Bullying has long been a serious problem for children with and without differences. The horrific events in the last decade have shown us that, more than ever before, we need to step up efforts to help all children involved victims, peers and children who bully. In this article I will give an overview of the bullying problem and then address suggestions for helping children deal with bullying.
How extensive is bullying?
Somewhere between 49% and 58% of elementary students are bullied at school at some time or other. As many as 32% are bullied once a week or more often (Ziegler & Rosenstein, 1991; Rigby & Slee, 1995; Langevin, 1998). For children who stutter the incidence is higher. In our research:
These results, which are in accord with those reported by British people who stutter (Mooney & Smith, 1995), confirm that teasing is a serious form of bullying with damaging effects.
Victims can also be bullies. Research indicates that between 17% and 43% (Langevin, 1998; Olweus, 1993; OMoore & Hillery, 1989; Ziegler & Rosenstein-Manner, 1992) are both victims and bullies.
What are the effects of bullying on school children?
The psychological impact on victims of childhood teasing and other forms of bullying can be devastating and last long into adulthood. Diminished self worth, compromised school performance, social rejection, depression and feelings of helplessness and loneliness are frequently reported consequences (Neary & Joseph, 1994; Callaghan & Joseph, 1995; Charach, Pepler & Ziegler, 1995). For children who stutter, these consequences are made worse by a vicious cycle of increased speech struggle, more negative listener reactions, heightened shame, and an intense desire to avoid and hide stuttering at all costs.
Peers who witness bullying are traumatized as well. They are afraid to report bullying or intervene. Often they participate in the bullying (Craig & Pepler, 1995) for fear of being the next victim. Although few peers intervene, many would like to do so (Charach, Pepler & Ziegler, 1995). When given strategies, the peer group can be a powerful ally.
We must also be very concerned for the children who bully. They too are at risk for problems e.g., criminality and substance abuse - that continue into adulthood (Olweus, 1993).
How does the environment reinforce bullying?
Bullying is reinforced at many levels in society and children and adults inadvertently reinforce bullying when they do not report it or do anything to stop it. Children dont tell adults about bullying because they fear revenge by the bully, fear that adults will over-react or under-react, feel shame and embarrassment, share guilt for the bullying, fear being labelled as a tattletale or snitch and believe that adults cant help (Zarzour, 1994).
I believe and hope that public opinion is changing and that we are now moving beyond the myth that bullying is a valuable learning experience and that children can work out bullying among themselves without adult help (Besag, 1989). I believe that it is our responsibility to ask ourselves each day "Is there anything that I do or say that supports or reinforces bullying?" and "What behaviours am I modeling for the children?". Equally important, we parents, teachers, speech language pathologists and all members of the community must not simply rescue children and enable the development of a "victim" role. It is important that we help children learn conflict resolution strategies; help them acquire resiliency to prevent internalizing teasing, taunting and other types of bullying; and help them maintain their power or re-gain it when it has been lost to a child or a group of children who bully. And finally, we must make it safe for children to report bullying and to ask for help.
What can be done about bullying?
Ideally, a broad-based approach will be adopted wherein the community, home and school will work together to change attitudes towards teasing and bullying and provide victims, peers and children who bully with a variety of strategies. Adults also need to know that there are different levels of intervention based on the seriousness of the bullying event. Given appropriate problem solving strategies children may well be able to resolve less serious bullying. In other cases the power imbalance between the victim and children who bully requires intervention from parents, teachers and administrators and perhaps police personnel.
In our work with children who stutter we have taken a broad-based approach. Children learn conflict resolution strategies, parents learn to facilitate problem solving and make decisions about levels of intervention, and visits to childrens classrooms are made to help students understand stuttering and learn how they can support their classmates who stutter. In addition, we have undertaken a wide student education initiative to change attitudes toward bullying and children who stutter. In our peer teasing project a classroom anti-bullying kit (Teasing and Bullying: Unacceptable Behaviour (TAB), Langevin, 2000) was developed. The program targets bullying for all children and incorporates information about stuttering. Its effectiveness has been researched (Langevin, 1997; Langevin, 1998) and it is now being used in elementary schools in Canada and other countries. In the remainder of this paper I will describe the model for our work with teasing and bullying which has child, parent and public education components.
