The following article comes from Sarah Siggs, author and former SEND teacher.
It had never been my intention to write a book, but when a young family member started to complain of feeling ill on school days and begging not to go to school, the unravelling of a bullying experience began. This culminated in the writing of a story book for schools which helps to foster kindness and develop anti-bullying strategies.
During the planning and researching process, it became apparent that many young children do not fully understand what bullying is, how it feels and what to do to get help if it ever happens to them. Even as an adult, being bullied feels confusing – so imagine starting school where you have been told it will be exciting and full of making new friends and learning new things – and then suddenly a heap of horrid stuff starts happening.
It is never too soon to talk to children about bullying. It may help children who are on the cusp of exhibiting bullying behaviours to think again. It will also help a child who is being bullied to recognise and name it early on and to ask for help as soon as possible. Research shows that peer-led anti-bullying strategies often give the best results. Working together is important when it comes to tackling bullying. Always encourage your class to get to know each other, to accept each other and to watch out for each other. Fostering an atmosphere of kindness and acceptance and championing these qualities within the classroom will serve children well all through their lives. Behaviours for living are as important as behaviours for learning.
Bullies do not tend to bully where adults can see them. A child who is exhibiting bullying behaviours may be the child you least expect. It is sometimes surprising to discover that it is the quiet, hardworking child in your class who is the one causing chaos in the corridors. Watching the playground unobserved is a good way of picking up on any children who may need some help. It is important to listen to and support a child who is being bullied, but we must also recognise that the child doing the bullying needs help too. Children who are mean to others are invariably going through their own trauma. Factoring in a few minutes of 1-1 time with every member of your class every week can make a dramatic difference. It will give you the chance to input at a responsive level rather than a reactive one. Although it can feel exasperating having to halt precious learning time to address friendship issues, it is always important to listen and believe what children are telling you. Providing different options enabling all children to have a way of communicating with you over any of their worries is something worth striving for. An unhappy child will not be able to learn well, so it is in everyone’s interest to prioritise communication and well-being in the classroom.
Children will be mean to each other. Let’s face it, adults often do a pretty good job of being mean to each other too. And we are all experts at being mean to ourselves! During Mud Boy school visits, emphasis is always placed on the importance of learning to love and accept ourselves. Encouraging children to remind themselves daily of what is good and positive about every part of them is a powerful weapon against bullying.
Teachers only see one part of a child’s life. A bullied child may seem fine at school but become tearful, frightened, angry, anxious, overwhelmed or despairing at home. Listening to and collaborating with parents is vital. In fact, having valued communication between home and school is a great asset all round, whether bullying is concerned or not.
Being bullied is never okay. Sometimes a child will think it is somehow their fault and that they need to be different or to change. No one should ever be made to feel that way. Children have ended their lives through being bullied at school. There are many anti-bullying organisations that teachers can turn to for advice and resources. Kidscape is a good place to start if you are looking to update your school’s anti-bullying policy. We all need to work together so that schools are safe and secure places for learning. There is nothing greater than a happy child.
Mud Boy was specifically developed with primary schools in mind. It is a 10-minute read and the story and the illustrations make it accessible and appropriate for school starters right through to school leavers. If you are an educator wanting some teaching ideas, please get in touch.
Mud Boy is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. The illustrations are the work of Amy Crosby and the book includes helpful notes for adults from Dr Pooky Knightsmith.