definitely not. I would work the principal and ask him what he/she is going to do to ensure that the behaviour stops and how he will ensure that it will not start up again.
Q: I thought you might like this website ... you probably already know of it: the Bullying Awareness Network. Also, will you be commmenting on the fact that bullies often continue their behaviour as adults and there is the whole topic of bullying in the workplace. How do you teach compassion and empathy? Do bullies see these traits at home? My son does. Thanks.
A: Bullying is a relationship problem that starts early and for some children continues throughout life. Children who bully regularly and frequently in elementary school are at risk for engaging in sexual harassment, date violence, and criminal activity and arrest. There are a group of children who do bully but do not experience these negative outcomes - it is likely they are the ones bullying in the workplace. There is limited research on bullying in the workplace, mostly because individuals for years considered it to be a childhood issue.
Empathy and compassion are important skills for developing relationships - so, yes, they are important in building and teaching to children who bully. But it is not enough, we need to teach these children and youth many things about healthy relationships - those are two important aspects. For some children who bully regularly and frequently, they come from homes that experience high levels of stress whether it be unemployment, an aggressive parent, single-parent family, a parent with a psychiatric problem or financial concerns.