by Naomi Shicly, Community Education Specialist
October is National Bullying Prevention Month, the ideal time to talk with kids about the issues they may have with peers at school, along with identifying the signs of bullying, and what we can do to prevent it.
Reading, writing and arithmetic are the top priorities presented in a school setting, but safety comes first for a student to succeed in their environment. Along with preparing for a fire drill, it is just as important to focus on preventing bullying as it may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth including physical, psychological, social or educational harm. There can be long term negative effects for people who are bullied such as developing personality disorders, depression, anxiety and isolation.
According to the National Center for Injury and Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United States Department of Education, bullying is defined as “any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated.” Signs to look for to determine if a behavior is considered bullying: Is it aggressive, persistent, intentional, repeated, unwanted, and is there an imbalance of power? It is different from drama or conflict that can occur between friends. Those who are both bullied and bully others may be at more risk for negative outcomes, such as depression, self-harm or suicide. The warning signs that a child is being bullied are: nightmares, feeling worried, angry, moody, having physical complaints (headaches, stomachaches) and withdrawn from friends and activities.
While working with or engaging with a child, it is important to be able to sense their emotions and imagine what they may be experiencing. It is important to have empathy and be aware of the kids that may be left out or have a difficult time fitting in or making friends; these kids may show some vulnerability that make them easy targets. Establishing rules creates a safe place and reviewing them often helps prevent problems and conveys the message that there are consequences for not following the rules. Having defined parameters provides clear understanding of what is and is not appropriate. Role modeling appropriate behaviors is highly beneficial as kids follow adults’ actions much more than they follow words. Do activities with your students/children around inclusivity, respect, and embracing differences/diversity. Teach them to be a real “caring” community and to let someone know when they see someone left out, teased, or upset by someone else.
Create a place where there is physical and emotional safety that allows everyone to feel valued. Acknowledge, investigate and remember that complaints may escalate rapidly if they are not managed in a timely and appropriate manner. In order for schools, camps, youth groups and other institutions to function effectively, comprehensive policies and procedures need to be established. The rules and expectations laid out hold everyone accountable and ensure that the institution can run properly. It is helpful if staff/administration regularly review the policies to make sure they are updated and viable. Overall, policies and procedures establish expectations, keep children and staff safe and make sure children have a positive experience in their surroundings.