Bullying at School
Violence in schools creates an unhealthy atmosphere, whether it occurs between students, between adults or between adults and students. Among other things, it generates mistrust and causes insecurity, anxiety and isolation, as well as damaging self-esteem and the sense of belonging. In addition, it can lead to absenteeism or academic failure and may increase the risk of dropping out for students or disengagement for adults.
For victims, bullying can make it difficult to perform simple everyday activities such as walking to school or eating in the school cafeteria. It affects their quality of life and can impact their physical and mental health. Violence and bullying should never be tolerated and must be reported whenever they occur.
You can ask for help from a professional at school (psychologist, psycho-educator, social worker, etc.), at a health and social services centre (CSSS) or at a recognized community organization working in the field of bullying. You can also contact the school principal to report violence and bullying.
If your child is a victim of bullying
If you are concerned that your child may be a victim of bullying, you should watch and listen carefully to see whether any recent behaviour may have been caused by violence or bullying at school.
Below are some indicators that may help you to understand whether or not your child is a victim of violence or bullying:
- Does your child seem anxious or depressed (sad, unhappy or easily irritated)? Is this recent?
- Has your child suddenly lost interest in activities that he or she used to enjoy?
- Is your child’s self-esteem low (i.e. does the child think he or she is no good at school or that others are better)?
- Is the child afraid of going to specific places, such as school, the mall or the playground?
- Has the child suddenly stopped using the Internet?
- Is the child often alone in his or her room?
- Have the child’s results suddenly become worse for no apparent reason?
- Does the child often claim to feel sick and does not want to go to school?
- Does the child have suicidal thoughts or talk about running away or dropping out?
If so, you should contact a member of the school team (homeroom teacher, resource teacher, support or professional staff member, principal) to discuss and verify your concerns. If your child is in fact being bullied at school, an intervention will take place with your child and the perpetrator of the bullying. If, after this, you are dissatisfied with the follow-up to your report or with the results of the actions taken by the school, you may also contact the school service centre or school board Student Ombudsman . You are entitled to assistance from the school service centre or school board with the task of making a complaint and with any step related to the complaint (section 3 of the Regulation respecting the complaint examination procedure established by a school service centre).
If you believe your child’s safety is at risk or if you believe your child has been the victim of a criminal act (harassment, sexual assault, threats, extortion, etc.), you should contact the police. You are entitled to do this regardless of any action taken by the school to counter the violence and bullying. You should also take steps to protect your child from any future cyberbullying.
You will need to take charge quickly in order to support your child. In addition to being calm and patient, here are some of the things you can do to help your child:
Let the child speak, and avoid being judgmental
- Stay calm. Your child needs to be comforted and needs to feel that you are in control. You must be his or her model.
- Take the time to listen to your child without interrupting or anticipating answers.
- Ask the child to describe the situation in detail, and do not blame or make comments. Write down key words from the conversation.
Look for a solution together
- Show the child that you support him or her and will help to find a solution.
- Ask the child what he or she has done to stop the bullying or violence.
- Encourage the child to report the incident to a trusted adult at school.
Advise and support your child
- Tell the child not to retaliate or seek vengeance, because it may be unsafe to do so.
- If possible, encourage the child to stay with dependable friends at all times. Groups are less likely to be bullied.
- Talk to one or more of the child’s teachers, school staff members, coaches or anyone else who may be aware of the situation and may be able to help the child to find a solution. Ask if they know what is happening, and what they have done or intend to do about it. Ask to be kept informed of any developments.
- Keep a close eye on your child’s behaviour. If you have not heard back from the school within a few days, re-contact the people to whom you spoke.
If your child witnesses bullying
If your child confides in you about witnessing an incident of bullying, it is important to emphasize that he or she has an important role to play and can help the victim. The important thing is to make sure your child does not ignore the bullying or violence, and reports it to a school staff member if necessary.
Listen carefully to your child and advise him or her on what to do:
- Tell the child that it is normal to feel uncomfortable in such a situation, and that it is a good thing to have talked to you about it.
- Explain that bullies need an audience. Without it, they have less power.
- Tell the child that he or she has an important role to play, and that the way he or she reacts could encourage or discourage the bully.
- Tell the child that he or she could perhaps intervene directly, with the support of other witnesses, or alternatively, go and find a trusted adult (parent, teacher, psychologist, psycho-educator, special educator, trainer, supervisor, janitor, etc.).
- Emphasize how important it is to report violence and bullying. Explain that it helps the other person, and will ensure that the people involved, whether they are victims or perpetrators, will get the help they need.
- Remind the child that he or she can always report violence or bullying to the school principal.
- Ask the child if he or she wants your help with this.
- Tell the child to avoid doing anything that might encourage the perpetrator, and to avoid any contact with that person.
- If the child is comfortable doing so, suggest that he or she might react by protesting against violent or bullying remarks, or join forces with friends to stand up to offensive behaviour.
- Advise the child always to refuse to share, send or like a hurtful or offensive online image, video or message.
- Remind the child how important it is to report incidents involving violence or bullying, even if he or she is not directly involved. The victim is likely to be very grateful, the perpetrator will get help to remedy his or her behaviour, and the child will be acting as a responsible citizen who wants to live in a society free of bullying.
If your child bullies someone
Violence and bullying can occur among young people of any age, from any segment of society. Whatever the reason, students can engage in acts of violence or bullying without necessarily understanding the severity of the consequences for their victim. It is important to recognize the signs and make sure your child knows that you do not agree with this type of behaviour.
