Listen: Dr Justin Coulson chats to Katrina Roe about schoolyard bullying.
Cyber-bullying may get the most news headlines, but children are still much more likely to be bullied face-to-face and in the flesh.
That’s the finding of a recent study by Reach Out Australia, showing that playground intimidation is still the dominant form of childhood bullying, according to Fairfax.
In a chat with Hope 103.2, families expert Dr Justin Coulson said he wasn’t surprised about the new research.
“The majority of the really hurtful, hardcore ongoing bullying is still happening face to face,” he said. “That’s not to take away from the reality that people are literally dying because of online bullying. But the main problem is still the same old bullying that we copped before there were handheld devices and computers.
“Lines like, ‘You’re an idiot, you can’t sit with us’, ‘I’ve got your lunchbox, what are you going to do now?’ ‘What are you even talking to us for, we don’t like you’.
“It’s confrontational bullying, where kids are just nasty.”
Hope 103.2 is proudly supported by
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If Your Child is Bullied, Talk To The School
While your relationship with your child and their school will determine what approach to take towards a bully, Dr Justin Coulson says there is always one important rule of thumb: get the school involved.
“Usually a conversation with the teacher is a good starting point, and hopefully that will be enough to sort things out,” he said. “If it’s not, however, then escalating it to the head of year or the assistant principal or the principal, is appropriate.”
Why A Punishment Approach Isn’t Best
Dr Coulson, who is a speaker at the National Centre Against Bullying’s annual conference, believes punishing bullies isn’t an effective solution.
It tends to drive the problem ‘underground’ and makes the bully look for sneakier ways to get back at their victim.
Even fighting back can be more effective than punishment.
“It pains me to say it, but sometimes the best response is to fight fire with fire,” Dr Coulson said. “I have seen that sometimes retaliation has been the only thing that has worked.”
He believes that punishment is quite hypocritical, because the school actually becomes a type of bully themselves.
Anti-Bullying Strategies That Work
So what should a school do?
While bullying is a complex problem and there is no one-size-fits-all solution, Dr Coulson has found that the most effective response is to work on the bully’s character.
“The best way is for wise and compassionate adults to sit down with the children, and do what we call perspective-taking,” he said. “And help the bullies to start to develop some sense of empathy for their victims.
A caring school culture where nobody accepts bullying, and empathy is constantly reinforced, is effective.
“This is very challenging, it can be complicated and requires an extraordinary amount of patience. And there has to be some genuine learning going on. Some kids do work out how to ‘work the system’. But when we do this right, there’s compelling research that shows that this can really stop bullying.”
Building a caring school culture, where nobody accepts bullying, and empathy is constantly reinforced, is also effective in Dr Coulson’s view.
“That is, when everyone from the principal, right down to the front office staff to the maintenance workers, when they catch anything that resembles bullying, they step in straight away and say ‘hey, we need to speak respectfully and be kind here’, ‘how do you think they felt when they did that’, ‘what can you do to make it right?’
“I know it sounds idealistic, and some kids don’t respond to it, but the research tells us that on average, this is the best way forward.”