By Melissa Ford
Last week I sat in a packed auditorium at Mann School watching an anti-bullying assembly called The Power of One. This interactive performance addressed the roles in bullying - bully, target, and bystander, how targets need help from their peers, why kids are encouraged not to be bystanders, and when children should seek help from an adult.
I walked away a little bit more enlightened, and with further clarification from Monica Collins, Mann School’s social worker, I learned the importance of a consistent, clear message to kids that they all have the power to make a difference.
What does bullying look like?
There are three types of bullying: physical, verbal, and cyber. According to Collins, “One thing I see happen is that the term ‘bullying’ is used too often with young children. Bullying is repeated actions by a child with the intention of hurting others. We need to make sure that we have a common definition so we don’t unjustly accuse a child of being a bully when s/he is just having a bad day making a poor choice. Unfortunately, all of us have made bad choices in any given day so we are looking for repeated, purposeful behavior.”
Do kids really have power in bullying situations?
For Collins the highlight of the presentation was empowering kids to take action whether they are targets or bystanders. “Kids often don’t feel like they have power because they don’t know what to do. Bullies rely on bystanders to be powerless either looking away, cheering the bullying on or standing by and simply watching. All children have power and once they know their choices, they can act on them.”
What action can kids take in bullying situations?
Collins makes it very clear to kids that if you are being bullied - walk away! And, if you are a target or bystander you can also follow these simple steps to make a difference:
- Decide if it’s bullying. It is repeated behavior intending to hurt?
- Confront the bully requesting his/her behavior to stop.
- Go to an adult if the bullying does not stop immediately. Report to a teacher, staff, or parent
What other tips does Collins provide kids?
“Children need to understand that if they are not a part of the solution then they are a part of the problem. If you do nothing about bullying, you are contributing to it; you are supporting inappropriate behavior,” Collins points out. “I do whole classroom groups with third graders on character education, bullying, and social skills. It opens up the conversation to discuss topics that are often treated as secrets or taboo. I’ve become more accessible to children, getting notes from them about problems they’ve encountered. I also help with problem solving by asking kids for their ideas or offering suggestions.”
What should parents know about bullying?
Collins wants parents to know that they have a huge role in bullying, too. “It’s essential that parents reinforce the same messages at home. We see it every day at school - kids are getting positive support from home. The school staff are partners with the parents, helping enrich not only the academic environment, but addressing social and emotional needs so kids turn into good citizens who have compassion for others.”
Collins stresses the importance of community. “You can’t have a productive learning environment unless kids feel safe and comfortable and feel a positive connection with the adults/staff at the school. Children have to know that we are here to support them with all their needs and that we care.”