Navya*name changed* studies in class VIII, usually, she is a chirpy, happy child who likes to draw and dance. When I noticed her reluctance to attend school regularly and observed a series of absences marked on the attendance register. I asked Navya if she’s been feeling okay and if everyone is fine at home. To which she replied yes, but her answer and her body language weren’t in sync. And after probing her more, she broke down and started to cry profusely, and then narrated an incident of bullying.
Some kids in her class have been making her feel awful. They were pointing out her learning disability in front of the class. She mentioned how she hates to go to her class because when she enters everyone looks at her and she feels everyone is judging her. Children a lot of times are unable to label their emotions and feelings. They also fear not being understood by the adults in their lives.
What is Bullying?
Bullying is a significant threat to the self-esteem of a young child. According to research, bullying exists in almost every school no matter if it’s a public institution or a private one. Bullying implies an intention to harm, intimidate or coerce an act when there is an imbalance of power. The act is a cause of distress when it extends for a continued amount of time.
Every child has a right to learn, excel and blossom in a safe environment where they are free from fear and intimidation. Schools have a vital role in setting the tone for their community and creating a safe environment for children to flourish academically, emotionally, and socially. School is a space to learn, grow, play and socialize. As an educator, I have been asked this question repeatedly. How do we make sure that a child understands when he/she is getting bullied?
Understanding the signs and taking small steps
I believe the first and foremost step is to start to pay attention to tiny details like not wanting to go to school, falling sick without any specific reason, and most importantly listening to your child. A lot of times parents invalidate a child’s emotions and feelings, which can have a negative impact on the child. When we repress our emotions it affects our mind, and in some cases, it can also affect the body.
Many times, students engage in teasing behaviour to project a ‘cool’ image. Adolescents have cliques and groups and a person can only enter such cliques if they mirror the kind of behaviour the members of the group are displaying. In some cases, the strong desire for acceptance drives individuals to bully others in their pursuit of being accepted by the ‘cool kids’. Which can be extremely distressing for someone on the receiving end. In my experience, I’ve observed students feeling terrified of the bully and reluctant to report such behaviour. A lot of times a child does not report such cases as they believe no one would understand them. It takes a lot of patience and unconditional emotional support for the child to narrate such incidents in some cases.
Our duty as responsible adults is to make these spaces safe for our students. And one of the most efficient ways of doing so is to have strict guidelines in place. Every school in Delhi has a zero-tolerance policy towards bullying, and the onus is on the head of the school. But the most efficient way to deal with this is to prevent it from happening altogether. This can only be done with the collaboration of educators, parents and other stakeholders at school. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is a well-known tool for conveying life skills and involves teaching skills for self-awareness, self-discipline, public awareness, responsible decision-making, and relationship management. SEL promotes emotional well-being, self-control, classroom relationships, and positive and helpful behaviour among students. The SEL program teaches young children emotional language, and thinking strategies before taking action, which can help develop better self-control.
One thing that we need to remember is that Schools can’t possibly do everything alone. A huge chunk of responsibility also falls on families. Parents need to spend time with their children to understand their perspectives and teach them to be kinder to others. Finally, we need a big change in our thinking about the importance of children and their feelings. Children are more likely to succeed if we develop their personalities, and provide them with language strategies and principles to help them identify, express, and, thus, control their emotions. Schools can become safer spaces for children, only when there is a continued effort from stakeholders. The children are dependent on us.
Read More Related Articles