Bullying is always in the news. Most recently, there was a story about a mom who hit a child on a school bus because he was bullying her daughter. Taking matters into her own hands was certainly the wrong thing to do. Unfortunately, many parents feel alone with the problem when it occurs and doubtful that their child's school will help.
As a child and family therapist, I believe that our schools need to take a greater role in handling bullying. The schools are in a position to provide more protection and support to children and their parents. Bullying occurs for a large part within the school's perimeters—in the lunchroom, in the locker room, during recess or right outside the building. Schools have professionals available, and they have a real capacity to be the positive force to diminish these occurrences. Here are some important steps schools can take to remedy this problem:
1. As part of the curriculum, students should learn to identify bullying language and actions in themselves and others. They should also be taught positive communication skills. This knowledge will help create a more positive environment where bullying is less likely to occur.
2. There should be an established system for a child to report being bullied (anonymously, if needed) and get immediate help. A counselor and other professionals should meet with the children involved and their families to determine a solution.
3. There should be classroom discussions about the motivation and effects of bullying to sensitize students and promote self-awareness. Children should understand that bullies are children who have experienced some form of bullying themselves. They behave aggressively in an attempt to retaliate. They are children who feel powerless and suffer from low self-esteem. They attempt to heighten their self-esteem by surrounding themselves with other children whom they can control, who often feel insecure themselves. Bullies then find someone to diminish in an attempt to inflate themselves. It should be emphasized that children who are bullied suffer terribly. This education can help the children to make better, more positive choices and to become the school's partners in eliminating bullying.
4. Professionals should teach the children skills for handling bullies through role-playing and other techniques. For example, the students can write plays and act out different bullying scenarios in the classroom. Each child should act out being the bully, the bully’s supporter and the victim, to gain a more tangible understanding.
4. Counseling should be available to kids who are bullied, for the bullies and for those who help the bullies. When needed, these children should be referred to outside therapists for ongoing help.
5. There should be school-wide events that focus the student body on bullying, for instance, “Bullying Awareness Tuesdays.” There could be activities in each class such as designing slogans to put on the walls, such as: “It's wrong to bully others,” or “It's wrong to go along with a bully.” A child who reports bullying should be rewarded.
6. Schools should have strong repercussions for bullying. Bullying is now an illegal offense and there should be zero tolerance for this behavior. At the same time, a real effort to get to the bottom of the cause—by discussions with the child's family and the child—is essential. Families need to examine their family relationships and make sure there is no bullying going on at home.
7. If your child's school has no support system in place, your parents' association should lobby for the school to develop one.
Bullying has been a part of society since its inception, and will not easily disappear. But with the joint effort of the schools, the parents and the children, going to school can become a healthier, safer experience.