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Know how to respond to a student

Professor Campbell explains five steps to follow when a child tells you they are being bullied.
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Do you actually know what to do if a student comes up to you and says that they’ve been bullied? Some people start to say, ‘Oh, we’ve really got to interrogate this. We have to make sure that they’re actually being bullied.’ But that’s probably not the way to go. One of the first things that you should do is listen and listen carefully. Show that you’re empathetic to what the student is saying to you. You should be feeling honoured that the student trusts you enough to even tell you about it. You shouldn’t try and solve it for them, because being a victim of bullying means that they are powerless.
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So you don’t want to jump in as the adult and take their power away even more, because this is a peer relationship problem, and if you intervene as an adult incorrectly, you can make the situation worse. So listen to the student, respond empathetically, tell them that you think they’re very brave in telling you. You don’t have to interrogate, because you then ask them; ‘How would you like me to help you?’ And that’s scary for some teachers, because they say; ‘What if the student says; ‘I don’t want you to do anything.’ Don’t I have to?’ I don’t think that you do, especially given the age of the student.
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If they just want to tell you and be monitored you have to encourage them to come back again. So often in a school, a student tells that they’ve been victimised, teachers make sure that they’ve interrogated; everybody else knows. It’s very embarrassing. They perhaps talk to the person who was bullying, and then because they don’t hear anything more, because the bullying didn’t stop, they assume that they fixed it. Whereas in fact, they could have made it worse. Make sure that you keep it confidential. Make sure that you do as the student asks you to.

FAQ: What’s the best thing to do when a child tells me they’ve been bullied?

You need to be prepared when a student comes to you so you can give them your attention and focus on what they are telling you. Don’t start by asking lots of questions or telling the student what to do. Take your time and follow these five steps. Each step is important.

  1. Listen
  2. Reflect
  3. Empathise
  4. Never interrogate
  5. Ask ‘how would you like me to help?’

This process encourages the student to explain their story. Make sure you listen respectfully and reflect their feelings. Reassure the student and never cast doubt on what they are telling you or blame them. Be discreet. Always remember, the student is embarrassed and doesn’t really want to talk to you about their experience. Most importantly ask the student what they want you to do and follow-up to check they are okay. Accept that they may not want you to do anything. Responding in this way will take practice because it is not the usual way we speak with students.

What could you say?

Jinhai is ten years old. He tells you Vijay is beating him up on his way home from school. What might you say to Jinhai?
  1. Prepare four sentences you could use in your conversation with him.
  2. Share one of your sentences with us in the comments.
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Bullying in Schools: How Should Teachers Respond?

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