Children’s voices at the heart of practice

In this guest blog Lorraine Glass, Partnership Manager at respectme, discusses our recent Children’s Parliament Investigates Bullying project, helping to locate the children’s messages within a national context.

Here at respectme, Scotland’s Anti-Bullying Service, we are heartened to read the ’10 Learning Points for Adults’ which emerged from the Children’s Parliament investigation into bullying. We know that it can make an amazing difference when adults are confident and competent to help children and young people who are involved in bullying. All 10 of the Children’s Parliament learning points are already embedded within our training and this most recently gathered evidence, from the words of children themselves, serves to strengthen what we say, bringing additional depth and substance to the issues.

Here are the ways in which the key messages from Children’s Parliament align completely with respectme training:

A school concerned with well-being is a school focused on relationships based on human dignity, kindness, empathy and trust. Children learn when they are safe and happy.

A major part of respectme’s training is to promote the key message that if a child experiences bullying behaviour they will not feel respected or included. Bullying behaviour that is not addressed can cause a range of negative impacts on a child’s wellbeing such as increased anxiety, depression and poorer physical and mental health. Where children do not feel safe and happy this can affect their school attendance, participation in and out of school life and their confidence, as well as limiting their aspirations so that they do not thrive and fulfil their potential.  The links between feeling safe and attainment also cannot be understated; a safe environment is a pre-requisite for learning and positive, healthy relationships are an essential part of childhood development.

Our emphasis needs to be on preventing bullying. There are lots of things schools can do such as buddying and peer mentoring for children and creating a safe place where children can go early to seek help. Prevention is underpinned by a commitment to forming relationships and a school ethos where bullying or other negative behaviours have little chance to grow.

At respectme we have always advocated a whole-school approach to dealing with bullying behaviour where a school’s anti-bullying policy is brought to life through effective and creative preventative strategies and practice. This is most effective when these are embedded throughout the year to create a culture and ethos where children and all adults are encouraged to treat each other with respect every day. This can help create an environment where bullying is counter-cultural and becomes difficult to thrive, where prejudice is challenged, positive relationships are celebrated and the values of respect, equality and inclusion underpin every aspect of school life.

A school’s anti-bullying policy is an important foundation for practice and should be formed following thorough consultation with all stakeholders including teachers, non-teaching staff, pupils, and parents to ensure everyone’s voice is heard and reflected in the final document. Our “Policy into Practice” guidance is available on our website to support schools through the process of refreshing their policies.

Adults in school need training on how to listen to children, take their views and worries seriously and remember that they have a responsibility to help the child who is hurting and unhappy.

respectme believes that the adult response to any disclosures of bullying is absolutely vital.  This is why an important part of our one day training programme Bullying… It’s Never Acceptable focusses on how to best respond to bullying. This training runs throughout the year and is free to attend for anyone that has a role to play in the lives of children and young people. The rights of children are at the heart of everything we do and we strongly support the view that adults have a responsibility to ensure that the rights of children are upheld. Our training will guide participants through good anti-bullying practice and encourage them to share this training back in their own schools to ensure all adults in the school have capacity to support children affected by bullying behaviour rather than just one or two individuals in the school. Our training calendar and registration details are available here:

Adults should spend less time on investigating and punishing behaviour and more time on fixing relationships.

Our approach to dealing with bullying behaviour is a straight forward one. In situations that involve bullying we encourage a focus on asking the following questions; what was the behaviour; what impact has it had; what would the child like to happen now and what do adults need to do now to help move forward in a positive way? By keeping the focus on finding a solution and repairing relationships where possible it means that valuable time and energy is properly directed. Very often lengthy investigations can take time and focus can be diverted away from giving immediate support to the children involved to get them back to feeling better again.  Harsh punishments rarely result in behavioural change. More helpful responses involve conversations with children about the negative behaviour they have displayed, what impact it has had and how it needs to change whilst clearly getting across that the behaviour is wrong and that bullying is never acceptable. Labelling children as bullies is also not helpful in achieving behavioural change and where consequences are necessary they should be “natural consequences” and in proportion to what has happened. Many schools have reported that restorative approaches can be very helpful in repairing relationships.

