Issue at preschool level

CHILDREN with vulnerable backgrounds, such as those with disabilities or who grow up in poverty, are significantly more likely than their peers to become victims of bullying, says Phenny Kakama, a senior child protection specialist at the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) Malaysia. “Bullying is aggressive and intentional behaviour that results in an intimidating power imbalance. It takes on many forms, such as physical acts of harm like kicking, punching and shoving; name-calling, which is a form of verbal bullying; and social exclusion, which is a form of emotional bullying.” He says many children today are at risk of cyberbullying, which takes place via the Internet or mobile technology and can take the form of many of the above said acts, such as name-calling. The bully may send the victim threatening emails, take pictures or videos of the latter and post them on social media, or say mean things about the victim online. To end bullying, Kakama says everyone — parents, guardians, teachers and members of authority, as well as children themselves — has a role to play. “We need to teach children that it is never okay to hurt someone physically or emotionally, even if the person had previously hurt them. There are other ways to address such situations without inflicting pain.” Childline Malaysia project director P.H. Wong says since 2010, 50 percent of the 6,000 calls that Childline Malaysia receives from children annually are related to psycho-social mental health issues, including bullying. “In a 2011 Health Ministry report, it was noted that 20 per cent of children had some form of psycho-social mental health issue, and considering Malaysia has 9.5 million students, the figure is worrying. ” Childline Malaysia is a national 24-hour free phone emergency outreach service for children in need of care and protection, and aims at linking children to long-term services. It is run in partnership with other non-governmental organisations, Unicef, state governments and the corporate sector. Wong believes that the issue of violence among children should be addressed from as early as preschool, as it may escalate at the primary school level. “It needs to start in early childhood, at the kindergarten level. Interaction in groups should be encouraged so that kids can talk, negotiate and resolve problems together. “Encouraging children to interact and be confident around others inculcates good social and interaction skills at a young age. “Kids must be taught non-violent ways to resolve conflicts and deal with stressful situations, and tolerance and respect for those of different races. Parents must encourage this at home.” National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) president Hashim Adnan says the current school system, which focuses on academic excellence and results, does not leave teachers with much time to impart lessons on morals and ethics. “Education must also focus on behavioural interventions, which teach good behaviour, ethics and morals. There has to be a long-term programme focusing on behavioural education from Year One to Year Three, before proceeding to the development of academic excellence. “Children today are unable to interact and communicate with each other well. Every child needs to learn how to respect and work with others. It is an intervention method that should be applied at all school levels, as well as college.” He says the standard operating procedure in addressing bullying at school is uniform, where disciplinary problems are followed up on by teachers, who determine the course of action to be taken against a student. Wong agrees that schools need to step up and start engaging with children on ways to tackle bullying. “Let them come up with ideas on how to deal with bullying and how they can help. Adults should just provide support. If adults direct things, it won’t be effective.” Although each school has its own “safe school” policy, she believes that adults or anyone who deals with children need to have a grounding in child rights, to ensure that children are nurtured in a non-threatening environment. “Dealing with bullies by transferring them to different schools does not resolve the problem. “Bullies and their parents will benefit from counselling sessions.” Wong says older children are not learning ways to handle anger better, and there are no outlets for them to properly express such feelings. As they are hooked on gadgets, such as computers, televisions and mobile phones, which results in them staying indoors most of the time, children these days are less likely to venture out of the home to play, which is a way of ridding stress. Wong adds that children may “ape” the adults in their life if the latter exhibit aggressive behaviour. She says parents contribute to the bullying problem because in wanting their kids to excel, the children are “hot-housed” and sent from one class to another — from tuition to ballet to music — which leaves them no time to themselves. She says victims benefit from workshops and discussions that encourage being assertive without being aggressive. “Children need to have the confidence to stand up, have a voice and be aware of their rights. Some victims don’t report bullying because they are afraid. Hopefully, such lessons will help them develop a stronger sense of self.”

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