Thursday, 17 November 2011

Bullying - What To Do About It!

It was professional day on Monday at our school. The teachers basically decide how to spend this day, and it was agreed to bring in a speaker on bullying. The speaker shared his credentials at the beginning of the session as being a youth care worker, and his strategies have been formed from collecting the ideas from youth on what doesn't work and what the youth believe will work. The youth gathered these ideas from attending a non-violent crisis intervention workshop and thought that the strategies would also work in bullying research to back any of this up, just the suppositions of a group of kids and a presenter eager to believe that he has found the magic cure!

My senses were on high alert, and as the day wore on, the knots in my stomache just grew tighter and tighter.....such a different feeling from our last two professional days that Colleen Drobot has led for our staff this year. As I sat there, I just wanted to cry, thinking about how this very strict behavioural perspective could potential derail all the good work that we have been doing in our school for the last two years!

Making it worse was the presenter’s insistence on the staff doing role plays in which one person needed to be the bully and the other needed to be the victim. Eventually, the presenter decided to use me as a target and then criticized me for not handling it in the way he thought I should. Apparently, we are to stay strong, look the bully in the eye, and keep repeating that we don't want to be treated this way and want him/her to stop.  By this time, the knots in my stomache were so severe, and my disappointment in myself for not being able to challenge his presentation (at the break, all the teachers seemed to think it was a fantastic presentation; oh, the need for the quick fix!) Sigh, I just left the workshop and worked in my office for the day. Sometimes I can be such a chicken.

Collectively, our staff has moved to a much deeper understanding of the developmental needs of children. It has been inspiring to see teachers take the extra time to look beyond each child’s behaviour and try to understand what might be driving it. We have seen a number of children become much more secure and happy in themselves and in their classrooms, as teachers have gone out of their way to address the child’s need for time and attention. Our teachers have risen to their position of being the natural caregiver in their classrooms, and, as each teacher gains confidence in this position, most children naturally look to their teacher as their provider in their home away from home.

Listening to the presentation on Monday inspired me to watch Gordon Neufeld’s videos on bullying. This was taken from an all day workshop that Dr. Neufeld has presented all over the world.
Just listening to his soothing voice and solid understanding of the bullying problem calms my spirit! I know in my heart that I need just as much compassion and understanding for the "Bully" (such a dreadful word!) as for the "Bullied" (also a dreadful word!) One suggests a victimizer whose main purpose in life is to hurt others, and the other suggests a victim who lacks the strength to protect one's self. My experience over the years is that it is seldom this clear cut. This is a multi-faceted problem; the child who feels bullied needs to be supported and absolutely given strategies to deal with those who mistreat him or her. However, the child who is hurting the other also needs our compassion and support. It ALL comes back to attachment, providing loving guidelines, and ensuring that the adults are taking responsibility for keeping the environment safe for the children. Seldom have I experienced an out and out bullying situation. There are often so many pieces involved, such as the child being hurt continually going back to the antagonizer, wanting to be friends with someone who is hurtful, etc. Working one on one with both children does make a difference. As each one becomes more secure in themselves and begin to trust that the adults will indeed take care of them, the need to act out their frustration on others lessens.

This brings me to the many wonderful points made by Dr. Neufeld in his Power to Parent series. While we could look at the child who is being hurtful to another child in a judgmental way, labeling him or her as a bully, (or even worse), I think that looking at the child who might be prone to bullying behaviour could safely be assumed to be an immature child. Using the four guidelines for dealing with immature behaviour makes perfect sense here: 

1.  1. Assume responsibility for the immature child. We have identified children in our school that we believe might be prone to bullying behaviour. We have now set up additional supervision at recess and lunch to keep a close eye on them and intervene when necessary.

2.   2.  Change the circumstances or feelings that result in problem behaviour. These children are often very strong alpha (dominant personalities), and don’t handle it well when things don’t go their way. They also tend to be defended against attachment (emotionally protected). So…..we adults have a lot of work to do with these children. It is not going to be a quick process and it is not going to be easy. One of the things that our staff has worked especially hard at is finding ways to connect with those children who appear to be emotionally defended. We know that we are making inroads with these children,  and we are seeing it start to make a difference for these children. Continually providing a safe environment for both the child who feels bullied and the child who hurts others will prevent a lot of these issues from arising. Again, providing adequate supervision that is targeted at the children of concern and intervening before the child loses his or her temper will prevent a lot of these issues from arising.

3.   3.  Use structure and ritual to get the desired result. Most bullying incidents seem to happen during transitional times: going outside at recess and lunch, playing outside where there is less supervision. While we pride ourselves on having clear routines and structures, we  still have some work to do here. We want to be sure that the children clearly understand the routines and that all students respect them.

4.  4.  Use the power of attachment to script the desired behaviour. While the presenter on Monday did a good job of teaching us the script to teach  students when they feel that they are being bullied, there is so much more that we need to do in this regard. What script can we teach the child who  does not have good self control in the moment? Teaching that child to focus on his or her breath, to walk away, try to calm down is something that we do, but again, can definitely do a better job of.

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