When Children’s Parliament explores the realisation of rights day-to-day children talk about kindness. For children, kindness means being friendly or fair to others. Children like to be kind. Kindness is a powerful tool to challenge cruelty.

respectme fully endorses the value of kindness in relationships, and also the need for fairness.   Adults can role model both, and remind children to choose to be kind. This is an empowering message for children, reinforcing the element of choice they have over their own behaviour. Often children are bullied because they are in some way seen as ‘different’. This might be related to their race, religion, gender, disability, where they live, the way they speak, the brand of their trainers or any one of a myriad of differences. It’s important that unkindness, or prejudice, towards difference is challenged and changed and our adult training programmes have addressed prejudiced attitudes and behaviours since we were set up in 2007…three years before the Equality Act made them unlawful!

Children also need to know that if they feel unhappy, lost or lonely that they have someone to go to whom they can trust. When the child needs and wants help from an adult, trust means retaining some control (trusting the adult won’t take over), that confidentiality will be maintained (and sharing information remains within their control) and trusting that the chosen adult will react supportively, be there for them and do something to help.

respectme training focuses very much upon the need children have to retain control and restore their sense of ‘agency’…..this is indeed written into the definition of bullying, which we recommend for use across Scotland:

“Bullying is both behaviour and impact; the impact is on a person’s capacity to feel in control of themselves. This is what we term as their sense of ‘agency’. Bullying takes place in the context of relationships; it is behaviour that can make people feel hurt, threatened, frightened and left out.  This behaviour happens face to face and online.”
(respectme, 2015)

We know that bullying can also sometimes raise concerns around child protection, and because these issues can emerge we are always mindful in our training programmes to emphasise adults’ responsibilities around confidentiality. The key thing is for children to be involved and made aware of when and if a confidence must be broken and information shared with others. For many bullying situations, often children just want to let a trusted adult know that they’re having difficulties and seek their help and support to resolve the situation with the minimum of fuss.

Empathy encourages positive bystander behaviour. We must not expect children to step in or put themselves at risk in a dangerous situation. Rather children need to understand that they can help by being aware of deteriorating relationships, how others feel, and understand that they have the power to act on behalf of others and seek help.

respectme is aware of the sometimes unreasonable expectations placed on children to intervene in bullying scenarios. Children have told us of their concerns about ‘grassing’ and their worries about the risks that might bring. We encourage adults to help children understand that bullying is never acceptable and to create safe ways in their own individual settings for children to report bullying. An important protective and preventative factor for bullying is where there is a strong, consistent, anti-bullying culture in the school or club environment, and children know that they can seek adult help to keep themselves and others safe from harm.

Human dignity is an important and powerful idea. It is an internal thing, something we want all children to have and understand. In times of stress and adverse circumstance we want them to hold onto it, deep inside, it belongs to them and no-one else can take it away.

The work of respectme is centred around children’s rights, with human dignity being at the core of it. Bullying diminishes children; it strips away their sense of control and affects their lives and learning, often with long-term impacts for future relationships, aspirations and wellbeing.   Restoring agency and helping children respond to adversity with resilience and a sense of perspective is a key role for the adults in their lives.

Children’s relationships can be complex. A range of behaviours, some of which we might identify as bullying, can leave children hurting. The problem for the child can be that they don’t know how they got into a situation or how to get out of it.

Bullying is a consequence of complex relational factors. respectme defines bullying as the combination of the bullying behaviours and the impact they have. The themes of persistence and intent need not be present for bullying behaviour to have an impact; one-off bullying incidents can have a significant impact, so it’s important that adults are not dismissive of children or decide to wait until a pattern develops before intervening. Early action and intervention from adults is vital in avoiding situations becoming so entrenched that children experience that loss of control and have no sense of how to get out of the position they’re in. respectme’s video resource for children and young people presents some choices and options they can use to help them feel better or get the bullying to stop:

To fulfil our responsibilities as duty bearers, we adults must understand that children put their trust in us. The realisation of children’s human rights depends on our actions, our behaviours, our expressions of respect and our belief in the human dignity of every child.

respectme puts great focus on the role of adults to help children access and fulfil their rights. Where children are being bullied their rights of survival, protection, development and participation can all be compromised and these issues are further explored in our training events. We also help adults to understand how important role modelling is, particularly around their own behaviours, online and offline, in influencing children! Children are often watching us and listening, even when we think they’re not, so adults need to be more aware of the messages our young people are absorbing.

Lorraine Glass
Partnership Manager

Twitter: @_respectme_

respectme offers free policy advice, training programmes and resources to any adult who has a role to play in the lives of children and young people. Get in touch if they can help support your work.

Date: 12th April 2017
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