I can still remember them arguing clear as day.
“You tell her”, one said. “No you tell her”, the other chimed in. Then the clever third friend had a great idea, “We’ll all say it together. 1…2…3… FREE DAY”. And with that they ran away.
These were my three best friends in primary school almost 30 years ago. A free day was a day when they weren’t to speak to me, sit with me or interact with me in any way. These days came without warning and could last til ‘big lunch’ or for the whole week. They dictated the rules and I had to play along. That torment lasted for seven years until I left for high school. It destroyed me and caused long-lasting, excruciating pain.
What is bullying?
Unfortunately, research suggests that this is an all too common story with one in six children from the ages of 6-17 reporting to being bullied at least once a week.
The national definition of bullying for Australian schools says: Bullying is an ongoing misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behaviour that causes physical and/or psychological harm.
Bullying doesn’t only affect the person on the receiving end of the abuse, but also the bully themselves and bystanders who are watching it all unfold. Cases of bullying have been known to lead to physical and psychological harm, self-esteem issues, and reluctance to attend school, with some extreme cases showing evidence of long term mental illness. It is a complex issue that doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all solution.
However, with ongoing research and studies undertaken in the field, a program called KiVa has tackled bullying from a different perspective.
Researchers at the University of Turku in Finland have found that taking a different approach with more attention given to bystanders has revealed more effective and successful results in the schools were the KiVa program has been rolled out.
How does KiVa work?
It’s no surprise that Finland is at the forefront of innovative programs to tackle school bullying given their exceptional schooling system.
The program called KiVa, derived from “Kiusaamista vastaan” meaning “against bullying,” in Finnish, while the word “kiva” means “nice” has already proven successful in many countries all over the world.
KiVa uses a bunch of different resources and tools to help kids navigate through the complexities of bullying and their role to helping eradicate it.
The most interesting approach used in the program is the education around what kids should do if they see bullying happening. Through the use of interactive computer games, children can choose different responses to certain examples of bullying with each response leading to a different consequential outcome.
“That intervention by bystanders can be delivered at a whole school level where the school sets an ethos, a social milieu in the school that says this is the way we behave in our school, this is the expectation, if you stand and watch you are contributing to bullying”, explains Professor Donna Cross from the University of Western Australia. Professor Cross has been working with KiVa to introduce the program into schools across Australia.
The goal is to implement a holistic approach to an empathetic school environment that doesn’t allow certain behaviours to be accepted in the schoolyard.
What can parents do?
The key learning from this program and what sets it apart from other similar initiatives is the emphasis on empathy and cultivating that throughout the whole school. As parents, we play a big role in teaching our children empathy and how to put themselves in others shoes.
By maintaining open channels of communication with our kids and really listening to how they feel, we can make a big difference to their understanding of the importance of emotional regulation. This then builds a foundation to discuss the emotions of others and how they can play a role in listening and helping with the emotional regulation of others.
If you want to be more involved, have a chat to your child’s school and teachers and align yourself with the programs and initiatives being implemented at their school.
There are a number of resources available online to learn more about bullying programs and government initiatives where you can also learn more.