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Preventing bullying

Intimidation is a heavy phenomenon in our schoolyards that is subsequently transferred to the workplace. In fact, the Quebec government has passed a law requiring schools and school boards to have a plan to fight bullying, including prevention measures for students. We propose signs and actions to observe, its impact on the victim and how to act as a community.


A form of social violence especially observed in schools, characterized by the domination of one individual over another by repeated acts of verbal aggression, physical or psychological.
– Quebec Office of the French Language, 2011

The possible effects of bullying

  • The child loses some of his self-esteem
  • He develops an obsession with his attackers
  • He can fall back on himself, suffer from anxiety or depression, self-harm or have suicidal thoughts
  • He may want to take revenge and do violent things: the cycle grows of an aggressor

Bullying in Other Forms

We know explicit gestures such as insults and physical blows, but bullying sometimes begins without noticing it. Here are the more subtle and sometimes banal behaviors:

  • Primary or light gestures
    • Look crooked or with a mocking smile
    • Reveal a secret or threaten to do so
    • Threaten with rejection: “do this, otherwise you are no longer my friend”
  • Moderate gestures
    • Exclude from the group and encourage others to exclude: “If you talk to Noemie, you’re no longer in our gang”
    • Telling gossip about a person
    • Hide or break someone’s things “to laugh”

A more concrete example with Carl’s lunch

Carl, 10, attends the daycare of his school. Practically every day, at dinner time, he looks for his lunch box under the eyes and laughter of the students in his class. Moreover, if it finds it, its contents disappeared or is crushed.

Sometimes trivialized, Mathieu is a swinger
In a high school, initiation into a group of athletes involves physically attacking Mathieu, who is lured in effeminate ways. The group launches encouragement by shouting: “If you’re not a swinger, bleed the fag”. The group attacks the feeling of belonging with clichés.

The component that comes up often, like organized crime, is the threat of reprisals if the victim or a witness speaks.

The fashion effect in young people

The numerous awareness programs on bullying have also had the effect of dramatically increasing the number of “denunciations” among children. The good news is that young people are more aware of bullying and tolerate it less. They will seek help. The difficulty of clearly distinguishing the situation, the child may feel quickly persecuted and seek help from the adult a bit like in the story of Peter and the Wolf. The role of the teacher or guardian is to accompany the child well and guide him to better judge if he is a victim or is it a gesture to have fun with him and not against him.

A balloon: a source of learning
I am the supervisor of the schoolyard. Juliette, 8, comes to see me whimpering. “Madame, Charles took my balloon and he ran away laughing.” I then ask Juliette how she reacted and what she told Charles to recover his property. “I did not tell him anything, I came to tell you, you have to tell an adult when others bully.” I took the time to talk to her about whether Charles wanted to bully. I encouraged him to go to see Charles to claim his ball. From afar, I see that Charles has given him his balloon and he comes to see me. “Mrs. Nancy,” he said, “I did not want to be mean, I just wanted to steal her ball so she could run after me … I would have thought it was funny!”

Who are the bullies

Recall here that there is a huge difference between a child who uses a form of violence in a circumstantial way, during a conflict, and a real bully who regularly attacks the same children he considers more vulnerable. A young Clara who shouts insults to Jeanne is not intimidating, but an angry child who does not handle the conflict well. The limit comes if the gesture is recurrent, it highlights the distress of Jeanne and encourages the group to do the same to promote its rejection.

Here are some of the features often encountered by the bully:

  • Low self-esteem or negative self-image
  • Aggressiveness or behavioral disorder
  • Tendency to perceive oneself or to perceive others as victims
  • Search for attention and popularity
  • Propensity to accumulate an important emotional charge that he “evacuates” on others
  • Low empathy and interest in exercising some power over others

Sometimes he does not know
The young bully is not always aware that he is an aggressor. This child intimidates:

  • to have fun, laugh and spend time. Mocking then becomes a game. The young person is not sensitive to the other, is only focused on his pleasure
  • to make others laugh and have a sense of being popula
  • to “defend oneself”. He then believes to attack an opponent, return to the other money in his room. A young person can say to himself: “she is unpleasant with me since a good moment, so I must react, otherwise she will start again”, “It is my enemy, it is normal that I am not nice with her”
  • to look “hard” and avoid being a target.

On the surface, we see that the face is very wide and can take its source in a reaction deemed legitimate not to be a victim or in response to a situation of incipient intimidation. The youth believes he can defend himself in this way, but he is part of the vicious circle of bullying. You notice that part comes from the need to be accepted by peers and from education that promotes aggression as a defense. The law of Talion is a good example with “Eye for an eye, tooth for tooth”. There is also the other extreme that suggests to denounce systematically, good initiative that can become perverse.

Knowing how to distinguish true from false

Nancy Doyon, author of Preventing Bullying, points out that the downside of awareness is the over-reporting of bullying events. She says it is hoped that everything will be identified as leaving a child trapped in aggression. In the psychology of the child and adolescent, the sense of belonging and identification with peers is important and they quickly adopt the same behaviors as their peers. It is enough for a child to adopt a vulgar or particular language so that the whole class, or even a school, starts to use the same type of language, and this, despite the reprimands. The two pitfalls, imitating bullying and complaining at the slightest unpleasant gesture, are possible and awareness requires some follow-up with the group participating in a conference or information activity of the teacher.

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