Monday, 18 January 2010

Reasoning with bullies

is apparently the latest fashion in handling the problem of bullying in schools. The idea is that you do not punish the bully but draw them to one side and gently explain to them the error of their ways. You then ask them for a promise not to do it again. This is said to work well. Perhaps.
I am not sure where the idea came from, how the so-called research was conducted or why the results are considered to be so good. It was all reported in this morning's paper. As usual with such reports there is no data attached, just vague remarks about 'research'.
It would be delightful if such an approach actually worked. We could stamp out bullying in schools and, no doubt, later in life as well. If it was that easy we would have done it years ago.
There are some small problems attached to all this. The first of these is that most childhood bullying never gets to adult ears. The second is that adults often see bullying as something else. Yes, the behaviour may be unacceptable but it is not seen as bullying. Third, if you get one sort of bullying behaviour to cease it will often be replaced by another. Fourth...well I could go on but I will not. It is too depressing.
There are some groups of children who are more prone to being bullied than others. There are the obvious groups, kids who are overweight, kids who are already physically neglected, kids having problems with schoolwork etc etc. Then there is the "mainstreamed" kid with the disability. "Oh, he's fitting in so well." "The other kids are great about including him in everything." "She was invited to a birthday party last week - just like all the other girls in the class." "The other girls actually want her to join in with them at lunch times."
I hear these bright, positive comments from parents and teachers over and over again. They may be true - sometimes. All too often they are not. There is, according to these "well adjusted mainstreamed children", subtle bullying going on all the time. They have simply learned to accept it, accept their lot. They are not happy but they hide it. "Don't tell Mum and Dad!"
They are as frightened of the reaction by their parents as they are of the bullies. They believe they will not be believed. If they are believed they have to face the hurt, bewilderment and embarrassment of their parents. Some of them will then be bullied by their parents because they have not told, have not stood up to the bullying, have brought yet another sense of failure on their parents.
The reality is that Jack is not fitting in well. He is included under sufferance because the teacher is watching. Jill was included in the birthday party at the insistence of a parent or 'invited' because the teacher suggests it. "They all go and play footy at lunch. They say just to stand there and watch the goal posts." "Mrs X is standing there so that makes them say I can come"Jane said I only got asked because her Mum said she had to ask me." "They say I can sit with them but I have to sit there and not say anything." School is hell on earth for some of them and they say nothing at all.
Talking to the bullies and making them promise to change their ways will not work. They know they are not doing what adults expect of them but they cannot see why they should cease playing football or adjust the activities at their birthday party to fit in the kid who does not fit in. They do not even see it as bullying when they threaten, "Tell them you don't want to come to my party or we will never talk to you again."
As adults they are simply going to ignore people who do not fit in with their interests and activities.
The article in the paper was timely. I spent most of yesterday afternoon talking to a kid who is about to make the transition from primary to secondary school. She is going to be attending a school which has a poor reputation for handling these things. Her parents believe she is well adjusted, that she has friends, that she will cope. The reality is that none of her 'friends' have invited her to their homes during the holiday period. They have not accepted invitations to her place. Her mother excuses it all by saying that "everyone is so busy these days and so many parents work". She is a 'nice' kid. She is a good student, polite and independent. If anyone is going to "mainstream" well she should but the bullies are out. She is different. She needs to be reminded of this. They are not going to slow down so she can join in.
We talked about coping strategies. We both know that reasoning with bullies is not going to work.


KarenG said...

No, reasoning with bullies doesn't work. If my children ever had problems with bullies, or snotty girls being rude (the female version of bullying), I would give them permission to be rude right back, to stick up for themselves, as that's the best way to handle bullies. It usually only took a couple times, and the bullies would leave them alone. Teach kids coping techniques, that would be my approach. Reasoning? Forget it. How about a shove into the mud instead. That'll work better than reasoning.

Old Kitty said...


A big boooo to bullies and bullying!

My only worry is when these bullies grow up have kids and teach them that bullying is ok. That's just scary.

The cycle has to stop.

Take care

Donna Hosie said...

Bullying doesn't stop once a person stops being a child, and so you need to teach life skills on dealing with bullies full stop: confidence, being assertive and if necessary, the physical skills to teach an individual to stand up for themselves.

I'm totally with KarenG, get back in their face. It worked for me and it works for my kids.

catdownunder said...

Being assertive comes hard to kids with disabilities. They are expected to be more polite than other kids because they sometimes need help.
Actually being very, very. very polite is also surprisingly effective at times!

Anonymous said...

I don't agree. The girls who bullied me turned into very nice women - all those I've met, that is - and I'm sure they wouldn't teach their children that bullying is OK. There's no general rule in this. ~Miriam

Rachel Fenton said...

Why are some adults so determined to make their kids "FIT in"?

I always found the adults at my schools to be the worst bullies..

catdownunder said...

Ah Rachel you have to be "like everyone else" didn'tcha know? I know what you mean.
One of the severely disabled kids in a school I worked in learned to feed himself by using a reflex movement most people lose pretty quickly. It looked awkward but it worked for him. Along came a consultant physiotherapist who said, "He can't be allowed to do that. He has to learn to do it properly." The kid was fifteen. It was a huge achievement and she knocked it down as worthless because it was not "like everyone else".