5 practical strategies for controlling bullying – and you can start this holiday

Let's say no to bullying in our schools.
Let's say no to bullying in our schools.

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence campaign – which runs every year from 25 November to 10 December – focuses largely on the elimination of abuse against women and children.

But the international campaign often focuses a lot less on a form of abuse that may not seem as serious, even life-threatening, at first, but can be a traumatic experience for kids and teens and have long-lasting effects on the development of their self-esteem and mental health. So we’d like to draw attention to a lesser recognised form of abuse: bullying.

Has your child been bullied? How did you go about addressing the situation? Tell us by emailing chatback@parent24.com and we may publish your story. Do let us know if you'd like to remain anonymous.

Bullying is ongoing, targeted persecution that comes in many forms, including verbal, emotional, and physical abuse, as well as simply isolating or ignoring someone. Bullying dynamics are about power and having power, even temporarily, over a more vulnerable person. And we say “more vulnerable” because people who bully have often been abused themselves – not that this justifies becoming a bully. In fact, it only makes things worse and studies have revealed an already disconcerting situation.

1 in 3 children worldwide experience some form of bullying

According to the latest UN report on how children can be better protected, around 130 million (1 in 3 children worldwide) experience some form of bullying.

The report also says that 176 million children under 5 years regularly witness domestic violence, and children who bully others are twice as likely to have been exposed to domestic violence than other children.

Alicia Thomas-Woolf, neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) practitioner and author of the effective anti-bullying book Powerful, says, “In South Africa school children experience bullying, abuse and harassment, infringing on many of their constitutional rights.” And it often has to do with their race, religion, abilities, gender, or sexual orientation, she adds.  In South Africa this constitutes hate speech, which is a criminal offense and guardians or parents can lay a criminal charge against the bullying.

Studies show that bullying in South Africa, specifically, is also more prevalent than we think.

  • A study by the Youth Research Unit of Unisa's Bureau of Market Research in 24 Gauteng schools (between 2011 and 2012) revealed that nearly 35% of learners in these schools had been bullied in the previous two years, with 42% of this group being Grade 8 learners and a third having experienced bullying throughout their secondary school lives.
  • Another 2015 study with South African Grade 5 and Grade 9 students who took part in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) revealed that Grade 5 pupils reported the highest frequency of bullying among the 49 participating countries. The study, conducted every 4 years, includes additional research into factors which can affect learning, including school resources, student attitudes, teaching methods and support at home. Additionally, almost half of the Grade 9 South African pupils reported being bullied “about monthly”, placing this group 36 out of 38 countries studied.

“Children and adults need a clear definition of bullying,” explains Alicia. “This not only creates awareness but also provides parameters of what behaviour is considered acceptable. This needs to include a framework of guidelines so that there is a clear structure in place.”

“While bullying has a negative psychological and emotional impact, it also has the added problem of potentially escalating into something fatal,” she continues, suggesting we therefore implement five practical strategies to control bullying in schools.

1. Have open and safe communication with everyone involved

“It is important to empower all stakeholders. This provides a structure of what will be tolerated. A bullying situation can be difficult to handle. Additionally, witnesses are invariably involved, often experiencing their own sense of vulnerability to the bully. Having set guidelines facilitates the necessary actions to contain or remedy a bullying situation” says Alicia.

She suggests having a programme which involves and includes both students involved in the bullying, parents and teachers, to allow for open communication. This way parents of both bully and victim can take appropriate action, while working together with teachers to maintain a consistent approach, encouraging more productive and appropriate replacement behaviours.

2. Make anti-bullying part of the school syllabus

On a primary level, incorporating an anti-bullying programme as part of the school syllabus can also help lay a foundation of establishing an anti-bullying environment. It can open the opportunity for children to approach the teacher in private if they are experiencing any problems.

3. Implement appropriate responses to behaviours

Avoid labelling a situation and the people involved. It is important to find out what happened and then take necessary action from there.

“Ensure the person doing the bullying understands what they’re doing and why it’s wrong,” explains Alicia. “Discover what motivates the need for control and power – sometimes, the bullies themselves are being bullied. That also needs to be sensitively dealt with,” she says.

“Finally, there are consequences in life for people who hurt others. Children need to know what they are facing. 

“It is critically important, therefore, to reward or acknowledge good behaviour. Find opportunities to support and compliment a child, focusing on positive behaviour so they feel supported and less likely to engage in negative, aggressive behaviour."

4. Have a set, anti-bullying infrastructure

Create an environment of kindness and respect, one that has the relevant guidelines to take the necessary action relating to the situation. Alicia says it’s therefore important to have specific procedures in place to deal with and diffuse the situation effectively.

5. Establish what being powerful really looks like

So bullying is often a means of establishing power – real or perceived power. Some people who are perceived to be powerful are actually only in a position of power, often surrounded by and inspiring fear. A truly powerful person though is easy to recognise.

Malala, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, and many more unsung heroes, are truly powerful people with a deep respect for the humanity of others – that’s their power, true power. “These people are loved and celebrated during and after their lifetimes,” says Alicia.

So when defining bullying and explaining to children what it is, we also need to define power and explain that power doesn’t come from belittling others.

“Children need to see powerful role models and need to be able to distinguish a truly powerful person from an abuser of power,” elaborates Alicia. It’s important to bring up this conversation with kids and teens in the classroom. By doing this we can teach them empathy and what it truly means to be a strong force. 

“Let’s mark these 16 days with a commitment to teach our children empathetic behaviour from the get-go, reinforcing it through the years,” the Powerful author therefore concludes, “so that being truly powerful will be a familiar choice of behaviour.”

Has your child been bullied? How did you go about addressing the situation? Tell us by emailing chatback@parent24.com and we may publish your story. Do let us know if you'd like to remain anonymous.

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