Resolving conflicts in school bullying
School bullying creates significant emotional and social distress for children, from as young as 4 years, and their parents. Research has shown an association between school bullying and anti-social and criminal behaviour, including increased school drop-out rates and acute and chronic mental health problems. While the contributing factors for peer victimization stem from individual differences, family and school environments, early intervention involving principles of restorative justice provide an effective method that teachers can use for school bullying.
Restorative justice is a conflict resolution program that puts compassion and accountability at its core, allowing schools to assist in the promotion of healthy, resilient and socially responsible behaviour. It involves the presence and participation of victims, offenders and their respective communities. It utilizes a process that requires confrontation between the victim and the offender, within a community of care, ensuring support and respect is extended to the individual without condoning harmful behaviour. Contrary to punishment and control, which instill a narrow focus on the individual, the processes used by restorative justice programs give rise to benefits at a collective level, allowing an individual to develop an understanding of the consequences of their behaviour on themselves as well as on others.
Restorative justice programs aim to reintegrate those affected by wrongdoing back into the community by incorporating a range of related processes for maintaining healthy relationships, including community building, conflict resolution and shame management. Shame management refers to how an individual manages shame over wrongdoing. When shame is poorly managed, it interferes with an individuals ability to regulate the appropriateness and consistency of social behaviour. Negative manifestations, including anger, can result in self-protective behaviours that can lead to further breakdown of social relationships. When children are given an opportunity to become aware, acknowledge, speak and act on their emotions, specifically conflict, they can then develop appropriate coping strategies. Effective tools for exploring such emotions can include drama and role-play scenarios.
Complementary to the use of restorative justice programs is exploring additional support offered through other group settings including school counseling and extra-curricular activities. These can assist in the development of problem solving, emotional regulation, assertiveness and empathy. With a focus on child psychology, Clear Horizons also runs an emotional literacy program for pre-school and primary students that explores the nature of friendships, individual differences, teasing and bullying.
Schools, as a key developmental institution for society, have an important role in helping to address the debilitating effects of school bullying, for both the victim and bullying. Restorative justice programs offer a promising solution.
Further information supporting teachers with understanding and resolving bullying can be found in the related links below: