The challenges of childhood bullying: A pastoral approach

Daniel Kearney is a former teacher of Theology & Religious Studies and author of Childhood Bullying and Adult Bullying (Redemptorist Publications). He draws on the four cardinal virtues to help parents and carers respond to situations of bullying.

There are few things more debilitating and damaging to the natural flourishing of a child than the pain and anguish caused by bullying. It can stunt a child’s overall development – emotions, intellect and spirit – and quickly drain all self-confidence and personal esteem.

Bullying presents several practical challenges. The first is identifying what, in fact, constitutes bullying. How it differs from occasional name-calling, playground banter or the inevitable falling out with friends and the ‘fall out’ that often ensues between former mates. If a child feels as if they are being bullied, it is sufficient reason to listen seriously to their concerns. If they have approached you to discuss the matter, then they have already given it some thought and consideration.

It is a statutory requirement for a school to have an anti-bullying policy to inform staff, parents, carers and pupils of how instances of bullying will be dealt with. The challenge here is how to inculcate a policy into the practical day-to-day life of a school, so that potential bullies and those being bullied are aware and informed of the school’s stance on the matter. It ought to be as familiar to them as all other school routines and rules. But as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so the effectiveness of a policy is only as good as the least-committed member of staff to implement it to ensure that all the pupils who are in their care feel safe and secure.
Bullying presents a different challenge in a faith school or community. A bully does not stop being a ‘temple of the Holy Spirit’ or lose their unique imprint as made ‘in the image and likeness of God’ because of their behaviour – no matter how much we may disapprove of it.

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