Written by Selena Whitehead – Education Schools Manager

It is reported that over half of the UK’s 12- to 15-year-olds have faced some form of bullying in their lives, which is also reflected on a global scale with UNESCO data showing that 1 in 3 teens worldwide report being bullied recently. This can leave victims with anxiety, depression, fear and low self-esteem. It is imperative that schools deal with bullying at its roots and try to develop a learning environment that is free from fear. This is often attempted through the development and implementation of Anti-Bullying programme or policy.

Most schools have an Anti-Bullying policy that encourages children to talk openly about the subject of bullying though few children can do this and often fail to find a solution as procedural guidelines are often non-existent. Developing a policy that encourages meaningful open discussion between parties is essential for success, but how can schools achieve this?

Bullying : How developing character helps those in need, and those who need to stop

Building character-strengths is an essential tool for schools looking to develop an Anti-Bullying programme. It provides practical ways to discuss given situations and can help both those being bullied and those who have been bullying. By using the stories of real historical game-changers, many of whom experienced bullying themselves, students can see character strengths being brought to life.

What is bullying?

Stella O’Malley defines bullying as ‘a sustained pattern of aggression by a person with more power, targeting someone with less power’. Her new book Bully-Proof Kids provides practical tools to help develop confident flourishing people. This blog builds on her ideas, providing a strengths-based approach to dealing with bullying in schools. By embedding the language of character across schools, pupils have access to the vocabulary needed to discuss what is happening and the tools to discuss what they can do about it. Using the stories of role models helps to bring these strengths to life.

A character strengths-based approach to dealing with bullying

By developing the language of character, schools can support young people and their parents when bullying arises.

Fairness ‘I treat people equally – without unfair favouritism or judgement’.

From a young age, pupils are exposed to those who push to get their own way, manipulate others and develop the traits of a bully. Often pupils are reluctant to admit in a group to being bullied and even less likely to admit bullying. Another group to consider is that of the bystander. Whilst they are not ‘doing’ the bullying, neither are they supporting others or acting fairly. By introducing the language of fairness, you are creating a vocabulary to explore difficult situations neutrally.

Mahatma Gandhi dedicated his life to what he saw as the unfair system of British colonial rule. He experienced discrimination and was no doubt bullied because of his race and beliefs but he persevered and pursued fairness.

Student questionwho in modern life can students identify as being driven by fairness?

Empathy ‘I can understand and can share someone else’s point of view’.

All of us can benefit from thinking about the perspective of others but a class conversation can be particularly poignant and beneficial for those with a tendency to act without empathy towards others. Introducing the idea of considering others’ feelings, putting themselves in the shoes of different people can be eye-opening for many.

Nobody really knows what William Shakespeare thought about anything. But we can say that he was a master at empathy. His characters come from many different backgrounds and perspectives, and he gives them a powerful voice.

Student question – which book or film that you’ve recently read or seen has helped you empathise with another’s point of view?

Kindness ‘I show empathy, understanding, and care for others. I am kind to myself too’.

Building on from empathy is teaching kindness, understanding how others are feeling and what needs to happen to make someone feel better. Again, a group-based discussion does not single out any one individual but allows for an open discussion about when they have experienced kindness and different ways to express kindness.

Mary Seacole was a victim of bullying due to her mixed-race heritage. She wasn’t allowed to join the other nurses to help with the Crimea war but went there all the same. Her kindness in helping soldiers from both sides led her to be named ‘Mother Seacole’. A big fundraising gala was held to say thank you to her after the war.

Student question – what jobs require kindness to be a prerequisite?

Teamwork ‘I work well with other people to achieve a common goal. I can take the lead and let others take the lead too’.

Embedding the idea of teamwork is key in encouraging conversations about school and friendship groups.

  • Does the class see itself as a team?
  • How can they work better as team to encourage each other’s strengths?
  • What are the issues in their ‘team’ and how are they best resolved?

Giving regular examples of good teamwork is helpful in this respect, for example in small group work or project work as well as during PE.

Emmeline Pankhurst was an upstander, she battled hard to give women the same rights as men. She worked with others, both men and women to help achieve equality. She recognised that she couldn’t reach her goals on her own and formed different groups to help secure her goal.

Student question – who inspires you by their work with others to achieve social change?

Courage ‘I do the right thing even when it is hard. I stand up for what I believe in. I am brave even when I face danger, disapproval or fear’.

Developing character strengths helps pupils become upstanders. These are the people who grow up in life with the courage to stand up for what is right, despite the danger or disapproval they experience. It’s never too soon to learn to an upstander and by introducing both the term and the strengths required encourages pupils to try it.  

Student question – Can you think of a time (without naming names) when someone stepped in and looked after someone who was being bullied?

Queen Nzinga showed immense courage in fighting off the Portuguese who wanted to take her people into slavery. She battled for many years and refused to give in to their demands. As a woman she was not automatically accepted as queen within her own tribe and needed the courage to stand up for herself with them as well.

Student question – who do you think is an upstander? In school or in public life?

Integrity ‘I try to do the right thing, even if no one is watching me.’

Another strength needed to be an upstander is integrity. It is the confidence to try to do the right thing, this might be to actively be an upstander and to step in and say something. Or it might be to talk to the new student and hold out a branch of kindness. Or it might be to talk to a teacher and seek further advice.

Charles Darwin had to face the wrath of the church and establishment when he published his ground-breaking findings on evolution. He didn’t take this lightly and took much time (20 years!), gathering evidence to support his claims.

Student question – how difficult is it to do the right thing if no one is watching?

Embed a character strength-based approach as part of the Anti-Bullying programme

Embedding character strengths in your curriculum provides a rich vocabulary which allows pupils to vocalise what they are experiencing.  By demonstrating the language of character through the tales of amazing role models these strengths are brought to life and made more meaningful. Giving students the language they need to stand up for themselves and others is an essential gift that will keep giving throughout their lives.

 If you would like to explore our learning platform which is packed full of amazing people’s stories and resources, sign up for a free trial here. If you are interested in other mental health resources, you may find out blog on children’s mental health useful.

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