Tiina Mäkelä

Director of the 'KiVa' antibullying program

"We have to teach students, teachers and parents to recognize bullying situations."

Strategies to identify, combat and prevent bullying in schools that involve students, teachers, parents and non-teaching staff.

The KiVa program is a Finnish antibullying initiative that is based on many years of research.

Bullying has three main characteristics. The first is that it must be intentional, not an accident or a one-off event. Someone must be causing physical, psychological, social or verbal harm on purpose. The second characteristic is that it is repeated and happens on a systematic basis. An act of aggression that occurs just once does not constitute bullying. The third characteristic is that there must be a difference in power. Some people have more power than others due to their social status, because they are physically stronger or because they are more popular within a group and can use their power to bully those who have less power within the group.

To begin with, you don't really know if a person's actions constitute bullying or not, so you have to be prepared to investigate before you make a decision. You must talk and listen to the alleged victim in order to understand their perspective. Then, you have to speak to everyone involved in the events at issue on both an individual and group basis. Finally, you should try to find some other students who might be able to support the victim. Throughout this process you must focus on the children. You must also collaborate with their families, as it is very important that families are kept well-informed. The message that you're trying to convey is that you need to find solutions together.

Prevention is key as, unfortunately, we often only act when bullying has already occurred. The KiVa program provides lessons and activities throughout the entire year that put a lot of emphasis on developing social and emotional skills such as values and the importance of sharing responsibility. For example, if you witness a dispute, it's your responsibility to help the person who is being mistreated. These lessons help to change attitudes and group dynamics.

All children are different, so it's the parents who are more likely to know if their child is anxious or not. However, if a child is in distress, they often exhibit some kind of change in behavior. For example, it may be cause for concern if your daughter usually loves going to school, but then suddenly doesn't. She may start to lose or break things, or look like she's been having accidents. This could be a sign that something's wrong, but it doesn't always mean bullying is involved. It's a warning sign that you should start to investigate.

It's really important to talk to your children. They might deny they're being bullied because they're afraid or embarrassed and don't want to talk about it. However, it's vital that parents demonstrate that they are fully, 100% on their side. You must reassure them that being bullied is never their fault, as they might think that they're to blame. Nothing justifies bullying. You can practice the types of situations when these types of things happen. You might do this in front of a mirror. You can also work on how to say "no" assertively.

Find out more about Tiina Mäkelä

Tiina Mäkelä has a PhD in educational sciences and is the Director of the KiVa antibullying program for Spain and Latin America. This method, which is backed by the government of Finland, was developed at Turku University based on the recommendations of the researcher Christina Salmivalli. Today, the program is operational in the United States, Europe and South America.
The main ways to combat bullying are

1. Prevention: Teach students, teachers, non-teaching staff and parents how to recognize bullying situations.

2. The school community and the students especially must be involved in trying to find solutions through dialogue and collaboration.

3. Teach children to say 'no' assertively.

4. Change the attitude of the group, especially among those who witness acts of bullying.

5. Promote an environment of shared responsibility and inclusion at both school and home.

6. Help victims by giving them emotional support.

7. Listen to the aggressor and show them that you believe they can change.

8. Most importantly, remind victims that 'they are not alone' and that they must seek help.

"If you are being bullied at school, you must seek help and be aware that you are not the only one who's in this situation. Sometimes, it helps to think about a situation in advance and how you can react to it assertively".

See the full video here.