In all of our work we emphasize the following:
1. Each teasing/bullying event will require a different solution
2. The strategies used by the child must suit the child
3. Children and parents must use judgement in responding
4. Role playing is fundamental for the child to be assertive and use the strategies with confidence
5. Intervention must be tailored to the needs of the child, parents and classroom peers.
Working with Children
In working with children we take a preventative approach for those not being bullied and a management approach for those children who are being bullied. Activities include discussions, written exercises and role playing. Topics for these activities include the following:
1. What is bullying and what kind of teasing upsets you? Almost always name-calling is one example of a behaviour that will be identified as both a teasing and bullying behaviour. This helps victims understand that teasing that is upsetting is bullying. It also gives them more confidence and belief that they do not have to continue to endure the teasing. For children who have not admitted to being bullied, this discussion will often make it safe for them to begin talking about it. For children who tease, taunt and name call, this discussion helps them understand that they are acting like bullies.
2. How does it feel to be teased and bullied? It is important for children to feel free to share their fears, hurts, embarrassment and anger or frustration if and when they are willing to do so. In our experience, children who stutter are not always willing to admit that they are being bullied until they have experienced some success in managing their stuttering and, of course, until they feel safe to talk about bullying. When a child talks about being bullied or the bullying that their friends and classmates are experiencing, it is our job to validate their feelings and create a climate of acceptance and trust. This will encourage children to continue to share their feelings and beliefs. Chmela and Reardon (2001) provide excellent ideas for validating feelings. These include (a) active listening by acknowledging; (b) reflecting the childs message; (c) probing for more information; (d) labelling the feeling (as Chmela and Reardon indicate children will quickly tell you if you are in-correct and will clarify what the correct feeling is); and (e) validate the emotion ("its okay to feel .").
3. Why dont students tell? In this discussion we can validate the fears and anxieties that children experience. If the child is being teased and has not reported it, we can learn particular reasons why the child is reluctant to report it or have anyone do anything about it. This information is critical in helping us decide how to approach the problem and determine the level of intervention that is required.
4. Why do you think a person teases and bullies? Childrens responses always show a full range of understanding from "they want a reaction and want to be cool" to "they like having power over you" and "they feel inferior and want to be accepted". Again, when a child is being bullied, they will often share details about the children who are bullying that are important for deciding how to deal with the problem.
5. When and how does teasing become bullying? Sometimes there is a very fine line between teasing that is fun and teasing that is bullying. Older children and parents are quick to point out that teasing can be fun and for some it is an important part of the parent-child relationship. This is absolutely true. We then discuss how teasing that is fun can turn into bullying and emphasize that teasing that is hurtful is bullying. Children discuss how they might tell whether a child is upset or distressed. We also discuss how the teased child may not be showing their true feelings.
6. What can you do if you were being teased/bullied, or, when a child has talked about the teasing, what can you do to deal with the teasing? Again, there is always a broad range of responses. Some of the most common strategies that children suggest include: "ignore it, run away, tell the teacher, do the same thing back, punch them, and dont let it bother you". We are careful to allow expression of all possible responses, discuss consequences of each strategy and decide which strategies may be most helpful and most suitable for the child. When developing a plan of action we are always working with the parent and child together. At the end of this article you will find a compilation of strategies that are often found in the literature. At this point I want to comment on a few strategies that have been suggested:
1. Ignore it. We talk about how ignoring the incident of teasing or not giving a reaction may be the most helpful thing to do at that moment, but emphasize that "ignore it" does NOT mean that the child does not tell anyone about the bullying. Children are encouraged to make a judgement about the seriousness of the bullying, determine if they can handle it at that moment with another strategy or if the best thing to do is to ignore it until they can get help. They are encouraged to walk calmly and assertively away from the situation as soon as possible, especially if physical bullying is a possibility. We emphasize how important it is for the children to tell an adult and keep telling until they get some help and support. Thus to "ignore it", as we talk about the strategy, is an active decision based on good judgment.
2. Make a comeback or say something witty or unexpected back. This strategy may work in some situations for some children who can carry it off. In other situations and for other children it may make the problem worse. If this strategy is encouraged, have the child practice what they will say and how they will say it so they can be effective.
