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Bullying prevention: fostering an inclusive environment

Physical confrontation, depression, timidity, withdrawal from peers, lack of dedication to academics, lack of verbal participation, extreme change in personality, mood or grades/connection with school or friends. Torn clothing, unexplained bruises, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping.

These are all signs a child could be being bullied.

Bullying disrupts students emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually and can cause them to question their self worth and to withdraw from society. 

Bullying is the selective and intentional aggressive behaviors that are repeated over time, in one or more episodes. And though the aggressor says he or she is “just kidding,” the bullied child may not see it that way and feel powerless to stop or address the behavior to get it to stop.

“As of present, there is no strong research on bullying being more prevalent than in recent years,” said Sheila Conroy, the clinician with Vermont Catholic Charities Inc. in Middlebury. “There is no national longitudinal data as of yet. However, we do know that because of social media (cyber bullying) and children being left to their own internal resources (as a result of one parent or both parents working) bullying has become a serious problem in our communities and schools.”

A child who is bullied should begin by saying “stop” to the action and communicating with a friend or adult that he or she is uncomfortable/anxious about the interaction.

“They need to be able to say ‘no’ and be supported by peers and adults helping them to build these skills,” explained Christopher Montville, adjunct professor and school counseling program field placement supervisor at The College of St. Joseph in Rutland. “Also, they need to be given the chance to practice the right way to address the issue.”

For the past few years, the college has hosted Montville’s week-long intensive summer course addressing current trends and prevention programs on bullying in the 21st century targeted to parents and educators. “It has been an important layer to help increase (bullying) prevention and education in regional schools and communities with key stakeholders in the lives of our area youth,” he said.    

Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland has a zero-tolerance policy for bullying. Teachers are available to speak to any students who feels that they are being bullied. “We also foster an inclusive environment where we are all members of a community, a family,” said Principal Sarah Fortier. “Because of this we keep bullying to a minimum. Everyone takes care of everyone else and looks out for everyone else. That is the difference when one is in a small Catholic school.”

She continued, “Jesus taught us to be accepting of each other. He taught us to treat each other as we want to be treated and to treat our neighbors with kindness and compassion. Bullying is the complete opposite of all of those teachings. It is hurting our neighbors and mistreating them rather than taking care of those around us.”

Bullying behavior is often a result of social control or a way to manipulate peers/others. “Also, it is a learned behavior modeled by adults and peers they interact with and, unfortunately, the context for their understanding on how to interact relationally,” Montville said. 

Various resources are available from PACER Institute and NetSmartz.org.

The School of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales in Bennington is using Bully Prevention in Positive Behavior Support, designed to blend school-wide positive behavior support with intervention support. Designed specifically for schools, it uses a 3-step response to address problem behavior that could be considered bullying. 

“A key piece to the program is that it also gives bystanders the necessary skills they need to respond when they see inappropriate bullying behavior,” said Principal David Estes.

This will be implemented beginning with this new school year. “The instruction modules within the program itself are succinct, but hopefully the long-lasting effect it will have will have an impact throughout the entire school year and for years to come,” he said of the program that will be used in all grades. 

“It is never too early or too late to start,” he said, noting the importance of helping children and adults understand and become aware that everyone needs to take responsibility for stopping behaviors that they do not like and to use appropriate responses when they see it happening.

 “The world is changing, probably faster than we could have ever thought,” he added. “Given that, we have to be sure our students are prepared to face these difficult situations and address them in light of what we believe to be just and fair as followers of Jesus.”

Conroy concurred: “An approach teachers need to continuously encourage…is self-respect and respect for others which follows the teachings of Christ.”

It’s important to realize that bullying in previous generations sometimes would end at the conclusion of school or recess and not carry over to home or weekend. But “cyber bullying is 24/7 as it can be online, in the Cloud or on their phone/tablet,” Montville pointed out.

Cyber bullying is one reason parents need to monitor their children’s social media use, Conroy added, defining bullying as aggressive behavior that is intentional and involves as imbalance of power or strength. “The power can be physical strength and/or size, usually the boys’ way of bullying, or isolation from the group and ridicule, usually the girls’ way of bullying,” she explained.

If parents suspect their child is being bullied, Fortier encourages them to talk to their child, find out what is happening. “Parents could be in touch with the school administration about this and intervene,” she said. Create a proactive partnership between the school and family.

Montville suggests approaching the topic with one’s child with questions like:  “I’ve heard a lot about bullying in the news. Is that going on at your school?” “I’m worried about you. Are there any kids at school who may be picking on you or bullying you?” “Are there any kids at school who tease you in a mean way?” or “Are there any kids at school who leave you out or exclude you on purpose?”

Communication and collaboration are key. Talk with your child’s teacher and principal. “Start a dialogue or partnership with the school by calling or setting up an appointment to talk with their teacher(s). Teachers are likely in the best position to understand the relationships between your child and other peers in their school,” Montville said.

 “Bullying is damaging. It needs to be stopped as soon as possible,” Fortier said.

Article written by Cori Fugere Urban,
Vermont Catholic content editor/staff writer.
  • Published in Schools
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