Bullying and loneliness
Bullying can occur at school, during leisure time, during hobby activities and, more and more often, online and on social media. Your child may being bullied or bullying others, even when they are alone in their room. Bullying refers to intentionally and repeatedly making someone feel bad. Often, the person being bullied is, in some way, in a weaker position and cannot properly defend themselves against the bullies.
Bullying can be verbal, indirect or physical, or it can take place through a mobile phone, for example. Read more about bullying on the KiVa school pages (in Finnish). Bullying can be, for example, repeatedly calling someone names, pushing them around, excluding them from a group and spreading photos of them without their permission. In addition to the bully and the person being bullied, the rest of the group may be involved in the bullying in different ways. Some support the bully by helping and encouraging them, others remain silent and accept the situation, and some support the bullied person. Learn more about the different roles in a group on the KiVa School pages (in Finnish).
As a parent you can help your child respect others. Encourage your children to tell an adult if they see or experience bullying. Standing by a bullied person is brave and the right thing to do. Ask your child how they are doing at school and with whom they tend to spend time. This shows that you are interested in your child’s everyday life. It also helps the child bring up any potential loneliness or bullying. KiVa School pages have many good tips on what you can do at home to support abullied child and to counter bullying (in Finnish).
What should you do if your child is bullied online or through a mobile phone Source: KiVa School
- Tell your child that they do not need to open any messages from their bully or an unknown sender.
- It is recommended that messages from bullies are not answered, except for one time with a short and calm message.
- If you find out that the person who sent the message attends the same school as your child, contact the school personnel.
- If the bullying continues, you should consider changing the child’s email address or phone number.
- If necessary, you can save the bullying messages or keep a record of them down in order to take the matter further.
You can also change the settings in the child’s inbox so that any messages from a certain senders are sorted directly into their own file and your child does not have to read them.
Source: psychiatrist Ben Furman, MuksuoppiAppi
The best way of preventing children from bullying each other is to help them develop skills that promote friendship, collaboration and caring for others. Two such skills – apologising and defending - are particularly relevant when bullying is occurring:
An important skill we all need to learn is how to apologise when we have hurt the feelings of others. All conflicts begin with one person feeling hurt by something another person has said or done, and all conflicts tend to escalate or linger on if the parties involved don’t take appropriate action. Apologising is a rapid and effective way of resolving conflicts and restoring severed relationships.
Apologising - saying we’re sorry - is a social skill that children can learn with the help of parents or other caretakers. Smaller children can draw or write apologetic notes, and older children can write more extensive letters of apology. Children can also be encouraged to think about which words are best to use in an apology and what additional action or actions they should take to make things good again.
Apologies may not stop children from hurting people’s feelings, but they are an effective way of ending hurtful behaviour and avoiding any escalation into bullying.
Surviving the many inevitable conflicts that arise in social relationships means we all need friends, allies or ‘buddies’ who are willing to defend us and take our side when necessary. Without this type of supporter we are vulnerable, easy prey for bullies and being taken advantage of.
One way of reducing bullying is to help children learn skills connected with supporting and defending others who feel intimidated by being bullied. The skill of defending others is one that children can develop and improve not only through roleplay but also in real life situations. As well as opportunities to post hurtful things about others, social media offers children opportunities to demonstrate support.
The best way of preventing bullying in any group of children is to help them learn social skills that promote friendship, collaboration and good companionship. These include the skill of apologising to others whose feelings have been hurt and the ability to defend children who are being bullied. Both these skills can be developed and improved using the Kids’Skills steps.
Source: psychiatrist Ben Furman, MuksuoppiAppi
If a child feels they are being bullied at school, the problem can be solved using a solution-focused approach that has much in common with the Kids’Skills steps. This method, known as the Support Group Approach, has been used successfully in many elementary schools around the world. It was developed by Sue Young in the mid-1990s when she was working as a teacher in Hull (UK) and acted as the school’s anti-bullying coordinator. In this role, her job involved both helping resolve individual incidents of bullying and reducing overall levels of bullying. To learn more, see a series of Youtube videos where Sue Young explains the approach in detail (in Finnish).
