Rules for a bully-free classroom

I am a teacher at a primary school and want to know if you have any tools I can use with our children in my school where bullying is getting out of hand.

There are some basic rules which can help a teacher to manage their class and which will assist in creating an environment of respect and collaboration.

However, these need to be instilled and encouraged from the onset of the year, and should be a whole-school programme, which has all staff members on board, including the school governing body and principal.

Otherwise, what happens is that the children who are trying to practise a non-bullying mindset are bullied even more, through being teased and humiliated or ridiculed on the school playgrounds.

These “rules” for a bully-free class can be discussed with the class and each person encouraged to contribute but they are not allowed to name and shame other children.

If there are problematic children in the class, they need to be addressed separately but not in an attacking way, rather in a way that models a calm, clear and assertive attitude. They also need to be told that there will be consequences for their behaviour should it continue. These need to be followed through and not only be empty threats to frighten them for now.

Children never take seriously adults who do not follow up on consequences. These can include that they do not get something they like or that certain privileges are removed for a period. The teacher/adults can decide what and for how long, but it should not be too long or too short, for it to be effective.

Parents also need have buy-in and be supportive of measures to address bullying. This includes that they reflect and are willing to change their own ways of disciplining their children if it has been authoritative and punitive.

It is a well-known fact that children who grow up in violent homes, are frightened, hurt and learn that aggression is the only way to deal with problems.

Some feel by hurting another first they are protecting themselves and they enact what was done to them by caregivers onto other more vulnerable children in order to feel a sense of power over others.

Since the new laws regarding corporal punishment have come into effect, corporal punishment is a criminal act against a child.

There are much more intelligent and creative ways of addressing a child’s non-social behaviour and encourage more pro-social behaviour.

Another important aspect of creating bully-free classes or schools, is to openly speak about difference, and the importance of being tolerant of difference.

Especially with many of us having been indoctrinated by Apartheid and its endemic polarisation and abhorrence of difference in race, culture and creed.

Here are 12 “rules” or guidelines for a bully-free classroom:

Bullying is not allowed in our classroom or anywhere else in school.

Being mean is not cool. (Meanness equals weakness)

We don’t tease, call names, use hurtful words or put people down.

We don’t hit, shove, kick, pinch or punch each other.

Never be bullied into silence. Speak up and tell.

We use our courage by standing up to any bullying and reporting this to a teacher (Telling is not tattling).

We do not stand by and watch someone being bullied. We are “Courage heroes” when we say “No” to bullying and tell a teacher.

When we do things as a group, we include everyone and we make sure nobody is left out.

We listen to each other’s ideas and thoughts.

We treat each other with kindness and respect at all times (Treat others the same way you want to be treated).

We respect each other’s property and the school’s property.

We accept that we are all different (we respect and value difference in others).

Children in the class can divide into groups and create a colourful poster with images and drawings that speaks about zero-tolerance of bullying.

They can express their ideas for why bullying is wrong and what the alternatives could be.

They can also divide into two groups and act out different scenes of bullying with some being the victim, perpetrator(s), bystanders, encouragers and the ones who walk away and say nothing.

Usually it’s best that all take turns in the various roles so that they can understand the feeling of each, especially that of the victim.

A short debriefing afterwards would help to expel any aggressive feelings that may have been stirred for some. This includes how they felt about each role, and what they think would help prevent situations from spiralling into bullying.

Further suggestions is that there is not just one event where anti-bullying policies are mentioned but these should happen at least every term, so that children can be reminded about it regularly.

It takes most children a few repeats before they unlearn anti-social behaviour and develop new pro-social behaviour and attitudes.

Carin-Lee Masters is a clinical psychologist. Write to her at helpmecarin@inl.co.za or send a WhatsApp message or SMS to 082 264 7774.