3. Use humour. The usefulness of this strategy likely depends on how the child feels about stuttering and whether being witty or humourous is part of their personality. For some children, it will be suitable and can show that they are not emotionally bothered by the tease or taunt. For other children, it will not be an option. We emphasize that if one is going to use humour, that they do NOT do so by belittling themselves. Again, practicing easily said statements with an adult or friend will help the child use this strategy effectively.
4. Postpone or delay responding until the child is more in control. We emphasize that this strategy may be helpful to give a child time to deal with anger, frustration or other emotions that may escalate the problem at the moment. Again, the children are encouraged to talk with an adult to work out a plan of action.
5. Be assertive, talk to the bully. A strategy that we use is called the "I can speak up 5 finger strategy". Of course this strategy will not always work, but in many cases it will. Here are two examples:
Children will often shorten this strategy by omitting "please" to make it work for them. Respect is also shown by encouraging children to:
In using this strategy, it is important that children use their own words to describe the "behaviour" and to "tell what they want". Children are discouraged from adding a consequence such as "if you dont stop, I will tell" because it could be fuel for even more taunting. As well, the child may be unwilling to carry through with the consequence which diminishes the effectiveness of the strategy.
In conflict resolution literature, children are encouraged to share their feelings as part of this process. I believe it is important to help children make decisions about when it is safe to share deeper feelings and when it is more appropriate to indicate dislike of a behaviour. In some situations, revealing deeper emotions may give the child who bullies more ammunition and make the problem worse.
In working with children who stutter, and as suggested by many others in our field (e.g., Murphy, 2000), the children prepare a class presentation about stuttering. For the children living in our city we accompany the child to class if they want to go ahead with the presentation. For children from other cities and provinces, their parents or their local speech language pathologists support them in the classroom. The presentation will be designed according to the needs of the child and classroom. Sometimes it will focus on stuttering only, other times it will incorporate discussions and exercises dealing with teasing and bullying. Always, the child who stutters is encouraged to take the lead in the class discussion. Possible topics include:
Even if children do not do a class presentation, they have gone through the process of preparing it which helps them respond to questions from students such as "Why do you talk like that?". In our experience it also boosts their confidence and helps with acceptance of stuttering.
In addition we include the following to help children work out other conflicts:
Working with Parents and Other Adults
In our work with parents and other adults, we aim to raise awareness, discuss attitudes towards bullying, brainstorm possible strategies and direction for intervention and, when necessary, facilitate development of a plan of action for a specific bullying problem.
Topics of discussion include:
1. Background information on bullying including its nature and the frequency of bullying
2. Levels of intervention: Can the bullying be dealt with at the individual level? Is there a need for adult intervention? Who should be contacted school personnel etc.?
3. Principles of intervention as cited above
4. Strategies: Usual suggestions and conflict resolution strategies are discussed;
5. Differentiating tattling from reporting: It is important to help children understand the difference between tattling and responsible reporting. In the anti-bullying program we devised the following guideline which draws from the work of Pepler (personal communication) and others.
"Tattling is when you tell to get someone into trouble and you tell in front of others. Telling to get help is when you tell to get someone out of trouble and you tell an adult in private."
6. Specific problem solving: Parents are encouraged to:
We also use home exercises that encourage parent-child problem solving. These include:
Our goal is two fold to change peer attitudes toward bullying and children who stutter and to provide children with a variety of conflict resolution strategies that can be used to solve bullying and other conflicts. The model of attitude that underlies our work has affective, cognitive and behavioural components. Thus discussions and activities:
Teachers are provided with resources that can be used as part of the curriculum. In addition to the topics that we discuss with children set out above, students discuss the following:
With respect to stuttering, teachers are provided with student activities that address the following:
Incorporating information about stuttering with the much-needed focus on preventing and reducing teasing and bullying has been very successful. This approach has enabled us to educate thousands of students and their teachers about stuttering in classes in which there are no children who stutter.
In conclusion, I invite all to join the efforts to prevent and reduce bullying. Momentum is gathering and home, school and community need to work together. Victims, peers and children who bully need help and guidance. There are many ideas and many resources. Respect is fundamental! And we, as adult role models, are the most important resource. I wish you success in your work!
Appendix: Commonly suggested strategies for dealing with bullying
Following is a compilation of suggestions from various sources (Zarzour, 1994; Berry, 1984; McCoy, 1992) commonly found in literature. They are being presented for information only. They have not been evaluated for effectiveness. Again, each situation will require a different plan of action and children should discuss their options with their parents or someone they trust.
Suggestions for children
Suggestions for parents
Berry, J. (1984). Lets talk about being bullied. Danbury: CT: Grolier Enterprises Inc.
Besag, V. (1989). Bullies and victims in schools. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.
Callagahan, S., & Joseph, S. (1995). Self-concept and peer victimization among school children. Personality & Individual Differences, 18(1), 161-163.
Charach, A., Pepler, D., & Ziegler, S. (1995). Bullying at school: A Canadian perspective. Education Canada (Spring, 1995).
Chmela, K. A. & Reardon. N. (2001). The school age child who stutters: Working effectively with attitudes and emotions. TN: Stuttering Foundation of America.
Craig, W. M., & Pepler, D. (1995). Peer processes in bullying and victimization: An observational study. Exceptionality Education Canada, 5(3 & 4), 81-95.
Langevin, M. (1997). Peer Teasing Project. In. E. Healey and H. Peters (Eds.) International Fluency Association, 2nd World Congress, Nijmegen, The Netherlands: Nijmegen University Press.
Langevin, M. (1998). Teasing and Bullying: Unacceptable Behaviour: Field testing report September 1998). Unpublished report, available from the Institute for Stuttering Treatment & Research, 3rd Floor, 8220 114 Street, Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2P4.
Langevin, M., Bortnick, K., Hammer, T., & Wiebe, E. (1998). Teasing/Bullying Experienced by Children who Stutter: Toward Development of a Questionnaire. Contemporary Issues in Communication Science and Disorders, 25, 12-24.
Langevin, M. (2000). Teasing and Bullying: Unacceptable Behaviour. Available from the Institute for Stuttering Treatment & Research, 3rd Floor, 8220 114 Street, Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2P4.
McCoy, Elin. (1992). Bully-proof your child. Readers Digest, Nov., 199-204.
Mooney, S., & Smith, P. K. (1995). Bullying and the child who stammers. British Journal of Special Education, 22(1), 24-27.
Murphy, B. (2000). Speech pathologists can help children who are teased because they stutter (On-line). www.mnsu.edu/comdis/ISAD3/pepers/murphy.html
Neary, A., & Joseph, S. (1994). Peer victimization and its relationship to self-concept and depression among school girls. Personality and Individual Differences, 16(1), 183-186.
Olweus, D. (1993). Bullying at school: What we know and what we can do. Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers.
OMoore, A.M., & Hillery, B. (1989). Bullying in Dublin schools. The Irish Journal of Psychology, 10, 426-441.
Rigby, K., & Slee, P.T. (1995). The peer relations questionnaire. Adelaide: Institute of Social Research. University of South Australia.
Zarzour, K. (1994). Battling the school yard bully. Toronto, Canada: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.
Ziegler, S., & Rosenstein-Manner, M. (1991). Bullying at school: Toronto in an international context (Research Services No. 196) Toronto, Ontario: Toronto Board of Education (Ontario). Research Dept.
Bully free classroom. Beane, Allan L. (1999). MN: Free Spirit Publishing Inc.
Bullying and the dysfluent child in primary school. British Stammering Association (in conjunction with the Psychology Department of Sheffield University).
Bully-proofing your school. Garrity., (1994). C., Jens, K., Porter, W., Sager, N. & Short-Camili, C. Longmont, CO: Sopris West.
Teasing and Bullying: Unacceptable Behaviour (2000). Langevin, M. Available from the Institute for Stuttering Treatment & Research, 3rd Floor, 8220 114 Street, Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2P4. Website: www.tab.ualberta.ca
Tackling bullying in your school: A practical handbook for teachers. (1994). Sharp, S., & Smith, P. K. London: Routledge.
Focus on bullying: (1998). A prevention program for elementary school communities. British Columbia Ministry of Education, Ministry of Attorney General. Available from B.C. Safe School Centre, 5325 Kincaid Street, Burnaby, B.C. V5G 1W2. Curriculum for safe and caring schools.
Alberta Teachers Association Safe and Caring School Resources. (Development is ongoing). ATAs SACS Project Office, Barnett House, 11010 142 Street, Edmonton, AB, T5N 2R1.