You may be aware that this week is anti-bullying week in the UK. Your child’s school may have been talking to them about it already. Some schools are engaging in activities like odd socks day to celebrate difference. If they haven’t already your kids will probably come home talking about it. I hope so because it’s with increased awareness through family and school discussions that bullying is best dealt with.
It’s worth pausing for a moment to consider what bullying is and is not. The definition by the Anti-bullying Alliance is a good one. They say that:
“Bullying is the repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power. It can happen face to face or online.”
The intentional element of the definition doesn’t excuse hurtful, offensive, degrading or threatening words, or words which focus on the subject’s insecurities, on the grounds that the person saying them meant to be funny. If the subject isn’t laughing, it’s not funny. Even if others are laughing. It’s pretty clear if the subject has asked the speaker to stop. It’s definitely not ‘just banter’ if the speaker would be upset if someone said the same thing to them. But it doesn’t excuse it if the speaker says they would not be bothered by the same words. If the subject is hurt, it is hurtful. Some people are hurt by things that others wouldn’t be because of their experiences. Aboriginal footballer Adam Goode was offended when he was called a ‘gorilla’ because he has had experiences of racism that the 13 year old white girl taunting him had never had. Schools are much more aware of this these days and are less likely to excuse it as ‘just kids’ teasing’ as they might have done perhaps when you were at school.
The definition refers to an imbalance of power but that doesn’t mean that bullying can only be done by bigger kids to smaller ones or older to younger ones. An imbalance of power can exist because the bully belongs to a majority group of any kind, whether on the basis of race or gender or sexuality or faith or intelligence or what neighbourhood they live in or economic circumstances or membership of a club or even longevity at the school! Power can reside in physical strength or ability or come from status. Some girl cliques have been known to derive their power from their bullying, exclusionary tactics.
Of course there is an imbalance of power between adults and children based on size, strength and the authority invested in us by society by virtue of our position as parent or teacher or guardian. And we have a duty to ensure that we don’t use our power in a coercive way, to hurt. We all know that much of parenting is modelling so we need to be very careful that at home we are showing our children how to get their needs met through discussion, not by just railroading the other. Check yourself next time you’re tempted to say “You’ll do it because I say so!”
Parents often want to know what they can do in response to bullying and that’s a good question to ask but we also need to ask ourselves what we can do to prevent bullying in the first place. Here are 7 things you can do.
Make respect part of the culture of your family by:
Change starts with us.
My son is in year one at school. He has recently come home saying that his teacher has said that if homework is not complete that playtime will be docked. I worry about playtime being taken away as a punishment. One of the homeworks is computer based and it has a leaderboard. The teacher has said that they should all try and beat one boy who is a regular user on it. I don't know if I am being overly sensitive as so many other parents do not seem concerned about playtime being threatened or the competitive element of this approach.
This type of punitive discipline is damaging and the competitive approach to learning isn’t helpful either. I know the teacher is trying to motivate the children to do their homework and to improve their skills but there are many other ways to do that which don’t have such a detrimental effect. This kind of coercive approach is likely to stifle any enjoyment of learning and make the children resentful and perhaps rebellious. And encouraging competition between classmates encourages them to see their peers as rivals, people to get ahead of, rather than friends and collaborators.
On top of that at this age it is really vital that kids have breaks from academic work to relax, run around and engage with friends. Much learning happens in the playground too.
Many parents of children this age feel a bit resentful that their children have to do homework at all. The children have already had a busy day at school and they’re tired when they get home. Parents hate that homework becomes a battle ground. Professionals are also divided in their opinion of the benefits of homework for young children.
You are not being oversensitive –you are showing a more enlightened approach than the school or other parents who just accept this. However you do need to uphold the authority of the school because if you undermine them your son may not do what he is asked to do and get in trouble. This can have a detrimental effect on self-esteem. So you can move him to another school (not necessarily that easy) or you can speak to the school about why a more positive approach would be more effective.
Homework doesn’t have to be a battle. Here are 7 ways to make it easier:
If you do decide that you will accept that this competitive approach is the school’s way I think you can still give your son alternative messages. Teach him to do his work without reference to the leaderboard. Tell him that it is much more fun to do the work and just enjoy it (and the learning in it) rather than doing in order to beat others. Give him the message that tasks become less enjoyable when they are all about winning. Reinforce this by a healthy attitude at home to mistakes and failures. We all make mistakes and must not be afraid of them. It’s how we grow. Focus on the learning/ fun in a task rather than the outcome. Never ask your son if he won a match or what his score is in academic tests. Focus on his effort instead. It doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate achievements but when he does well in something refer that back to his efforts. Eg you did really well at this …because you were concentrating really hard.
It’s tough to be our children’s advocate in a school environment that doesn’t share our values but remember that your child picks up his values at home.