How to take action to prevent bullying at school

Schools must have a robust anti-bullying strategy alongside teachers and parents

Schools must have a robust anti-bullying strategy alongside teachers and parents

Published Jan 24, 2024


In a recent news report by GoodThingsGuy, Mari Payne, the senior director of education and deputy managing director at Sesame Workshop South Africa, said the first few weeks of a new school year could bring about a variety of emotions in children.

Some might be excited to return to their usual activities and see their friends, while others might feel nervous about starting a new school.

Payne said that as children adjust to their new routines and surroundings, they might experience shock and exhibit unpleasant behavioural changes, potentially leading to bullying if not addressed promptly.

She said children were developing their ability to express and manage their emotions and overwhelming feelings could lead to aggressive behaviour if not dealt with effectively.

According to a Harrington Johnson Wands Attorney and Conveyancers report on bullying and its complex legal framework:

  • More than 3.2 million learners are bullied yearly in South Africa.
  • More than 67% of bully victims will not ask a teacher for help because they don’t think it will change their situation.
  • 90%of school bullying is carried out by learners.
  • About 160 000 high school learners bunk school daily to avoid being bullied.
  • One in 10 learners drop out of school to avoid being bullied.
  • 16% of learners admit that they are victims of cyberbullying.

As we start the new school year, Payne offered tips for parents and caregivers to intervene if “aggressive behaviour” from children becomes bullying.

In a message to parents, she stressed the importance of teaching children about bullying and intervening immediately when it occurs.

Bullying might be a sign that a child was struggling with deep emotions and needing help.

Bullying could indicate that a child was experiencing deep emotions that required assessment and discussion to address their behaviour.

Make speaking up normal by teaching children that reporting bullying to an adult and asking for help is the appropriate course of action in any situation. Let the child who was being bullied know it was not their fault.

Payne said the words we used to describe children could shape their behaviour and self-perception.

Speaking to parents and educators, she advised them to carefully choose language that promoted positive actions and attitudes.

It was important to distinguish between aggression and bullying in children’s play.

“Labelling kids frequently results in missed opportunities to help them and build on their talents.”

Instead of calling a child “wild”, which had negative connotations, Payne recommended viewing them as energetic and channelling their energy into structured activities.

She also cautioned against labelling a child “bossy”, a term that could discourage leadership qualities.

Payne suggested seeing such a child as determined or having leadership potential.

She advised engaging with the child by saying: “I see you have an idea about how to get things done. What type of approach works the best right now to get people to take note of your ideas?”

For children who appeared to be shy, Payne said they might simply be peaceful or thoughtful.

“In a new social situation, you might say: ‘Oh, look, you can make some new friends. I’ll help you find a way to play together.’’

Payne said difficult behaviours in children could stem from frustration, which could lead to aggression and bullying if not managed properly.

Teach children how to cope with their intense emotions.

By framing our language positively and addressing children’s emotions, Payne said, we could help them grow and mitigate challenging behaviours before they escalate.

Cape Times

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