By Omolara Gbadamosi
Within the school environment, the classroom is a child’s home. It represents the family unit. Most likely, every class will always have at least one child that seems out of place and other children will notice the awkwardness. Personally, I do not think oppression is the problem because it is part of human nature and likely to happen; my concern is what is done about it, especially when it affects a child. Unarguably, the greatest weapon of a bully resides in his words. The fact that a child is bullied does not mean he is verbally or physically feeble; he may surprisingly be articulate or even physically strong but lacks courage; something the other child has along with an inactive conscience. An insecure child needs to heal from within. So my idea of being bully-proof is knowing who you are, accepting and loving yourself. Bullies tend to be careful with those who are not dependent on others for validation. They mind their manners and utterances because any attempt to disrespect such individuals may result in a bruised ego, belittling episode, or other unexpected forms of embarrassment. No taunt wants his mischief to backfire!
Overtime, as a caregiver, I have learned to question this situation in order to find a possible solution. There is a need to understand the psyche of the bully and his victim(s). Why does the child allow others make him feel second-rate; why do other children bully him; why do others partake in the humiliation, and why does another group do nothing to salvage the situation? There are different sides to it. From observations, some children bully their peers because of their overbearing attitudes. A child who by nature has tendencies towards controlling others, may likely enjoy suppressing them too. He or she can easily identify a timid child and with glee, would take advantage of him or her, attempting to make such a child his scapegoat. If the target is unable to stop the initial ill-treatment, the interaction(s) becomes oppressive.
A bully may be unhappy and takes out his annoyance on another child. Like the popular saying, “hurt people hurt people,” the hurting child who feels emotionally or psychologically helpless at home may in turn look for a child he can vent his pain on. There are many options but he makes an easy pick- someone that will tolerate his nonsense. If only the prey knew the truth, the bully’s taunts wouldn’t hurt him at all. It could also be that the bully secretly feels insecure about his looks, intellectual capacity, family background etc. and tries to hide it by putting up a defense mechanism. He arms himself with a very potent weapon-words! The result may vary from aggression, to false macho attitude, to sarcasm. He would verbally (and/or physically) smite you before you had the chance to make him feel bad about himself and by so doing he wards off any likely mocker around. Unfortunately for his unsuspecting prey, they fall for the mind game and get bullied. So with this defensive attitude, he controls the responses from both sides (the bully and the victim). A child’s environment may indirectly have an influence over his behavior too. For instance, a child who is surrounded by arrogant/judgmental adults is likely to act the same way. He may genuinely not know otherwise and believe it is okay to act as though he is above others. If not counseled, he would think his behavior is the norm. Some might also believe that being a bully is a ticket to becoming popular, so they indulge in the viciousness.
There is yet another group who on their own would never bully others. Yet, some of them partake in the act of bullying, and appear to be children who are easily influenced by those with stronger characters. It may be that these children crave validation. If the popular group indulges in acts of unfairness, these children most likely will be willing to join them. Some may also attach themselves to the stronger group to protect themselves from being victims. Yet another group does not get involved at all. They do not bully nor do they protect the victim. Why? It could be that they also do not want to fight battles that would in turn make them targets of revenge, so they stay clear. They may not necessarily be afraid of interfering, but simply do not want to get involved in matters that would erode their peace and self-respect. Some cannot be bothered, while some believe the victim should be able to stand up for himself after all they (the victim, bullies, partakers and onlookers) are within the same age group, hence they leave him to his fate.
Dear teachers, this is where we come in. We are the ‘parent(s)’ at school who should work at helping such children develop and enjoy socio-emotional stability. I believe it is easier when children are still in nursery and elementary stages. It is hoped that if the children are helped early enough, they will become stronger teenagers and adults.
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I once had the privilege of working with a particular eight year old child whom I noticed had serious issues. He was bullied by his peers daily. They looked down on him, overlooked and made fun of him and more. He could not coordinate himself during class exercises, couldn’t answer questions correctly. He was disorganized, fearful, very clumsy and awkward and left to be by himself. It was so bad that if one of the pupils found out Thomas (not his real name) was going to be peered with him, you could see the visible disdain on the other child’s face. It was such a daunting experience.
Thomas was one of those children in class who just didn’t get it! No matter how many times you tried to explain simple concepts to him, he didn’t seem to understand. His paper work was another issue on its own. Due to his academic challenges, he’d spent years being labeled (the tag which was meant to help him seemed to backfire or perhaps it was the way it was used that became a problem) so much that the very subtle yet unmistakable frustrations with or disapproval of Thomas, gave the other children the liberty to mistreat him. He accepted it, believing he was good-for-nothing.
To be honest, it was a huge effort to control my emotions when dealing with Thomas. Instead, I found the grace to encourage his little efforts (I didn’t seem to find any at the beginning). As for his peers, I made it clear that no one had the right to mistreat him. We had a session one particular day concerning this. If they didn’t like his work or his ways then they should help him. After all, there were times when they didn’t get things right too. It became everyone’s communal duty to be Thomas’ fan. If you acted otherwise, then it meant you had a negative thought or motive against him and would have some explaining to do. Truth is, these children didn’t know any better. They just needed someone to re-orientate their thinking and also help them understand as well as show empathy.
With time, Thomas began to improve; he would complete his work (differentiated instruction) within allotted time frames. With every success he made, he became increasingly motivated and would ask to engage in more exercise. He even started assisting his neighbor who sometimes lagged behind. In the process, I discovered Thomas was creative. He could tell amazingly interesting and original stories that were even better than the so called geniuses in the class. Wow! He just needed more guidance and practice. On a particular day, I announced his very high score that took the whole class by surprise (I very taken aback too) and a great ovation ensued. Who started clapping? It was the elites within the class and I didn’t stop them. You should have seen the genuine excitement on their faces. I was so touched; almost moved to tears. Thomas sat there smiling shyly; his classmates had clicked on his ‘confidence’ button.
Gradually, he began to see some good in himself and started displaying some measure of self-confidence. His successes and sense of acceptance gave him the courage he needed to become participatory during class discussions. He would ask questions and no matter how it sounded, I took time to answer him. I must say that it was tough to put up with his sometimes very ridiculous questions. When the children saw that ‘teacher’ acknowledged him regardless of how he was, they had no choice but to become patient with the boy too. Thomas began attempting to answer questions without being called (something he dreaded in the past for fear of being mocked). He was surprisingly articulate too. The intimidation Thomas suffered for so long, stifled his ability to express his thoughts well. He had potentials that bullying had almost crippled.
Thomas was also encouraged to sit or hang out with his classmates and soon, he summoned courage to join in chitchatting during play time. During cases of confrontations, he learned to come to me when a child did something he did not like. I became his ‘Voltron’ (defender). Later when he would come, I encouraged him to go back, look in the eyes of the other child and boldly but calmly tell him or her how he felt or that the act should stop. It didn’t matter who or how the other child was. He had to be assertive. Thomas within the class began to hold his own to the point where his peers were the ones who would now report his ‘mischief.’ Because of him, our communal rule was developed where they were all expected to look out for each other within or outside the class. Surprisingly, I got very heartwarming results.
The need to consistently carry the class along in order to help the seemingly helpless ones cannot be overemphasized. Invariably, the other children will become a backup outside the classroom and with time, the lone cry will learn to stand up for himself anywhere and at anytime. Parents: think about how you can use these same types of strategies at home to to arm your child against bullies..
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