What Does Bullying Mean to You?
By Anne Johnson-Oliss, n2y
When you hear the word bullying, what picture does the word conjure in your head? Do you see a playground with two children of disparate heights, one towering over the other making demands of some kind? Certainly this outdated image is one type of bullying, but abusive behavior takes many forms.
Even as researchers and legislators cannot yet agree on a definition of bullying, these behaviors must be addressed, (Blad, 2014). The situation becomes more complex when a potential victim has an intellectual or another impairment that creates a communication barrier.
So how do we help individuals with disabilities identify, stop, and communicate about bullying behavior?
Here are some supports that could help.
1) Identify bullying behavior.
Bullying can include repeated overt physical aggression such as physical intimidation, pushing, kicking, or tripping. Helping children with impairments understand the vocabulary of bullying can help them identify it later. Using SymbolStix, photos, or videos, assist students in understanding the words paired with the images or actions.
In addition to physical intimidation, bullying can include verbal abuse such as insults, cruel directives, commands, criticisms, or lies. These can be very difficult concepts for children with intellectual or speech impairments. Pairing SymbolStix with audio or video examples from YouTube could aid understanding with more subtle forms of abuse.
Even more subtle than verbal bullying is bullying by isolation or encouraging isolation. Exclusion of the victim from conversations, activities, or projects creates a harsh environment for the victim who suffers both identifiable and invisible signs of emotional abuse. Helping children understand how friends behave through social stories could help them identify exclusion when it starts.
2) Prevent bullying whenever possible.
Explaining the vocabulary of behavior and relationships including the positive and the negative will help with prevention. Incorporate the vocabulary into social skills stories, photographs, and activities. Use specific positive praise in all situations to identify examples of positive interpersonal behavior so that students understand what appropriate actions and words look like and feel like. If a story about bullying is required, n2y’s, I’m Being Bullied in the n2y Library contains several examples of inappropriate behavior for discussion, (Knople, 2011).
When more directness is required, consider using okay/not okay language and visuals to represent the two categories of behavior. A t-chart poster activity could be a great small group activity that involves the children listing okay behaviors and the not okay behaviors. Discussion can ensue about what those look like and why they are inappropriate.
You have educated the group about what bullying looks like. You have incorporated positive social behaviors and rewards into the discussion. You have shared examples of bullying to help prevent it from happening, but bullying episodes can still take place. What can you do?
3) Facilitate reporting.
Teach students what to do if they identify bullying behavior. Reporting and getting help are two of the main ways to fight back against bullying. Help children understand and access symbols for talking to an adult or bullying before the need arises. Make those symbolic representations available to children on their communication devices across environments. Programming self-advocacy communication is as important as teaching other self-care skills.
4) Stop it as soon as it starts.
On first sighting, report, or intimation of a bullying episode, take action to care for the victim, the bully, and the group as a whole.
Assuming the victim does not have any immediate medical needs, he or she needs to hear and understand that:
-what took place is not his or her fault
-it is not okay behavior
-the situation will be different
Assuming the bully is not in custody of law enforcement, he or she needs to hear and understand that:
-what took place will not happen again
-it is not okay behavior
-consequences are in place
If there is a group of people affected by the bullying incident, the individuals need to hear (and see) consistent messages that positive, pro-social behaviors are rewarded and bullying or abusive behaviors will not be tolerated.
Attached are files to help discuss bullying with your class.
Blad, E. (2014) Researchers and Schools Diverge in Definitions of Bullying - Education Week. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/10/08/07bullying.h34.html?cmp=ENL-EU-NEWS1
CPI. (2014). Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI Training) | CPI. Retrieved from http://www.crisisprevention.com/
Harris, E. (2014, October 13). Cruel's Not Cool | CPI. Retrieved from http://www.crisisprevention.com/Blogs-CPI/Blog/October-2014/Annie-Fox-Cruels-Not-Cool
Knople, N. (2011). I'm Being Bullied. Huron, OH: Unique Learning System.
Petro, L. (n.d.). Emotional Abuse Signs. Retrieved from http://www.teach-through-love.com/emotional-abuse-signs.html
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