Recognizing the signs
In many cases there will be signs that someone has engaged in an act of violence or bullying. The most common signs are:
- Having a strong need to dominate or to obtain and maintain status within a group or a family.
- Having poor relationship skills (e.g. being unable to fit properly into a group).
- Believing that aggression, violence or bullying are good ways of resolving conflicts.
- Wrongly believing that others have hostile intentions
- Reacting impulsively to situations.
Some young people may also:
- Lack empathy and be insensitive to the distress of others.
- Project a false image of self-confidence and self-assurance.
- Find it hard to assert themselves and acknowledge their own worth.
- Lack remorse or find it hard to show compassion.
If you discover that your child is bullying or being violent towards other students, you should explain how serious the behaviour is, and how badly it will affect them and other people. While being supportive, explain that behaviour such as this shows that he or she needs help to form positive relationships with others.
When initiating a discussion on your child’s behaviour:
- Stay calm even if you are angry, because you will serve as a model for the child.
- Explain that you are taking the situation very seriously, and that you want to hear what the child has to say about it.
Talk about how the child should behave
- Help the child to recognize the context and emotions that triggered the violence or bullying behaviour.
- Explore how the child can express anger or get what he or she wants without harming others.
- Talk about examples of violence or bullying that the child may have seen on the television, in movies or video games, or in the street.
- Point out how important it is to respect other people’s differences, if they are a factor in the situation (e.g. sexual orientation, physical strength, weight, etc.).
- Try to find out who the child’s friends are and how they spend their time when they are together.
- Listen to people who tell you that your child is bullying or being violent towards others, regardless of whether they are school staff members, trainers, parents or other students.
- Explain what could happen if the child continues to bully or be violent (suspension or expulsion from school, complaints to the police, legal action).
Get help if necessary
- If necessary, ask for help from a member of your child’s school team (teacher, psycho-educator, special educator, psychologist, etc.), or from a social worker at your local health and social services centre (CSSS).
- Contact the school principal if you think your child is bullying or being violent towards others, so that you can obtain appropriate support.
As a preventive measure, be aware of the type of model you provide for your child. Words or actions that seem harmless to you may influence your child’s attitudes and empathy towards others. These are qualities that children need to be aware of the impacts of bullying and change their behaviour if necessary. If you are able to enhance your own self-esteem and express yourself in a positive and appropriate way, it will help your child to develop tools for self-protection.
People who bully others do so for a variety of reasons. However, bullying and violence generally demonstrate a need for help in forming good relationships with others. Children can do this with help from school resources (e.g. psychologist, psycho-educator, social worker, special educator).
All forms of violence and bullying are unacceptable in our society, and school codes of conduct usually provide for punishments that reflect the severity of the actions. Information on punishments can usually be found in the anti-violence and anti-bullying plans that schools are required to have.
Violence, bullying and cyberbullying may also constitute offences under the Criminal Code. Examples include :
- Threatening violence with the intention of forcing someone to do or not to do something.
- Contacting someone repeatedly to make them fear for their safety.
- Publishing or spreading false information about someone, or information that could harm their reputation or expose them to hatred, contempt or ridicule, can sometimes constitute a crime.
Cooperation between the school and the family can help to create a healthy, safe, positive and kindly atmosphere. Working together also helps in achieving common goals such as the child’s well-being and educational success.
This type of cooperation demands a relationship based on trust and mutual respect. Inclusion, fairness, openness and the ability to listen are essential foundation values for a true school-family partnership. Real action is needed to understand why incidents involving bullying and violence occur. Please refer to this document for details of the steps that schools and families can take to foster cooperation.
In the case of school-age children, interventions are usually based on the school’s bullying protocol, rules of conduct and safety measures. When a young person engages in an act of bullying that does not constitute an offence under the law, the people in authority will try to establish a level of accountability that is fair, proportional to the act and compatible with the perpetrator’s level of maturity, aimed at repairing the damage done to the victim and the community.
Schools generally take an educational approach by supervising the students and organizing services that will encourage them to think about and adopt socially appropriate behaviours.
Depending on what the perpetrator did, an awareness intervention may also take place under the Youth Criminal Justice Act , which sets out the principles, rules of procedure and penalties applicable to youths (12 to 17 years of age) for offences committed and prosecuted under federal legislation including the Criminal Code . Some offences, however, give rise to measures other than judicial proceedings, such as:
- Mediation sessions with victims
- Workshops to develop social skills
- Community work orders
- Other measures deemed appropriate by the relevant authorities
The role of the school principal
The school principal:
- Works with all school staff members to ensure that the school environment is welcoming, stimulating and safe for everyone.
- Oversees the implementation of the school’s anti-bullying and anti-violence plan (PDF 317 Ko).
- Enforces the school’s rules of conduct and safety measures, which identify behaviours that are acceptable and unacceptable, along with the punishments that will apply, depending on the severity of the incident.
- Receives and quickly processes reports of incidents involving violence and bullying.
- Immediately contacts the parents of the students who are directly involved, to notify them of the measures outlined in the school’s anti-bullying and anti-violence plan.
- Provides for remedial and reinsertion measures when a student is suspended.
- Sends a brief report of the violence or bullying, along with the follow-up measures applied, to the student and to the director general of the school service centre, English school board or special status school board
Last update: June 8, 2023