Education and Bullying

Something which often comes up in relation to schools and learning, is the subject of bullying – in more ways than you think! So I thought I’d post this exclusive exert from my ‘Home Education Notebook‘, Chapter 31:

I have a terrible admission to make – I hope you won’t judge me too harshly. I bullied my child into cleaning her teeth when she was little. I’m thoroughly ashamed. But at the time I just couldn’t think of another way to get her to do it and I knew the longer term consequences were important.

I’d tried reason. I’d explained, tried to make it a fun game, I left it for some time in the hope it would correct itself, her older sister cajoled as she cleaned hers. In the end I got cross on occasion and ‘made’ her – or bullied her is another way of looking at it.

She says now, in her twenties when I asked if she remembered, she felt it was a terrible intrusion into her person having me clean her teeth, but she forgives me, we even laughed about it. But although bullying is an intrusion and an abuse, sometimes like with this example, we feel it’s justified.

That is of course questionable, depending on our parenting philosophies. However, I think we all can end up ‘bullying’ our children at some point. We’d certainly grab and drag our kids back from running under a car. It’s a gut reaction on our part even if it is bullying. (I’ll return to that gut reaction in a bit).

Many of us will have been on the receiving end of bullying far more severe than this, both as children and adults, perhaps in the home, more often in school. Bullying in school is a common reason parents turn to home education.

Dr Paula Rothermel who conducted some extensive research into home education found over half of the parents she interviewed turned to home education because of school related problems, bullying being among them. And bullying by others in school is a common subject on home education forums where parents discuss their child’s school experiences.

Sometimes the children manage to talk about it. Sometimes they don’t. Often, what’s even harder to talk about is the subversive type of bullying that isn’t quite so visible inflicted on a child through abusive teaching in the form of sarcasm, humiliation, orders, or so-called banter. Young people are circumstantially powerless to deal with it.

It’s a very difficult, sensitive and emotive subject for children to cope with on their own anyway, wherever they are. It can make them feel utterly powerless. The effects last far beyond the actual events and inhibit self-esteem, confidence, the ability to function socially, even going out of the house. The consequences are so harmful they can influence many aspects of their normal lives and the decisions they make.

What’s even more insidious is cyber bullying which can still be influential when a bullied child is taken out of a school situation, or is home educated from the outset. Most home educated children participate in other out of school activities so it’s possible they’ll come up against bullying in some form at some point.

The Bullying UK website (www.bullying.co.uk) has plenty of tips and advice for parents about what you can do if you’re concerned and, although most of these are school related, there is also a section dealing with cyber bullying and what to do about it. Any minority group, particularly if they’re doing something different to the mainstream like home educated children, can be a target. So it’s worth taking a look; the site gives you signs to look out for and how to help.

If you’re new to home education, and you’ve turned to it because your child was bullied at school, you will probably want to focus on your child’s healing and well being for some considerable time, rather than any intense academic activity. Don’t worry if you’re approached by the LA requesting your educational intentions, you can remind them of what your child’s been through, that it will take some time for your child and your family to adjust and building your child’s confidence is your priority for the time being. On the excellent website www.edyourself.org it says that the law supports families in doing this. The Authority are certainly not allowed to bully you (the FAQs on this site show what they can and cannot do) and if you familiarise yourself with your rights on this issue you’ll be able to stay on your child’s side and do what’s best for them.

Another effect of having being bullied is to make the young person anxious and uncomfortable in social situations so it may take a while for them to overcome this. Although all the home educating groups I’ve been involved with were welcoming, inclusive and friendly, they will probably feel very daunting to a youngster who has been bullied. So it may be some time before they are confident in integrating – it takes a while for them to rebuild their trust. It’s not something that should be forced.

We met youngsters who had come from school who were very reserved and unable to mix, but in their own time were able to rebuild their confidence in others and went on to be happy, confident people. So if your child has been through bullying and you’re worried about them ever integrating again, be patient and have faith. In the right company I’m sure they will – it takes time.

Bullying from others is usually how our children experience it. But there is another common link between education and bullying that may not be so apparent. And that is through the way in which children are ‘made’ to learn.

We all have Dickensian images of teachers wielding canes and forcing children to learn. The canes or enforcement may have gone out of scenario but there is no doubt that other more subversive forms exist; we tread a very fine line between coercion and encouragement, authority and guidance, and our sometimes obsessive desire for our children to achieve.

Teachers have been known to adopt subtle bullying tactics at times, but I think our parental anxieties about our children’s achievement out of school also present a danger of us sometimes inadvertently moving towards a subversive form of bullying if we’re not careful – we may even think it’s justified like the teeth cleaning example above. However, we don’t want ‘making’ children learn become our gut reaction to educating.

So it’s worth us taking a critical look at our behaviours and our approaches to our child’s learning to make sure we’re not guilty of forcing our children to learn through coercion, bribery or threats, which are slightly bullying approaches even if we don’t like to acknowledge it, rather than giving them good reasons or explanations for what we ask.

When home educating we have the opportunity to spend the time doing this – something not available in a school setting. Teachers have to meet often unrealistic targets and with the constraints they’re under can sometimes resort to bullying behaviours to get the children to perform.

We have to see we’re not doing the same. Never would there be justification for bullying parenting – and much of our home educating depends on our parenting. What we can do instead is take a much more relaxed approach.

We can keep an open dialogue with our kids about their education, what we do and why, increasing their understanding of why be educated at all.

We can regularly discuss their activities and what benefit doing them is, from the point of increasing skills and understanding and therefore opportunities.

We can listen and observe what the children’s interests are and use these as starting points for learning, so the learning comes from them rather than being thrust on them. This also helps minimise resistance and possible conflict by keeping them engaged.

We can let go of forcing outcomes and trust in the process of our child becoming educated and arriving at the outcomes they will need as they mature.

In our home education groups we can raise awareness, talk about and establish a policy to protect everyone from bullying – both from parents and from other children, decide how it’s going to be tackled, and include older children in these debates perhaps.

By our own actions we can imbue an atmosphere of inspiration, communication and calm around our learning activities. And make learning a shared and pleasurable experience rather than something we force children to do.

We can encourage them to take charge of their own activities, which creates an independence with learning and the motivation for them to educate themselves for themselves, rather than it being something done to them by others, which is often how many children feel about education in the system.

These actions create a climate of respect around our children and their education. And it alleviates the danger of us resorting to bullying our children into learning – usually through our own tensions and anxieties – but for which there is no excuse.

And this approach also has the added advantage of creating good relationship and communication habits, which will help our children communicate with us should they ever be bullied by others.

Read more stories and tips in the book.

Published by Bird’s Nest Books and also available from Amazon

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