What do we mean by bullying?
We recognise bullying is a mixture of behaviours and impacts which can impact on a person’s capacity to feel in control of themselves. It is all about relationships and role modelling, and what happens when these go wrong.
Bullying is a mixture of behaviours and impacts which can impact on a person’s capacity to feel in control of themselves. Bullying takes place in the context of relationships; it is behaviour that can make people feel hurt, threatened, frightened, exploited and left out.
This behaviour can include:
- Being called names, teased, put down or threatened
- Being hit, tripped, pushed or kicked
- Having belongings taken or damaged
- Being ignored, left out or having rumours spread about you
- Receiving abusive messages electronically
- Behaviour which makes people feel like they are not in control of themselves
- Being targeted because of who you are or who you are perceived to be
- Being forced to be involved in activities that you are uncomfortable, including bullying by adults such as through emotional or physical abuse or sexual exploitation
This behaviour can harm people physically or emotionally and, although the actual behaviour may not be repeated, the threat may be sustained over time, typically by actions: looks, messages, confrontations, physical interventions, or the fear of these. But this is not an exhaustive list, and it is important to consider impact, intent and persistence when defining bullying behaviour. Our curriculum ensures that our children understand that there are different kinds of bullying and what to do if they feel that they are being bullied.
Is intent required?
Every bullying incident is looked at individually. In some cases, children may not be aware that their behaviour is actually bullying. They are perhaps modelling the behaviour of adults or other children and young people, not understanding that it is wrong because they have never been taught otherwise. In these circumstances, the intent to bully may not be present, but the impact and effect on the person being bullied will be no less severe because of this.
It is explained to the child bullying that their behaviour is unacceptable and why. Intent is difficult to prove and it’s more important to focus on the behaviour and the impact it had, rather than trying to establish whether someone acted deliberately or not.
Does the behaviour have to be persistent?
The issue with persistence is that the behaviour has to take place more than once, but the impacts of bullying can be felt after a single incident.
Bullying doesn’t need to be persistent to have an effect on the mental health and well-being of a child. For those who have been bullied, the fear and anticipation of further bullying can affect their ability to be themselves and interact with others in a healthy fashion. Bullying behaviour and its potential impacts on children are addressed as they arise.
How persistence is viewed by one person – for example daily, weekly or monthly – may be quite different to how it’s viewed by someone else, leading to inequality and inconsistency of practice. It isn’t helpful to wait and see if a pattern or repetition emerges before taking action. It is vital to respond to the behaviour that you see and the impact this is having, rather than relying on a rigid definition.
What about impact?
Bullying can affect children in different ways and this should be taken into consideration. If we are unsure if behaviour is bullying, look at the effect it is having on the child. If they are unable to respond effectively and regain their sense of self and control in the situation, adults need to intervene to help restore it. What we do about bullying is more important than how you define it. Keeping the focus on impact and response reduces the likelihood of getting caught up with issues of persistence and intent.
We should always remember that children will tease each other, fall in and out with each other, have arguments, stop talking to each other and disagree about what they like and don’t like. This is a normal part of growing up and should be distinguished from bullying. However, in an environment where this behaviour is left unchecked, it can lead to bullying, making those being bullied feel afraid, uncomfortable and unsafe in their environment.
Another core message that underpins the work we do is in our approach to labelling; we don’t label children as ‘bullies’ or ‘victims’. Care is taken because labelling is not without its risks. Labelling a child on the basis of bullying behaviour can result in a confirmed identity as a ‘bully’ or ‘victim’ resulting in ongoing behaviour patterns based on this identity. We have developed approaches to working with bullying which hopefully avoid the labelling dilemma.
This is not about diluting behaviour but is to keep the focus of the adult’s responses on the behaviour that is problematic, rather than the assigning characteristics to those involved. This is a solution focussed approach that is designed to help children change the way they behave, rather than attempt to change who they are. We help children change by telling them and naming the behaviour that is unacceptable, being clear that what they are doing is bullying and that it needs to stop.
If you suspect that your child is being bullied, do not hesitate to get in touch with a member of the Academy team. We will always do whatever we can to make a child’s situation better. Along with our WISE Academies Family, we have developed a range of policies and procedures that enable us to take swift action to investigate allegations of bullying and put support in place for all concerned to eradicate the undesirable behaviour and offer support. Please see the policies page for relevant documentation.
Bullying is neither accepted nor tolerated. Working together with children and families, we can make things better for everyone.