Thursday, June 30, 2011

7 Steps to Bully-Proofing Kids

According to White House estimates, over 13 million kids are bullied across the U.S. each year, so it’s important to take pro-active steps. For parents, teachers, counselors, grandparents, group leaders, and anyone else with a child in your life, here seven steps to help you “bully-proof” the kids you love and care about:

1. Teach them to value their self-worth. Every child needs to know they don't have to look, act, dress, learn, or be like everyone else to be worthy of respect. Affirm their talents, strengths, and competencies so they can always remember who they are at the core, regardless of what anyone else says or does.

2. Teach them that they never have to tolerate cruel behavior. Sadly, kids who are bullied often believe they deserve it. They wonder if there’s something inherently wrong with them that causes the bullying. Teach them that bullying is more about the person who bullies than the recipient of it. And let them know that under no circumstances should they ever allow someone to purposely humiliate, threaten, shun, or harm them. If that happens, it’s critical that they seek the well-deserved support of someone who cares about them.

3. Teach them that asking for help isn’t tattling. Too often kids avoid telling adults they’ve been bullied because they believe that would be “snitching.” For whatever reason, there’s an unspoken taboo against “telling” among too many kids. Let them know they have the right to be emotionally and physically safe under all circumstances, and if someone violates that right, they have the right to ask for help.

They also need to know that if the bullying continues they need to keep asking support until it stops.

4. Teach them to avoid kids who are “trouble.” Sometimes our kids put themselves at risk by seeking the approval or friendship of kids who mistreat them. Tell them, "If someone doesn't like you, there's someone else who does.” As long as they have one person they consider a friend, that may be enough.

5. Teach them how to stand tall, look someone in the eyes, and say, "Stop," without whining, crying, or looking scared. Rehearse this with them so they can develop the ability to assertively stand up to someone who tries to bully them -- even if they’re shaking inside. Then, go on to Step 6.

6. Teach them how to walk away with pride. They don't have to stand there and take it if someone's directing mean words or actions at them. Role play with them how to stand tall with head held high, and walk away from someone who's trying to put them down. Walking away in this manner is a sign of strength, not weakness, and it takes the wind out of the person who's trying to gain power over you.

7. Keep the doors of communication open at all times, and take time to talk with them every day. That way, they'll be more likely to come to you if someone's bullying them, rather than withdrawing in shame and silence.

By the way, for the latest on what you need to know about cyberbullying, click here. 

Every child deserves to be respected.

What Do You Think? To leave a comment, e-mail or 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.”

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bullying and Conflict: Turning Things Around

Any teacher who’s ever had a class filled with bullying and conflict knows the challenge and frustration of getting through each day. Emily Voelkel of Houston Texas, is one such teacher. Faced with a 4th grade class who were at each others' throats continuously, Emily summoned up massive doses of determination, creative energy, and heart to deal with the problem head-on. She decided to use No Kidding About Bullying as her foundation for turning things around. What follows are her words, filled with so many creative (an moving!) ideas, I had to pass them on to you.

Emily's Words:

Your book is a godsend for teachers. I have passed it around among the people I know and will continue to do so. Teachers have so little time to pull a lesson together, and your book does it all. It even gives the exact words to say and ready-made worksheets. Not only did it help me focus, but it allowed me to be able to spend more time preparing for the kids. 

Before starting the book with my kids, I asked them to respond to these questions:

- How do you feel when you come to school?
- How do you treat your classmates/friends/teachers? How do they treat you?
- How do you feel at the end of the school day when you go home?

Here are some of the things they wrote:

"I feel depressed, sad and angry."
"This class is so mean. I don’t have friends.I just want to die."
 "Sometimes I wish I wasn’t even born because of the way I’m being treated."
 "Save me."
 "When I leave school, I feel very relieved that this nightmare is over."
 "Everyone hates everyone. I want it to be where everyone loves one another. It will feel better that way."

I put their words into a powerpoint presentation, then I gathered them in a room, turned the lights down, and read aloud their words. At the end, I played “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” had them join hands in a circle, and I gave each student a hug. I asked if they were with me as a team player in creating a more peaceful place every day, and they all responded “yes.” Some were in tears because they had never experienced anything like this before.