The support group approach
The support group approach aims to help children who are troubled by bullying start enjoying going to school again. The idea is that when a pupil is supported by a group, any bullying that may be occurring will eventually cease without further intervention.
This is very different from the more conventional approach that first seeks to investigate what has occurred, and then attempts to deal with the bullying problem by getting the bullies to admit what they are doing, accept some form of punishment and promise to stop.
In the support group approach, teachers avoid using unhelpful words such as ‘bully’, ‘bullying’ or ‘victim’ and do not spend time attempting to establish what has occurred. Rather, they adopt the view that regardless of what has taken place, a child has become unhappy and this alone is a good reason to take action that will make them happy again.
The support group approach step-by-step
1. Talk to the unhappy pupil.
Start by interviewing the pupil who is unhappy and in need of support. In this interview, the aim is to discover which pupils should to be asked to participate in the unhappy pupil’s support group. Tell the pupil you want to help them and ask
- who are they finding difficulty with in school right now
- who else is around when things are difficult
- who are their friends, or
- who would they like to have as friends.
2. Introduce the support group idea.
Explain to the unhappy pupil that you are going to invite a small group (consisting of the pupils they have named) to help make them happier in school next week.
Tell the unhappy pupil that you will see them again after the week is over, and ask them to note any improvements that happen in between.
3. Arrange the meeting.
The support group consists of 5–8 pupils whose names the unhappy pupil has given you. It should include one or more friends, all of the children that the unhappy pupil has had difficulties with, and some of those who have been present when things have not been going well. When the group has assembled, tell its members that the pupil in question has been unhappy in school saying something like “We don’t want anyone to be unhappy here, which is why I’m asking for your help.” You then ask them to commit to helping the unhappy pupil become happier without explaining to them the cause of the unhappiness.
4. The plan.
At this point you may also ask the group members if any of them has ever been unhappy at school and encourage one or two to briefly share their experiences. Continue by asking group members to suggest how they could help the unhappy pupil enjoy school again. Suggest that each of them comes up with an idea and show interest in all the ideas by complimenting each contributor and making the ideas part of the group’s joint plan. Most of this meeting will be spent encouraging contributors and praising their suggestions. Arrange a meeting with the group in a week’s time.
5. Follow-up with the pupil.
After the week has passed, arrange a follow-up meeting with the unhappy pupil. In most cases you’ll find there has been a drastic change; the pupil who had been unhappy is now once again happy. Focus on discovering what has changed for the better and congratulate the formerly unhappy pupil on whatever they have done to contribute to the positive development. This meeting allows you to monitor the situation and reinforce positive change.
6. Follow-up with the group.
Meet with the support group to show your appreciation for what they have done, both individually and as a group. This meeting provides another opportunity for you to monitor how things are going. If you have any doubts, ask the group to continue their support work for a further week.
Benefits of the support group approach
Compared to other common intervention strategies, the support group method has many advantages.
- It does not demand from adults the amount of time required for other approaches because no investigation takes place.
- It’s more acceptable to children’s parents since no pupils are labelled as being ‘bullies’.
- An additional benefit is that the support group method also works well in those difficult - but not uncommon - cases when a pupil reports being bullied at school but no firm evidence of bullying exists.
Concerns regarding this approach
When people first hear of the support group method they sometimes wonder whether it’s ok that a pupil who has suffered by being bullied starts to enjoy going to school again and begins to get along well with their peers, even though the bullies don’t admit any form of wrongdoing and are not punished in any way.
Experience of using this approach suggests exactly the opposite, in that punishing children for acting in a bullying manner carries the risk that the situation for the victim(s) will in fact become worse. Inviting bullies to contribute towards helping an unhappy pupil enjoy going to school again is a far more effective way of changing their behaviour than punishing them for having contributed to making the pupil unhappy in the first place.
When children are unhappy at school because they are being bullied by their classmates or other pupils, there are many ways to intervene. A common approach is to intervene by confronting the bullies, punishing them and extracting promises intended to stop them behaving in this way. Unfortunately, this conventional approach has many disadvantages and alternative approaches have therefore been developed. This section presents a non-blaming method that has been found to work well in many cultures around the world.
