- Join Hands to Stop Bullying – jdurham
Bullying hurts – no matter whether it’s physical or emotional! It may happen around a variety of issues: race, religion, school cliques, clothes, social class, sports teams, or the recent bullying of youths perceived as gay which led to tragic suicides. School years can be quite painful for anyone who is a bit different. There is a vital need to develop methods which include but go beyond standing up and befriending the victims and diverting the situation.
When Bullying Occurs on the Playground
When a child comes to an adult and reports another for any bully-type behaviors, I listen carefully and then call them both together. I often start with an old method used in baseball:
- I have them stand one on each side of me in a triangular formation.
- I put one of my hands out.
- Then I say, “Put a hand on mine” to one of them.
- After that happens, I put my other hand on top of their hand, and say the same to the other child.
- Then I move my bottom hand to the top quickly and invite the new bottom hand to the top.
- At that point, they usually need no prompting and it picks up speed and the hand on the bottom keeps moving to the top. Sometimes laughter even erupts, and usually crying stops for sure.
- When a degree of relaxing has occurred, I stop and ask them to look at each other and at me. This is the time we are ready to talk meaningfully, as defenses are down a bit and a conversation can start.
Conversation Which Can Heal and Prevent Further Bullying
I continue to insist on some degree of eye contact. If it fails, we go back to the hands activity and try again. (I’ve never had it fail at this point.) I explain what I see and give each a time to talk while looking at each other.
At this time the perpetrator may start denying and arguing, and I state assertively that I am not going to argue. Someone is hurt, and we are here to help. Here is where denial often can change into insight on the part of the bullying child. I directly show respect to them, and ask them how they might help us fix the problem, or help make it better. Sometimes I give a couple of easily doable choices like getting a wet rag, carrying something for them, or even bringing a drink to the child who has been offended or hurt unfairly.
While the offender is off getting the wet rag, etc. I continue to give positive attention to the victim, bragging on them and expressing confidence in their assertive behavior, since that can at times help prevent their being bullied. Besides that, comforting them is important, and letting them know there are people in the world who care for them is vital.
It’s amazing how successful this can be. When cornered in this rather friendly way – I call it carefrontation – the bullying child is able to be a part of the solution rather than the problem. (Think of how important it is to change the mindset of the offender to that of a helper rather than a hurter! This is a win win which offers hope to both parties.) Just remember learning social skills is like mastering multiplication in that it takes lots of patient repetition. So don’t give up.
Usually a bit of additional reassurance and a hug or two for the child who was victimized, as well as a positive reminder of how good it is to fix a problem and help anyone who is hurt, goes a long way toward making both of them ready for a sincere apology and acceptance. Here is where I ask the offending child to apologize for any real or perceived hurt, with eye contact and sincerity. Some may only be able to say, “I’m sorry you are hurt” or “Can I do anything else to help?” I usually ask the offended child if the apology is accepted.
We end with the hands activity again. It all takes less than five minutes, and goes a long way toward helping the offender not develop an identity so often seen in older bullies. Notice I avoid use of the word “bully” opting instead for bullying behaviors or acting like a bully. That’s because many can be kept from crossing over into that negative identity if dealt with in love and prevention. I also try to model that with students, along with using positive peer pressure and giving attention to the act of solving social problems.
When bullying happens on the playground or elsewhere, teachers and other adults can have a profound effect on the future of both children. By using a carefrontation technique rather than just a punishment model, the adults can help prevent further bullying while teaching empathy and self respect to both parties. In honor of the parents who have lost their children to suicide, and people who have had to grow up in an environment where bullies rule, it is time to rise to the occasion and develop methods which help children learn to live with diversity and overcome bullying behaviors!
No one method will work for all children and all situations. Some children will need other methods, even including counseling and consequences. This is not meant to solve all problems, but instead be a first line of defense against developing habits of bullying behaviors. However, don’t underestimate the value of teaching kindness.