Handy tool­box can sort out school­yard bully

Daily Dispatch - - Weekend - By ZISANDA NKONKOBE

IF YOUR child reg­u­larly comes home with un­ex­plained in­juries, has sud­denly be­come sullen or with­drawn and is of­ten caught fak­ing ill­nesses in or­der to avoid go­ing to school, then chances are he or she could be a vic­tim of bul­ly­ing.

Based on the find­ings of a 2013 study done by re­search com­pany Pon­der­ing Panda in over 2 000 schools across the coun­try, one in two South African chil­dren stands a chance of be­ing bul­lied at school.

More than 50% of par­tic­i­pants ad­mit­ted to be­ing bul­lied, with a fur­ther 68% say­ing that they feared be­ing phys­i­cally at­tacked or threat­ened with a weapon at school.

A more re­cent study, con­ducted by non-profit re­search or­gan­i­sa­tion Africa Check on a to­tal of 49 coun­tries earlier this year, re­vealed that the coun­try’s Grade 5 pupils re­ported the high­est oc­cur­rence of bul­ly­ing in schools.

A to­tal of 44% re­ported to be­ing bul­lied weekly, with 34% re­port­ing monthly in­ci­dents of bul­ly­ing. More boys who took part in the study (47%) re­ported be­ing bul­lied weekly as com­pared to 40% of girls.

While much ef­fort is put to­wards re­duc­ing in­ci­dents of bul­ly­ing at schools – usu­ally by sin­gling out and dis­ci­plin­ing the per­pe­tra­tors – not much has been done to ad­vise chil­dren on how they can ef­fec­tively stand up for them­selves to pre­vent such in­ci­dents from ei­ther oc­cur­ring or be­com­ing repet­i­tive.

Aim­ing to fill that gap is ed­u­ca­tional psy­chol­o­gist and au­thor Jo Hamil­ton, who re­cently re­leased a book ti­tled The Ul­ti­mate As­sertive­ness Tool­box for Kids.

Aimed at school-go­ing chil­dren of all ages, ado­les­cents and adults alike, the book con­tains 20 il­lus­trated tools or tips which chil­dren can use when con­fronted by bul­lies.

Tools are given for a range of bul­ly­ing tac­tics such as how to ad­e­quately shrug off neg­a­tive com­ments, how best to main­tain eye con­tact in or­der not to ap­pear afraid and how to suc­cess­fully walk away from a po­ten­tially con­fronta­tional sit­u­a­tion.

Th­ese tools also come with sug­ges­tions of what type of sit­u­a­tions the par­tic­u­lar tool can be used in, when not to use it and what signs to watch out for while in ac­tion.

Each tool is ac­com­pa­nied by an animated il­lus­tra­tion.

Hamil­ton, who has worked with chil­dren in var­i­ous ca­pac­i­ties for over 20 years, said the tools were a com­bi­na­tion of ideas gath­ered dur­ing re­search which pre­ceded writ­ing the book, plus tips she her­self cre­ated through her work with chil­dren.

Hamil­ton says as­sertive­ness is an es­sen­tial tool as it can help chil­dren avoid be­com­ing vic­tims of bul­ly­ing as this knowl­edge and skills em­power them to ef­fec­tively han­dle not only daily in­ter­ac­tions, but also mean­ness, put-downs, un­thought­ful­ness and jeal­ousy from their peers.

“When chil­dren are able to han­dle th­ese in­ter­ac­tions ef­fec­tively, they tend to not have a vic­tim men­tal­ity or body lan­guage which tends to re­duce their chance of be­ing bul­lied,” Hamil­ton said.

“When chil­dren re­spond as­sertively they come across as a fairly con­fi­dent, strong and com­fort­able with them­selves.

“Other chil­dren re­spect this. When chil­dren use my as­sertive­ness tools they re­spond in a less pre­dictable man­ner and this dif­fer­ence makes them harder for a bully to tar­get.

