In recent months there has been significant news coverage related to incidents of bullying in schools. Without downplaying these reported incidents of bullying, it is my experience that the term ‘bullying’ is being used incorrectly by both adults and children to describe situations that are rude or mean. It is important for adults to use these terms correctly so that children learn to discern between them.
A few years again I came across Signe Whitson’s article in the Huffington Post, “Rude Vs. Mean Vs. Bullying: Defining The Difference” and have since shared it may times. Whitson talked about Tracy Ludwig’s (bestselling children’s author) definitions of these three terms and provided examples to illustrate the difference between behaviour that is rude, behaviour that is mean and behaviour characteristic of bullying.
Rude is when someone says or does something unintentionally hurtful (once).
For kids this might look like burping in someone’s face, jumping ahead in line or bragging about an achievement. According to Whitson, these incidents are usually spontaneous, based on thoughtlessness or poor manners, but are not meant to actually hurt someone.
Mean is when someone says or does something intentionally hurtful (once or twice).
For kids this might sound like: “You are stupid/fat/ugly etc….” or throwing snow on someone’s face. Mean behaviour is often motivated by angry feelings with the goal of making the (mean) person feel better than the person they are putting down.
Bullying is when someone says or does something intentionally hurtful and they keep doing it even when you tell them to stop. The behaviour is often aggressive and involves an imbalance of power.
Bullying may be physical, verbal, relational (threatening to take a friendship away, or cyber bullying (involves technology).
It is important to talk your children about the challenges they face. If it is indeed bullying that is taking place, be sure to alert your child’s teacher and school administration. All schools are required to have established protocol related to bullying prevention and intervention.
If your child is being bullied, here are some tips to share with your child:
– Know that it’s not your fault and you don’t deserve it.
– Tell the child who is bullying you to stop and remove yourself from the situation.
– Get help from people you trust. If they give you advice and it’s not working, tell them.
– Hang out with people who let you be you.
We also want children witnessing bullying to know how to respond. Here are some suggestions for bystanders:
– Don’t encourage the bullying by laughing or clapping and never join in.
– Tell the child who is bullying to stop. This is best done with the help of other students. If it’s not safe, get help from an adult.
– Comfort the target who has just been bullied and include him/her in your activity or group.
– Tell an adult who will keep your confidentiality in the reporting process to protect you from retaliation.
All schools need to continuously strive to create safe school climates. Many experts recommend the following:
– Ensure the school community knows and understands the school’s Bullying Prevention and Intervention Policy, which includes clear rules and consistent enforcement.
– Employ predictable and escalating consequences for aggression and provide aggressors with restitution opportunities.
– Empower bystanders to discourage the aggressor, and protect targets and bystanders from further retaliation.
– Provide support for victimized children and follow-up to ensure bullying is not continuing.
There are many online resources available on anti-bullying awareness and also those helping children that have been the target of bullying. Learning the language and helping your child to use the correct words is an important step in creating a safe school environment for all children.