Melissa Graham is the Director of Break Through Bullying creating products for schools and organisations that help to promote positive anti-bullying behaviours.

Melissa is dedicated to empowering individuals to stand up for themselves and others against violence and bullying to create harmony in our communities. She has a Bachelor of Education and has twenty years teaching and educational experience.
Bullying In Child Care
Being informed and empowered – by Melissa Graham from Breakthrough Bullying

This month we are proud to present an article about bullying by the Director of Break Through Bullying Melissa Graham.

When a parent comes to me saying, "I need to talk to you about my child being bullied," I am immediately concerned. Bullying is a serious issue. It is a subject that raises emotions, stirs personal stories and invites opinions from people about what can be done to overcome this problem. It is a topic that needs sensitivity and a rational, informed approach. I know from personal experience that being a parent and being rational do not always go hand in hand, especially when your instincts tell you that your child is not safe.

Talking about bullying is the way that we can come to terms with the issues and work together to make positive changes. As a parent, initiating a conversation about bullying with a carer or teacher is a great place to start if you have a concern. But, with emotions stirred and thoughts of the tough times that your child appears to be experiencing playing on your mind, how do you approach the subject of bullying in a rational and appropriate way? Being informed about what bullying is could help you as a parent to feel empowered to assist your child by approaching an early learning centre or school with confidence. By talking and working in partnership, the difficult situations your child may be facing can begin to change for the better.

As parents, understanding bullying and the terms that surround it can be confusing if we have different definitions of what bullying is.

Having a common, shared language when talking about bullying, helps everyone involved to be clear about what the issues are. Working together from a definition of bullying which is widely accepted and accredited, helps effective communication between parents and childcare centres or schools to occur. This can set us all on a path towards positive change and safer environments for our children.

A commonly used definition of bullying comes from Dr Dan Olweus:
A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending him or herself i

This definition has four distinct characteristics to it. First, the repetitious nature of bullying, it is not a onetime incident of inappropriate behaviour. Second, it is a negative experience for the child being bullied. Third, bullying can be carried out by an individual or a group, and fourth, there is an imbalance of power. This imbalance of power is a very strong indicator of bullying and one that parents and educators need to be aware of. Carers have a unique opportunity to witness examples of this imbalance of power when they are supervising and observing children during focused teaching and learning sessions and during play times. Parents can feel empowered if they know that carers and teachers are aware of the elements of this definition and that these educators of their children have a clear understanding about what bullying is.

Given this definition, bullying is obviously a complex issue that requires carers and teachers to analyse the daily behaviour patterns of children who may be displaying bullying behaviours, before they can determine that bullying is occurring. These behaviours, typically amongst young children, can include physical, verbal or excluding behaviours. Physical bullying causes physical harm to another by hitting, punching, kicking, damaging property or invading someone’s personal space. Verbal bullying using words to bully, includes behaviours such as teasing, name calling, rumour spreading and swearing. Exclusion or social bullying is a form of bullying that excludes a person or group of people from joining in with activities or associations. This type of bullying behaviour leaves the individual or group feeling isolated from others.

Cyberbullying is bullying online that uses technology like mobile phones and computers through text messaging, email, instant messaging, chat rooms, social networking sites and web pages. Most recently, incidents of cyberbullying appear to be on the increase in our schools and it is important for parents to know about cyberbullying trends. With many children having access to technology at an early age, it is important as parents that we model appropriate usage of these technologies and put clear usage rules and restrictions in place at home for children to follow. The Hon Alastair Nicholson, Chairman of the National Centre Against Bullying ii (NCAB) recently opened the fourth NCAB Conference Navigating the Maze, saying that incidents of cyberbullying were on the increase. With children online or using mobile phones for significant amounts of time every day, they have been encountering an increase of bullying behaviours in cyberspace. As parents, if we are aware of what these bullying behaviours are and what they look like in educational and social settings, we can be empowered to detect these types of behaviours when they are transferred into the cyberworld for our children online as teenagers and young adults.

Bullying is not a onetime incident when a child experiences an inappropriate behaviour from another child. For example, if on Monday at school, Jim takes Tim’s lunch box, throws it and it accidentally breaks – this is not bullying. Jim may not have been following the rules and his behaviour is not acceptable, but he is not bullying Tim in this onetime instance. However, if on Tuesday, Jim takes Tim’s hat and hides it so he cannot find it and on Wednesday Jim takes Jim’s school bag and throws it off the verandah, now we can see a potential pattern of bullying behaviours occurring, namely physical behaviours such as damaging property. There is repetition and also the imbalance of power is evident. Jack appears to have control over Jonathon by taking possession of his belongings.

In schools and other educational settings, the repetition of these bullying behaviours can be tracked. Through a record keeping system, informed staff tracking the patterns of behaviour can determine whether or not bullying is in fact occurring. It is from this information that appropriate actions and logical consequences can be decided and put in place to assist those involved. This means for the child who is displaying the bullying behaviours and for the child who is experiencing the bullying. It is equally important that both children involved need the support and assistance from parents and educators to learn the life-long skills of communication, relationship formation and conflict resolution. Ideally, parents should be informed at the time that it is determined that bullying is occurring, if your child is involved, as together a discussion needs to take place about what the school is doing to assist your child and what you can do to support your child that is in line with the school’s policy on bullying.

Educating children about bullying can be done most effectively when there is a readiness on the part of children to share their thoughts about bullying with others
in their class or group. iii

Talking about bullying in an educational setting can effect change, although regardless of age, the crucial factor here is the relationship that the child has with his or her teacher. Getting children to talk about bullying at an early age is essential to developing their understanding of the inappropriate nature of bullying and increasing their awareness of the support networks available to them. Having someone to confide in, a child is more likely to openly discuss his or her concerns. Supportive, well-informed parents, teachers and other significant adults who are ready to listen and keep on listening are vital for all children to have in their world. Particularly for a child who may not outwardly appear to need assistance, he or she knows that someone cares and is concerned about his or her welfare if a difficult situation arises.

When we acknowledge as parents, that an educational setting can be one of the most powerful environments for children to learn about bullying, we can be proactive and supportive in a number of ways. Requesting a policy document about bullying can give you an awareness of that educational organisation’s perspective on bullying. Become informed about procedures for tracking or identifying bullying and how are these followed up. Find out about how the school or centre is educating students about bullying and is there teaching and learning focused on anti-bullying strategies. Essentially, ask questions of the adults that your child is in contact with, if you are unsure about the rules your child is meant to be following, the values your school promotes or what to do if you think your child is experiencing bullying.

Bullying is everyone’s concern and it is by talking about it, defining it clearly and identifying it correctly, that our children can have a better chance to see for themselves that bullying is a counterproductive way to develop positive relationships and build harmonious communities. As parents, we all want our children to have experiences in life that are positive. This is not always the case. If we are informed about issues such as bullying and aware of the ways in which our children will be supported if bullying occurs in educational settings, we can approach a conversation with a carer or teacher in an appropriate and rational way. Knowledge can be empowering for parents, as we watch eagerly from the sidelines as our children navigate a sometimes bumpy path of social development. Shout out proud, positive messages of encouragement to your child along the way, knowing that as a parent you too are supported by child care centres, schools and many other organisations who advocate for safe and supportive environments for our children.

i Dan Olweus, Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do (Oxford, England: Blackwell Publishing 1993)

ii National Centre Against Bullying (NCAB) is an initiative of the Alannah & Madeline Foundation.
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iii Rigby, K. & Australian Government Attorney General’s Dept - Bullying among young children: A guide for teachers and carers p.9 (Commonwealth of Australia, 2003)
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