Bullying: every parent’s worst nightmare. But how can we spot when our children are suffering from less-than-happy experiences in the playground, and how can we best help them when they are being subjected to bullying in school? And what should we do if our kid is the bully? We’ve been talking to five of Singapore’s top international schools about just this subject, and here’s what they had to say…
OWIS – Dawn Ross, Early Childhood Senior Coordinator
What exactly is bullying and at what stage is intervention considered necessary?
Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behaviour among school-aged children. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose. This behaviour is usually sustained over a period of time. Every child has the right to be safe and happy at school. The class teachers play an important role in identifying the signs of bullying and in intervening at the earliest stage for both the aggressor and the victim.
GESS –Dr. Hana Adams & Jennifer März (School Counsellors at GESS)
What are the signs to look out for that would indicate that my child might be being bullied in school?
As our children grow and mature, their behaviour will change. A once cheerful child can become more hesitant which can be a normal transition into teen-hood. If you notice a persistent change in your child, be aware that there are signs that show their hesitancy may be in fact due to bullying. The signs listed below don’t necessarily mean your child is being bullied, but it is good to be aware of what changes to look out for:
- Increase in physical or verbal aggression
- Missing or damaged belongings
- Unexplained injuries like bruises, cuts, scratches, etc.
- Failing grades
- School refusal
- Difficulty opening up about their school day
- Often being alone or actively being excluded by peer group or friends.
- Changes with physical well-being: difficulty sleeping, changes in eating, habits, etc.
- Illnesses or pains with no medical source e.g. headache or stomach
- Upset, sad or angry during or after being online or using the phone
You are your child’s best advocate. Let your child know that it is ok to stand up for themself and to seek help from trusted adults when needed. Anytime you notice a change in your child’s behaviour, talk with the homeroom teacher to better understand how your child’s overall behaviour has been. Reach out to the school counsellor or other well-being team leaders to develop a collaborative plan to help your child be successful and comfortable in school.
Nexus International School (Singapore) – Peter Hart, Head of Secondary
How can I best help my child if I suspect that they are being bullied?
Changes in your child’s disposition (e.g. from loud to quiet), loss of appetite, moodiness, aggressiveness, and self-harm can be signs that your child is being bullied. Bullying strikes fear in the heart of every parent, but do your best to remain calm, to listen and be supportive. Do a joint activity together to allow your child to be at ease and they will be more willing to open up about what is happening at school. Avoid asking direct questions and phrase things that encourage your child to open up, like “I noticed you haven’t been playing with your friends recently, do you still hang out together?” Let your child talk and listen with an open mind.
Like most international schools, Nexus operates as a restorative school. This means that through a mediated discussion and hearing all sides of the story, issues can be resolved through understanding and empathy. If it is a more serious case and you (the parent) are invited to these discussions, try and be calm and open to listening.
Tanglin Trust School – Philippa Hatton, Deputy Head of Junior School
What mediation processes are implemented to help children and parents deal with situations involving bullying?
At Tanglin Trust School, we have zero tolerance for all forms of bullying. We are very proud of the fact that instances of reported bullying are nominal. When they do occur, we respond to them quickly, with appropriate consequences as per our misbehaviour and sanctions policy.
Tanglin worked closely with a lead training associate from ‘Friendly Schools’ to develop a comprehensive, evidence-based and proactive approach to bullying prevention. In consultation with parents, students and teachers the school developed robust and transparent bullying prevention guidance in order to further maintain a friendly and safe school culture.
In line with the ‘Friendly Schools’ approach, we believe that individuals are not bullies and should not be labelled as such. Instead bullying is a behaviour that with support and guidance can be changed.
If a parent has a concern that their child is being bullied or that their child is demonstrating bullying behaviours, we ask them to undertake the following mediation and communication steps:
- Acknowledge the problem. Empathise.
- How bad is the problem?
- How upset is my child?
- What actions has my child taken so far?
- Has this helped or hindered the situation?
- Is my child a key player in this situation?
- What is happening and when?
- What can I do to help?
- What should we do next?
- Provide reassurance that they will be guided on next steps.
- Let the class teacher/tutor know.
- Agree actions with class teacher/tutor.
The situation should be monitored. If resolved, we encourage parents to reflect with their child on what helped. If the situation is not resolved, it should be escalated.
Using this transparent process, we are confident that we have a safe and supportive school environment, and that our whole-school community has a shared understanding of our positive approach to bullying prevention.
Australian International School (AIS) – James Holmes, Head of Year 3
What happens when it’s MY child who is the bully? How can the school and parents deal with the situation best?
At the Australian International School we believe in tackling issues such as bullying with the ‘restorative practice’ approach, which ensures that positive relationships are fostered and appropriate behaviour is identified, recognised and celebrated.
When conflict arises, it is managed in a positive and consistent manner, allowing each child to maintain their dignity, realise their obligations and work to rebuild the relationship. Through restorative practice, we aim to focus on the behaviour of the child causing harm, rather than their moral character. The goal is not short-term compliance but sustained behaviour change.
Restorative practice allows all parties to describe what happened and to reflect on what harm it has done. It provides a platform for the victim to say how they have been affected and what needs to be done to put things right. For the child causing harm, it’s important that their feelings are also recognised so they can be supported to avoid feeling alienated and stigmatized
In a situation where a child is being a bully, it’s vitally important that the school and parents work in close collaboration to tackle the issue. Open and honest conversations between the child, parent and teacher are essential – these should focus on encouraging positive future behavior, developing empathy and preventing any recurrence of the bullying.
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