Source: psychiatrist Ben Furman, MuksuoppiAppi
In some cases, it is not sufficient to do something to try to stop the bullying from happening. In addition, you may also need to help the child to become more resilient, or less sensitive to the words and actions of other children. This is particularly important if the child has become exceedingly sensitive to bullying, or the bullying continues despite best efforts to stop it.
Resilience is a skill
The ability to be resilient, or to be able to ignore other people’s unkind comments, or to be able to respond to them in a dignifying way, is an important survival skill that we all sometimes need. Resilience is not a character trait that some people have and some don’t; it is a skill that people can learn, and adults can help children to learn that skill.
How to help children develop resilience
You can use Kids’ Skills to help children develop their resilience. Think about resilience as a skill composed of the ability to deliberately ignore others, or the ability to respond to others’ unkind comments in an assertive or humorous manner.
Both of these skills, ignoring and assertiveness, can be learned through role-plays. In such games you, or someone else, plays the role of the bully, and the child practices the skill of ignoring the bully, or the skill of taking the bully by surprise through responding in a creative, witty or funny way.
The child can ignore the bully in the role-play, for example, by shrugging shoulders, looking away, or saying something like ‘whatever’ or ‘that’s what you think’. Helping the child to think of witty or humorous ways to respond to the bully in the role-play is another way to practice better ways to cope with bullying.
A fun way to help children develop resiliency vis a vis bullying, is to play a special card game with the child– or with the entire family. In this game you place a deck of cards on the table face down. On the face of each card you have written something mean that other children have previously said to the child, or the child is afraid that they will say in the future;
Players take turns to pick up cards from the deck and then compete in inventing witty answers to the nasty sentences on the cards. The one who comes up with the wittiest response gets to keep the card and when all cards have been played, the winner is the one with the most cards.
It works even silently
The ability to respond with humour or wit to the unkind words of other people is a strength that children can use to survive bullying with dignity, and this is true even when the child does not respond aloud but only silently thinks about the witty response in the mind.
If the child is particularly sensitive to bullying, consider helping them learn coping skills such as the ability to deliberately ignore others, or the ability to respond to bullying in ways that preserve the child’s dignity.
You can introduce this idea to the child by explaining that many superheroes – such as characters in cartoons and computer games – have the ability to become invulnerable. It is possible for children to do the same, for example, by imagining that they have an invisible shield around them that protects them from the mean words of other children.
Use the steps of Kids’ Skills to motivate the child to learn this skill. Ask the child to give the skill a name, pick their supporters, and come up with ideas what possessing the skill would mean in practice.
Play a role-play together with the child that allows the child to practice the skill. In order to have real examples as material for the role-play, ask the child to tell you a number examples of bullying.
Loneliness is a very sad feeling. There may be many reasons for loneliness. You can help and support your own child if they are left alone. Even if your child has friends, it is still good to encourage them to sometimes also talk to classmates who spend break times alone. By getting to know others, they may find new friends and lessen the loneliness of others. Excluding someone from a group is bullying, and you can read more about it above.
Being alone and loneliness are not the same thing. Even if your child spends a great deal of their time alone, they can still be content. It does not always mean that they are experiencing loneliness or have no friends. Therefore, you should speak to your child. For example, you can ask if they have fun during break time or when they are at home.
If your child is experiencing loneliness and tells you about it, this will have taken plenty of courage. Thank your child for their courage and trust. Believe them and take the experience seriously. Support from a parent is important to a child.
It is possible for an adult to alleviate and lessen the loneliness experienced by a young person or a child in many ways. Source: The Finnish Association for Mental Health
1. Loneliness is often such a painful feeling that talking about it may be difficult. Bring the matter up discreetly.
2. Encourage the child or young person and help them to see their strengths. Remember to tell them that their loneliness is not their fault. Give them hope that the situation will change.
3. At school, the teachers should use teaching methods that make it easier to get to know others and encourage the pupils to get along with everyone.
4. Practise social skills and getting know others together, both at school and home. For example, you can think about how and where to get know others and how to start conversations.
5. Discuss loneliness with a school class, for example. How would it feel to be excluded from a group, to be lonely and rejected? What would you like the others to do in that kind of situation?