Anti-Bullying Skills for Back-to-School; Protect Your Children

As your children head back to school, make sure they have these important skills to use and share.

This is a manuscript of am interview with a gentleman from Belfast, Ireland who helped start, We discussed bullying and how to protect against it. 

I’m Pam McMurtry, I’m a parent of seven, author and artist. I’ve worked with children for many years, as a volunteer in the schools and church and as a child advocate. I’m concerned for the well-being of all children. I have two children who have the symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome and have experienced exclusion and bullying. As I’ve studied behavior, I wondered if teaching tolerance and respect might be a proactive approach to helping end bullying.

Bullying is defined as the use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants. Also, habitually cruelty to others who are weaker 

According to the U.S. Government website“Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.


Is bullying as big an issue today as it was say 10 years ago?

The NCVS (Justice Department) says that physical and property assaults have declined, but psychological and cyber bullying have increased. But 1 in 10 high school students have been involved in a fight on school campus. The scope in our culture has broadened from schoolyard cruelty to date rape, corruption in the courts and business and I believe the hyper-competitiveness of our culture has caused the problem to escalate. Studies have proven that violent music lyrics, such as rap and violent games and movies have influenced an increase in aggressive behavior.

Do you see a difference in how bullying happens today – for example social media, mobile phones?

Bullying has become more extensive and sophisticated. As the connections between people and the nature of relationships have changed, the opportunity and equipment to involve a larger “audience” has increased. Parents should set boundaries for tech equipment. Know who their kids’ friends are, where they are and who they are with. Follow them on social media sites and know their passwords.

With current media coverage on bullying and cyber bullying is the situation improving?

Since the schools have worked to reduce bullying, physical attacks have gone down, but cyber-bullying has increased about 83%. I think parents need to become more involved in teaching their children to stop these behaviors.

How do people bully others today?

I think we see a lot of it in sports, unfortunately parents are sometimes guilty, and in competitions when people try to “psych” out or physically attack competitors. Remember the skater who was attacked a few years ago? We see it in business, with illegal contracts, people taking advantage and computer hacking. In libel and slander and as our laws are broken by both the public, judges and officials, and in the media. Our children learn from watching their parents and other adults.

Unfortunately kids in school still pick on those who are different or don’t have adequate social skills or insulation. As problems in the world escalate, you see bullying between economic classes, ethnic and gender groups and others. Some forms of bullying include: physical attacks, destroying property or  clothing, calling names, starting rumors, cyberbullying.

I think bullying is a form of declaring war on an individual.

Have you dealt with many cases of bullying within a family’s home life?

Yes, bullying often starts at home. A child learns as he or she participates in the dynamics there. What should be a safe haven has become for many, a confusing and even dangerous place. The dysfunctional state of many families, the incidence of step-families, live-ins and the culture of violence in the media as well as stepping away from religion, has caused our culture us to lose the protection that traditional moral training provided. I also believe the prevalence of people involved with pornography has caused abuse of spouses and is dangerous to children. Addictions of any kind in parents can create an atmosphere of neglect or abuse. Children in these situations sometimes become bullies, or victims.

How should a parent educate their children to ensure they understand bullying is wrong?

The best teacher is example. Parent need to model the behaviors they want the children have. They need to make sure their priorities and values are healthy. Parents have the privilege and responsibility to teach their children tolerance and respect for others, including their property.

Children need the basics, such as taking turns, being polite and how to make friends. They need to learn to help others and to treat people the way they would like to be treated. Honesty, tolerance and respect are characteristics that will help them be successful all of their lives. Having a sense of humor and a few friends will go a long way in preventing a child from becoming a victim. Also developing talents will increase self-esteem and confidence; usually bullies aren’t picking on children like that.  

Children need to know bullying is wrong and will not be tolerated. They need safety tips like staying near an adult or group of kids. They can say, “that’s not ok, you shouldn’t be doing that,” and to be kind to a child who has been bullied. They also should know that there is safety in numbers and they should have back-up if they want to confront a bullying situation. 

If parent takes even 15 minutes a day to ask children about their day; what was the best thing, what was the worst; what is lunchtime like, how was your bus ride and build esteem – what are you good at, what do you like best about yourself? Questions like these will keep the lines open and encourage children to talk about problems. I used to take my kids on walks, one at a time, or you could shoot baskets or do some other activity.  They would open up while physically active, and not sitting face-to-face, its less daunting.

If a child has been bullied – what is the best advice for them?

If the bully has been confronted and won’t stop; teach the child to get help immediately. They need to know it’s not their fault, even if they did do something to provoke the bully. Never tell the child to fight back; the child could get hurt, suspended or expelled. If it’s a problem at home, they need to tell someone they trust.

If it’s at school they should tell a teacher, if school officials are not responsive, parents need to get involved. If they need medical or mental health care, make sure they are treated. If there is a weapon, threat of serious injury, a hate crime such as ethnic or gender issue or sexual abuse – get the police involved. Also if there is a crime such as robbery or extortion. Racial intolerance can be very sensitive and can be the toughest to solve.

Is there likely to be long term effects on children who are bullied?

I don’t know the answer to this. We can help by teaching forgiveness and resilience and that revenge is not a solution. I understand the sexual abuse may lead to promiscuous behavior, diseases and/or gender identity issues.


Are parents and teachers dealing with bullied victims or bullies in the right way?

