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Statistics show that around 34% of children across the globe report being bullied at least once during the previous two months, which is worrisome considering its long-term negative effects.
Bullying is a global problem which takes place at schools, play areas, and sometimes, on school transport. It involves negative physical or verbal action that has negative intent, causes distress to victims, and is repeated over time; it also involves a difference in power between bullying and victims.
In this post we highlight the importance of nipping bullying in the bud, suggesting strategies parents may adopt. In line with the Montessori way of thinking, strategies focus on giving kids the socio-emotional tools they need to face this challenge.
The Effects of Bullying Extend into Adulthood
Logic may indicate that bullying has few effects beyond the immediate moment, but study after study has shown bullying has long-term health consequences, with victims more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression, face an increased suicide risk, and have worse mental health in adulthood.
Physical effects, meanwhile, include increased levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation, linked to heart disease), a weakened immune system, and a higher prevalence of allergies. Victims can also have an impaired digestive system, and greater general pain (everything from muscle pain to headaches).
Empowering Children Against Bullying
To give children the tools they need to face bullying, communication is key. With children as young as two suffering from this practice, from the time children are able to converse, parents should gently bring up the subject, talking about the different settings in which children can encounter bullying.
Parents can engage in role plays with children, emphasizing the different choices they can take. Kids should understand that they are only responsible for their own actions; they may not be able to control how somebody speaks or behaves towards them, but they do have a choice in how they respond.
List down options as to how they might behave if someone insults them on the bus, for instance. They might move to another seat, or ignore the person, but they should also let their teacher and parents know about the bullying behavior.
Schools have anti-bullying programs in motion, and will have a predetermined strategy to handle the behaviour. This will usually involve talking with the child who has victimized others, but the programme should be more generic, with every child in class clearly understanding that there is zero tolerance for bullying.
Children can also feel more empowered by learning how to deal with the pain of bullying. Rather than suppress their emotions, they should know that bullying causes stress, and should be able to deal with it in their chosen way.
Mindfulness for Bullying
Children may let out stress through exercise or talking with their parents, but because bullying causes levels of stress hormone (cortisol) to spike, they should be encouraged to learn mindfulness pursuits such as yoga and mindfulness meditation. The latter in particular encourages us to acknowledge and accept difficult feelings like pain and sadness, while realizing the impermanence of all emotions.
When they are calmer, children can investigate the cause of these feelings, trusting themselves to find the right response. They may choose to forgive the bully and move on, understanding that the negative behaviour they have encountered makes up a minority of the situations they encounter at school, most of which are positive.
Tech Against Bullying
There are many apps that help parents and children battle bullying. Some focus on parental supervision of mobile activity (e.g. Net Nanny), while others are more child-centred. Belly Button, for instance, allows kids to record incidents of bullying and send their files to adults with just one click.
It is normal for parents to want to stomp out bullying for their children, and while their involvement is crucial, it is equally vital for kids to feel empowered to deal with even the most difficult situations at school. Role plays, stress relief, and the realisation that they have a choice of response, are key. Often, children can also benefit from therapy, to ensure they escape the most devastating long-term effects of bullying.
The Montessori Pedagogy Against Bullying
Many of the core values that gave rise to the Montessori pedagogy can help to prevent bullying from occurring. These include fostering teamwork over competitivity. Sometimes, bullying behavior results from feelings of inadequacy, especially when a child’s value is related to their achievements. By celebrating individuality and what each student can bring to a group, the Montessori way of life discourages the power struggles that can result in bullying.
Working alongside children of mixed ages can also help, since older children can act as guardians that guide younger children into acceptable behavior if bullying is suspected. Older kids can also serve as powerful role models for youngsters, by communicating assertively and using positive conflict resolution skills.
Montessori philosophy espouses the importance of social interaction for learning; children are encouraged to use emotional intelligence in a variety of tasks, both when working individually and as part of a team.
The absence of exams is another way that the Montessori methodology can protect children from bullying. Research shows that exam results are a common reason for children to be bullied. Interestingly, it is a bit of a Catch-22 situation, since bullying causes children to suffer academically. By foregoing exams, Montessori schools emphasize the importance of individuality. Every single student has subjects they prefer and individual talents, and all are equally valuable. No subject is inherently more important than another. We never know the areas of interest our children may develop over time, which is why it is important for them to have a good educational base, but also the opportunities they need to shine in areas that ignite their passion.