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Frontpage News 2017 Dealing with bullying: How they made parents responsible

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By using creative approaches to counter bullying, an EEA Grants project in Croatia aims to create a safe environment for children and parents to share their own experiences Photographer: FMO / Maria Knoph Vigsnaes

Dealing with bullying: How they made parents responsible

  • Behind every bully are the parents. Should they be held accountable for their children’s bullying? An organisation in Croatia thinks so. Read how they attack the increasing problem of bullying.

    They call it the Children’s House. The tall, yellow house squeezed in between the other grey buildings.  

    We are in the Borovje District in the outskirts of Zagreb, Croatia. You can hear the laughter of the playing children from across the road, in stark contrast to what we are there to talk about.

    Violence and bullying is a problem among children in Croatia. There is a clear need for more monitoring and new methods,” says project leader Jelena Tomic from the non-profit organisation Brave Phone.

    Would like to hold the parents accountable

    Words can be as hurtful as a blow. This is spelled out in big black letters above the entrance. A nationwide survey from 2016 shows that one in three children in Croatia are involved in bullying. The project “Protect children by strengthening children, parents and experts in the local community”, funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA Grants, aims to do something about this.

    bully1 Project leader Jelena Tomic believes it is vital to involve children, parents, experts and schools to deal with bullying. She is pictured outside the Children’s House in Zagreb. Photo: Maria Knoph Vigsnæs/FMO

    Why do children bully? Behind every bully are the parents. We would like to make them accountable and involve them in specially designed activities and counselling. Many parents were initially reluctant: “Why do we have to go along? Isn’t it enough for the children to be there?” But in the end, it meant a lot to them to come here,” Jelena tells us.

    Close collaboration with the local schools allowed the teachers to become aware of children who need a bit of extra care. Subsequently, the Children’s House sets up and arranges activities, workshops and individual counselling for children with violent behaviour as well as their parents.

    “If a boy hits you, what do you do? We have dealt with the issues of feelings, empathy and anger. The children discuss how different actions can alter the outcome of a situation,” says Jelena.  

    bully3 At the Children’s House in Zagreb, they’re using new methods to get to grips with bullying. The walls are covered in murals that illustrate bullying and exclusion. Photo: Maria Knoph Vigsnaes/FMO

    When the bullies are bullied

    He’s a little shy. His gaze is distrustful when he reluctantly arrives at the Children’s House. He doesn’t want to join in on any of the activities. But after two weeks, something changes.

    The project leader tells us that several children made an impression over the course of the project, and highlights one boy in particular. 

    “After two weeks, he began to open up and talk about his own experiences. It turned out that he’d been bullied too, and he reacted with aggressive behaviour,” says Jelena.

    The boy describes a difficult family situation: his mum and dad fight – there are constant arguments. The other boys in the group support him, recognise his experiences.

    The mother came for counselling and admitted that they were having trouble dealing with their son’s behaviour. The boy came daily to take part in activities. A shy, aggressive boy was transformed into a sensitive, friendly child,” says Jelena. 

    Read about a project that puts tripartite collaboration and social dialogue on the agenda in Croatia.

    No research on why children hit each other

    Programme specialist Goran Momcilovic, from the Union for the Development of Civil Society in Croatia, explains that they are aware of the increasing problem of bullying.

    “A nationwide survey shows that 37 percent of all pupils have hit a fellow-pupil, but there isn't any research to show what their concrete reasons for hitting people are – it’s a complex subject. It is important that organisations like Brave Phone, which has ample experience in this field, to do preventative work,” says Goran.

    Through the project, 16 parents have received counselling from psychologists. The project leader believes the key has been creating a friendly and colourful environment free from stigma – without the institutional atmosphere.

    We are very conscious of the way we deal with the children; if we say “we’ll be talking about feelings and self-image here”, nobody will come,” says Jelena.

    bully4 Colours, laughter and learning are the hallmarks of the Children’s House in Zagreb. Through acting, group tasks and drawing activities, children with violent behaviour are trained to analyse how they can handle different situations that arise due to aggressiveness and anger. Photo: Maria Knoph Vigsnæs/FMO

    The project is financed through the Croatian NGO Programme. The aim of the programme is to strengthen civil society and vulnerable groups in society. The project ran from autumn 2015 to August 2016, and while some parents were skeptical in the beginning, considerable progress has already been made:  

    “They appreciate guidance on how to set boundaries and express authority. Contact with parents with similar experiences is important to them. The children explains that it is vital to learn how to deal with conflict and what to do when they feel angry or sad,” Jelena tells us.

    Read about the successful No Hate Speech campaign in Croatia.

    What did the Children’s House achieve during the project?

    • During the project period, the Children’s House arranged weekly activities for 150 children aged 4-18
    • All the activities were led by 50 volunteers with a background in social work or psychology

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  • Country:


    Project title:

    Strengthening children, parents and experts in local community for protection of children

    Project number:


    Priority sector:

    Civil Society


    € 19352



    Project promoter:

    Brave Phone

    Type of Institution:

    Other type of NGO

    Project duration:

    11 months

    Project cost:

    € 22,141

    Grant from:

    EEA Grants

    The project responds to the needs of children for quality, innovative, inspiring and creative activities in which they would engage in their free time, but it also includes activities depending on their specific needs. The aim of the project is the involvement of children, parents and professionals in activities that will contribute to the reduction of violent behaviour in children and the improvement of the skills of non-violent conflict resolution. Activities are promoting a creative approach to children's rights, tolerance and mutual cooperation among various members of the local community. The additional value of the project is the involvement of volunteers in direct work with children, where they will have the opportunity to acquire new skills through continuous education and supervisory support. Through this project, it is expected to empower the local community and the children’s quality of life through enhanced skills, knowledge and behaviour models of other children, parents and professionals. Children are the beneficiaries of this project’s activities, but they also have an active role in various interactive activities through which they contribute to their position and status in the community. It is expected to include 190 children from the local community, 15 parents and 20 professionals in the project activities.