Having your child attacked makes an emotionally charged situation and parents may act irrationally. Getting school officials involved instead of going directly to the other parents is recommended.

Each situation is different, but there are a few ways that seem to work in most cases.

Recognize the problem
Intervene immediately
Get the victim help if needed
Get the bully help

Work to ensure that the bullying behavior stops now. Don’t expect children to have the maturity and   tools to handle the problem on their own.

What should a school or parent watch out for in a child’s behaviour that might be a warning sign?

Some warning signs include: a child refusing to go to school, having an upset stomach or other illness, or refusing to take the bus if that’s where the abuse occurs. Some children will display symptoms similar to drug use; withdrawl from activities or family; school performance and/or grades suffering. Aggression may be a warning sign. Some kids who are bullied turn into bullies.

Kids who are bullying have a lot of issues; you need to find out about the family situation; denial about the behavior of the child and abuse are common. You might think of a computer that has poor programming or has picked up viruses or worms.

Often kids who are bullied internalize it and don’t report it. In children under 14, suicide from bullying is one of the most common causes of death. Kids who commit suicide hadn’t told their parents about what was happening to them. This is why its critical that parents spend at the minimum of 15 minutes a day with each child, of course, more is better. Here’s an interesting fact, 30 minutes a day of “rough-housing” or physical interaction and play with Dad is a therapy for Attention Deficit Disorder.

What can schools do to ensure they provide the best education and advice to children/staff on bullying?

Schools are in a tough spot, often their hands are tied. Children are not all receiving “moral training” such as honesty, treating others the way you want to be treated and so forth. Clever teachers can insert these lessons in social studies, creative writing or art (draw a picture of your best day, your worst day) and instruct how to behave in different situations.

Unfortunately the problem isn’t always addressed until there is a crisis and a kid tries to kill himself. There needs to be a well-coordinated, united effort from the district level – all the way throughout the school and everyone needs to be part of the solution. Those who are concerned will develop a sensitivity and will discern answers. Administrators set goals for the year; they may include training and reduction in conflict.

Schools need policies; teachers, office staff, bus drivers and everyone need to be instructed in techniques to stop bullying. There can be inservice lessons before the year starts, with “experts” brought in. Parent volunteers, parent and teacher organizations, teachers unions all can help. D.A.R.E officers can teach respect. Bus drivers can be trained to stop fights, cameras and bus attendants can be brought in.

Small group settings are more effective that assemblies for teaching these skills. Use peer hierarchy – everyone can be a helper. Some schools train students that command respect to be “helpers” that kids can go to on the playground for intervention, they are identified by a t-shirt or sash. Sometimes going to another child brings less retribution.

When the principal gets involved there is usually a loss of privilege, like no recess. But the bully may, after being talked to, take on the role of a protector. Teachers need to watch situations and relationships and not allow conflicts to escalate past name-calling, or no name-calling at all.

Mothers in the classroom have a calming effect. Teachers can give affirmations  like “I caught you doing something good” notes to send home.

Schools can congratulate themselves that their efforts have been successful and physical bullying has gone down. Now parents need to step up and work to eradicate cyberbullying.

Have you knowledge of any severe cases and consequences of bullying?  without specifics?

Unfortunately yes. We’ve all seen the worst case scenarios in the Columbine High School and Sandy Hook Elementary school mass murders. The shooters had been bullied when they were younger.

One student was bullied by other members of his own school sports team. When he talked to the coach, he was told to just take care of it. He’d been taught all his life not to retaliate and didn’t know how to handle it, so he started sloughing school, after he turned to self-destructive behavior, he got help.

One of my daughters was tormented by a girl in high school. After graduation, the girl was in a horrible auto accident and died in a gruesome way. It was tragic.  

Let’s talk about a case that had a happy outcome. One  girl was the target of bullies as she started school. The family talked to the teachers, but the abuse continued. The mom called a boy that attended their church and asked him if he could find out who was bullying the girl. He took it a step farther and got his friends involved. They started walking her to class and invited her to sit with them at lunchtime. It didn’t hurt that they were the captain and members of the football team. The girl blossomed under their kind and protective care and they felt good being able to use their influence (and power) to help someone.

It’s important for children to know they can and should help others in need. These days they should do it in a united group and not try to tackle bullying problems alone.

Any current trends we should be aware of?

These are current cyber-bullying tactics:

Sending mean messages or threats to a person’s email account or cell phone

  • Spreading rumors online or through texts
  • Posting hurtful or threatening messages on social networking sites or web pages
  • Stealing a person’s account information to break into their account and send damaging messages
  • Pretending to be someone else online to hurt another person
  • Taking unflattering pictures of a person and spreading them through cell phones or the Internet
  • Sexting, or circulating sexually suggestive pictures or messages about a person
Parents have the responsibility and privilege of protecting their children and helping them develop talents and confidence that will make them less of a “target.” If you need to, collect the phones and ipads at night and lock them away, like you lock up your house to keep your family safe from intruders. Also get authorities involved – find out about libel and slander laws and use them to protect your loved ones.
I’d like to close by saying that each of us can help by teaching and expecting respect, love and tolerance. Treat others how you would like to be treated and  remember, there is justice or karma in the universe and what goes around, comes around.

Here are websites that may be helpful:

Would like to close with asking if anyone wanted to find you online – what is the best way to do this.

Thank you, I can be reached at and my website is I contribute articles to and other websites and I’ve written a  book that shows creative and peaceful ways to celebrate Halloween. It is available at: