Thursday, January 27, 2011

If a Peer's Being Picked On

In an anti-bullying workshop I recently lead for kids, one of the most common fears expressed about helping a peer who was being picked on was that the tables might be turned on them. Both boys and girls alike were concerned that if they didn't join in or remain silent when someone was being bullied or put down, they might become the target. They felt that intervening would put them at risk.

So we practiced having someone simply stand next to the person being picked on, putting their arm around the person (if comfortable doing so), and walking away together with a word or two of reassurance like, "Hey, don't pay any attention to what they were saying. It wasn't true at all."

Subtle acts can make a big difference. Did you know that when peers intervene to help someone being picked on, the bullying stops in less than 10 seconds 51% of the time. Pretty powerful stuff. So if your kids are afraid to say anything to the person who's bullying, encourage them instead to offer some gesture of support to the person being picked on. That's what upstanders do, and the more upstanders out there, the less bullying we'll see.


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Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Poem to Build Peace and Understanding

I just got a very special e-mail from a teacher who started every single day with this poem. She said it helped set the tone for the day. I hope you find it helpful too. May it build acceptance and kindness among your kids.


I am an individual.
I have dignity and worth.
I am unique.
I deserve respect
and I respect others.
I am part of the human family.
I have something special
to offer the world.
I am committed to
a peaceful world for all of us.
I make a difference,
and so do you.
I can accomplish 
whatever I set out to do,
and so can you.
I am the key to peace. 

From Learning the Skills of Peacemaking by Naomi Drew
Permission to reprint for classroom use.

What Do You Think? To leave a comment, click on the word “comments” (ignore the number that precedes it). Write your comment in the box, then click on “Select profile . . .” If the top group of options doesn’t apply to you, select “Name/URL” to comment with your name (you can leave the URL part blank), or select “Anonymous.”

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Call for Civility

In his eloquent speech following the Arizona shootings President Obama made a moving plea for civility. Civility is an absolute must, but we need to up the ante and add kindness and compassion to this plea. Our divisive culture with its hate-filled rhetoric and antipathy toward those considered to be “the other” provided a ripe setting for an off-balance person with an ax to grind. An atmosphere of hate can only fuel the fires of hatred, and can become the conduit that allows violent thought to become violent action.

A nine year-old child was killed in the Arizona shootings. We cannot afford to lose any more young lives, either to the violence of a madman with anti-government rage, or to suicide sparked by the cruelty of peers, as witnessed in the deaths of more than five students in the past year.

To prepare young people to function as responsible members of a democratic society, it’s essential that they learn to treat all people with decency and respect, including those who are different or have divergent points of view. Recent events and those of the past year show that we have little time to waste.

The language of hate has no place in our society, be it in the halls of government or in the schoolyard. Kids need positive role models, and right now, they have very few.
Our schools must become safe havens against the hatred that runs rife in our society, places that are antithetical to hatred, violence and bullying.

In order to build a culture of civility, kindness, and acceptance we must be proactive. It’s absolutely essential for kids to learn that cruelty and violence are abhorrent, and we’re not going to accomplish this by just paying lip service. Respect, kindness, and acceptance must be integrated into the very fabric of learning. Imagine teachers across the United States taking time each week to teach lessons that foster civility, compassion and respect, having kids role play being “upstanders” for those who are mistreated. Imagine kids becoming completely accustomed standing up for others in real life because they’ve not only had lots of practice through role play, but because it’s what their school climate and their society supports. Imagine violence and cruelty becoming anathema.

When I went to school it was cool to smoke. Then, after years of anti-smoking campaigns, kids finally got the message that smoking isn’t cool at all – in fact, it’s damaging. Imagine this happening with cruelty, violence, and bullying. Think about a future where kids see a classmate trying to humiliate a peer, and instead of joining in or looking the other way, they step in and help. And imagine all the social capital going to the upstanders rather than the kids who are mean.

Well, I’ve seen it happen. Schools I’ve consulted with and many others have created climates where kindness is “in”, “cruelty “out.” By expecting kindness, compassion, and respect and settling for no less, we give kids the message that this is what’s valued most, and research tells us that what adults value holds a lot of weight in the eyes of children.

In a national survey I ran, 80% of the kids surveyed wanted to learn how to deal with conflict, violence, anger, and bullying. Kids want our help. They want to live in an atmosphere of peace and respect. We can make this happen if we make it a priority, and kids are depending on us to make it a priority now. It’s high time to move toward greater civility, less violence, and less cruelty. We must listen to this need before the tide turns so far in the wrong direction that there’s no turning back.