“The con­tents of my book [the tools] are aimed at all chil­dren, ado­les­cents and it even works for adults. Sis­ter Ann Richard­son, one of my peer re­views, stated that she felt that the tools could be adapted to as­sist tod­dlers as they started to learn to so­cialise. The im­ages, style of writ­ing and ex­am­ples in the book ap­peals to a pri­mary school aged child but the tools can be used in all stages of life. Un­for­tu­nately bul­ly­ing oc­curs at all ages at school, even in the work­place and in mar­riages. It can oc­cur in dif­fer­ent ways.”

Hamil­ton, who has for the past nine years worked as a school psy­chol­o­gist at a Johannesburg-based pri­vate school, said she has fre­quently been called upon to deal head-on with bul­ly­ing is­sues.

Re­al­is­ing that this was a prob­lem which reared its head at all schools from time to time, Hamil­ton said she had started teach­ing as­sertive­ness to chil­dren in small groups. Many, if not all, of the chil­dren who at­tended th­ese classes were chil­dren who had ex­pe­ri­enced bul­ly­ing in their re­spec­tive schools. While this was the foun­da­tion of her knowl­edge about as­sertive­ness, Hamil­ton said she later re­fined and deep­ened her un­der­stand­ing of this con­cept in or­der to pro­duce her book. “I have tried and tested the tools out with var­i­ous chil­dren over the years to cre­ate the 20 tools in my book. Chil­dren love the tools and once they have grasped the con­cept they some­times come up with new tools of their own. The tools are easy to use and adapt. “Once you start us­ing the tools they be­come in­te­grated into your be­hav­iour. The use of the tools af­firms the per­son that they are wor­thy and de­serve re­spect just like the per­son they are in­ter­act­ing with. Be­ing as­sertive in­volves be­ing re­spect­ful to­wards one’s thoughts and feel­ings whilst at the same time be­ing re­spect to those of an­other,” she said, adding that while she be­lieved schools were do­ing all in their power to re­duce bul­ly­ing, it was not an easy thing to pre­vent as teach­ers can­not con­trol what chil­dren say and do all the time.

“Chil­dren also tend to bully when the teacher is not present as there is less chance of get­ting caught. Bul­ly­ing can even oc­cur in front of a teacher, dur­ing class with body lan­guage such as glares, rolling of eyes, flick­ing of hair or with com­ments said un­der one’s breath or by not let­ting some­one sit in a seat or even by pre­tend­ing the per­son doesn’t ex­ist.

“This be­hav­iour is com­mon in emo­tional bul­ly­ing and it is very hard for teach­ers to de­tect.”

Hamil­ton said both chil­dren and adults who have been bul­lied of­ten car­ried hurt­ful and of­ten very deep scars. As part of heal­ing, she sug­gested ei­ther play ther­apy or psy­chother­apy, which can help them to ex­press their feel­ings of hurt, fear and con­fu­sion.

“This would be part of the heal­ing process. They will need lots of af­fir­ma­tion and sup­port to help build up their self-es­teem and sense of worth. It is im­por­tant for the care­givers in their lives to be mind­ful of the im­pact of the bul­ly­ing sce­nario and do all they can for the child to feel that she or he has been heard and that their feel­ings are ac­knowl­edged.

“It is some­times help­ful for chil­dren who have ex­pe­ri­enced bul­ly­ing to hear the sto­ries of other sur­vivors of bul­ly­ing – to know they are not alone and to hear how one can be re­silient and learn to trust the good­ness that is in their en­vi­ron­ment. De­pend­ing on the du­ra­tion and in­ten­sity of bul­ly­ing, this can take quite some time,” she said.

“I think that par­ents and schools need to work to­gether to curb bul­ly­ing. If par­ents and schools are talk­ing a sim­i­lar lan­guage to chil­dren there will be a big­ger im­pact. This in­volves an ac­tive, on-go­ing ap­proach that will ben­e­fit all chil­dren.” Hamil­ton's book is avail­able at all good book­shops or by vis­it­ing www.clock­work­books.co.za at a cost of R230. — zisan­dan@dis­patch.co.za

Pic­ture: ISTOCK.COM

PET PROJECT: Jo Hamil­ton’s work as an ed­u­ca­tion psy­chol­o­gist fo­cuses on help­ing chil­dren to stand up to bul­lies

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