By November, most students have settled into the rhythms and routines of the school year. There have been enough homerooms and homework to establish a pattern that is comfortable, or at the very least predictable. The same is true for teachers and parents—there have been enough days to gauge how young people are adapting and adjusting to new environments, new subject areas, or new groups of friends.
During this time, it’s also important for adults to ensure young people are physically and emotionally healthy. Teachers and parents should recognize the difference between peer conflict and actual bullying to understand the best way to support young people and address the issue. Sherry Verdel, school counselor at MSA East Academy and East Iberville School, says bullying is consistent, targeted behavior from one or more students aimed at another student with an intent to exert power or force. Bullying can lead to significant problems such as depression, social isolation, and eating and sleep disorders.
According to Verdel, bullying is less common at the lower elementary school level because children at this age are developing social and interpersonal communication skills. Verdel notes that peer conflict at the elementary level is often mislabeled as bullying, which is much more frequent among in middle school-aged children. However, all reports of bullying should be taken seriously.
Counselors play an important role in mitigating bullying, and Verdel describes several strategies counselors can use when dealing with a reported case of bullying. These strategies include:
- Talking one-on-one with the child who reported the bullying;
- Talking with the child and the child’s teacher;
- Asking the child if they would like to have a meeting with the individual they accused of bullying them; and
- Meeting with the child accused of bullying to help build empathy skills and repair the situation.
Verdel also emphasizes the importance of focusing more on kindness, consideration, and accountability and less on labels—the victim and the bully. Adults should also help young people understand the proper definition of terms like “bullying” and “self-defense”, so young people aren’t using fighting as a preemptive solution to preventing bullying.
Consistently monitoring the emotional health of all children is important for counselors, teachers, parents, and all adults who come into contact with young people at any stage of their development.
Capital Area Human Services provides mental health, addiction recovery and developmental disability services for youth and adults. For more information, visit www.realhelpbr.com or call 225-925-1906.