When we talk about bullying, we are talking about behaviour and impact. It’s behaviours that can make people feel hurt, frightened, scared, left out or worried – and the impact of this behaviour leaves them feeling less in control of themselves.
Bullying takes something away from people; that is one of the things that makes it different from other behaviours. It takes away their ability to feel in control and to take effective action.
When a child or young person tells you they are being bullied, your reaction is vitally important. They will usually have gone through a lot of upset before they come forward and actually tell someone – and the fact that they’ve chosen to tell you suggests that they trust you to help them. Telling someone is an important step, and it isn’t always an easy one to take. It’s not just about the environment, your policy or the measures you have in place to deal with bullying. A child’s experience will be directly affected by the response they get from the adult. We need to listen and get it right. It’s about the personal touch, and we should always be mindful of this.
That’s why we have to involve young people in what they want to happen, what they would like to happen, and what they are worried about happening. And sometimes we need to take a lead from them as to what pace we go at. If we can do that, we can help restore that feeling of being in control.
So, what advice should you give?
There is never one single answer when it comes to bullying. What works for one person might not work for another, and what works in one situation won’t work in all situations. It’s about knowing how to think about the situation and how to approach it.
Ask yourself: what’s the behaviour? What’s the impact? What does the young person want to happen? What do I need to do about it?
Again, involve the young person by finding out what they want to happen next; “Tell me what you have done so far?” “What would you like me to do?” “What do you think would happen if, say, I was to talk to the other person involved?”
If they are worried that you would make it worse, you might have to try something else because most children and young people just want bullying to stop with the minimum of fuss.
It’s about exploring options; thinking about what you can do and sometimes, as an adult, having to say, “If I’m worried and I don’t think you’re safe, I’m going to step in”, and explain why you are doing it.
The temptation to run off and solve bullying situations is an understandable one, but we should always take a moment, pause and think, “how do I give the young person back a sense of being in control?” It’s that sense of being in control that has been taken from them, and that has to focus your response.
We have developed a video resource for young people, that explores some of the options open to them if they or someone they know is being bullied. It encourages them to think about the options they’re most comfortable with, until they find something that works for them, and helps them to feel in control again.
The video, and supporting guidance for using it with young people, can be viewed here: http://respectme.org.uk/resources/videos/
Pamela Graham, Campaigns amd Communications Manager, Respect Me