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Responding to a Student who is Targeted by Bullying
When offering support to a student who has been bullied:
- believe the student when he or she discloses an experience of bullying;
- listen closely to the student, trying to understand what happened from his or her perspective, and to assess the impact of the bullying on him or her; remember that it is the student’s perception that is important; sometimes adults’ and young people’s assessment of what is serious can differ;
- explore with the student any feelings of lost personal rights – that is, did the student feel safe, strong and free in the situation (this is particularly effective with students who have received the ACT program);
- name the behaviour as bullying, and state clearly that it is unacceptable;
- communicate clearly to the student that it is not his or her fault, and that no one deserves or asks to be bullied;
- affirm the student’s courage, and reinforce the importance of telling an adult;
- avoid labelling the student as a “victim”; use language that names and describes the student’s experiences (e.g. “you were bullied”, or “you lost your rights to be safe, strong and free”);
- encourage the student to describe the bullying from his or her own point of view, based on the experience of the situation, and its impact on him or her;
- validate the student’s feelings (e.g. fear, embarrassment, anger, shame, etc.) and tell the student that you understand what he or she is experiencing;
- assure the student that you are there for support in whatever way you can help, and that the student is not alone dealing with the situation;
- communicate to the student that there are things that can be done, there is reason for hope and that he or she is not powerless or alone.
When responding to a student seeking help because he or she is being bullied:
- explore what the student wants from you; assess whether the student wants you to take action at this time, or simply wants to talk about it;
- respect the student’s confidentiality and wishes as much as possible; however, if the situation is potentially dangerous to anyone, it may be necessary to consult or involve your co-workers or the principal, and to intervene; in this case, give the student as many choices and as much control as possible; keep the student informed when you need to tell someone else about the situation.
When following up on a bullying incident with the student who was bullied:
- involve the student closely in developing an action plan by using a problem solving process; a student who believes there are many ways to solve a problem is a student who feels safe, strong and free;
- encourage the student to make choices, to find solutions, and to make as many decisions as possible, within appropriate limits;
- support the student in generating a list of assertive statements to respond to the student who is bullying, if appropriate, and if the student who was bullied chooses to; practise these responses with the student; avoid passive or aggressive solutions or responses to the problem;
- check back regularly with the student to make sure that the bullying has stopped, and that he or she continues to feel safe, strong and free at school. If the bullying continues, it may be useful to consult the principal and others in your team – with input and guidance from the student who is bullied – to develop and implement a whole school strategy to stop the bullying;
- help the student acquire the skills needed in the long-term, to protect his or her rights, to heal from the bullying, and to re-build self-confidence (e.g. assertiveness, making friends, developing strengths, talents and abilities). This may involve referring the student to a social worker, or other support services that are available within your school.