After that I worked hard to teach as many of the lessons as I possibly could. Because they were a difficult group, I had to intersperse the lessons with many, many hands on projects:

  • We took clay and formed a peace sign, let it dry and painted it. 
  • We made similar sculptures with wax. 
  • We painted pictures that represented a peaceful place. 
  • We made peace signs with beads and I melted them together with an iron at night. 
  • We made a peace pledge banner and they stamped it with their hands with paint. 
  • Every morning, I chose four students who were willing to step up to the plate and be a leader of peace for the day. They’d put on peace t-shirts I made them, and then I would say their peace pledge in the form of questions. They had to answer, "I do" after each statement.

Another project was picking a name out of a hat, then drawing a picture of something that person is good at doing, wrapping it in wrapping paper with a bow, and giving it to that person along with a note affirming their talent. 

I also had my kids choose a feeling: happy, sad, angry, depressed, excited. They drew a portrait of a person with one of those feelings. Then I asked them to think about what they would say to a student with that feeling if they saw them in the hallway. I typed their responses and we pasted each one on the portraits. All the portraits went on a banner that we displayed.

I’m telling you all of this because as I read your book I was inspired to do so many things to bring the message home for my kids. I had students write to me asking if they could be the leader for the day. Every student begged to wear the t-shirt. On the playground, they used win/win to discourage their friends from bullying and, instead, work out their problems with each other. When they witnessed my frustration, they reminded me to breathe! I had a large banner that read, “This is what we are doing to create a peaceful Houston!” The students wrote all over the banner messages about the way their friends, teachers, and staff were creating peace. We posted it outside of the cafeteria. 

For the last week of school, I wrote a peacemaking presentation for my fourth grade students to perform for the 2nd and 3rd graders. We gave 3 performances that week. Administration, parents and the counselor came to see it as well. The room was decorated with all the artwork and sculptures that we made. I awarded students at the end who had always been good peacemakers and those who had improved the most.

The principal gave me a card thanking me for my efforts and the kids were excited about what they had learned. The kids learned good lessons and it made them start to think about how harmful their words can be to each other. It also gave them hope that they can work out their problems at school and at home. They started to understand that a school can be a peaceful place and that they can be instruments of change. 

Thank you, Emily, for sharing all of this! I know your story will give hope and encouragement to every teacher who has ever struggled with a class that can't seem to get along.

With creativity and heart, it's possible to turn things around.

What Do You Think? To comment, e-mail, or click on the word “comments.”.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.”

Monday, June 6, 2011

Getting a Jump on the New Anti-Bullying Law

I just spent two days working with staff and students at Veteran's Memorial School in Union City, NJ, where dynamic principal, Catalina Tomargo, decided to start now in preparing her school for New Jersey's Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, set to go into effect on September 1, 2011. One of the most comprehensive in the nation, this law requires that all New Jersey schools have programs and procedures in place to address and prevent bullying for the coming school year.

We started by looking at the issues of conflict, anger, and name-calling, then we started exploring ways to get kids involved in school-wide sustainable efforts to stamp out bullying, which we'll continue to address in the fall.

After working with teachers, I visited many of the classes where we discussed the devastating impact of mean words and malicious put-downs. The kids spoke with great honesty, and admitted that no matter who you are, being called mean names cuts to the core. Many said that being the target of mean words made them feel humiliated, depressed, angry, and more. The pain in many of their faces was visible as they spoke.

We also talked about how important it is for every single one of us to be part of the solution to bullying and mean behavior. This is critical, especially in light of new data suggesting that one of the keys to reducing bullying in schools is making kids part of the solution. I'll be writing more about this in my next post.

Taking the bull by the horns, staff and students at Veteran's Memorial are already taking steps to reduce bullying and mean behavior for the upcoming year. Here are some of the wonderful anti-bullying posters the kids made to kick things off:

by Jean and Neurys

By Mayra and Kiara

What is your school doing to reduce bullying? To comment, e-mail or click on the word “comments” below. 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.”