By Melissa Ford
Have you ever meet someone who is passionate about helping kids, and you wonder where your passion for parenting has gone? After speaking with Kila Bell-Bey, Irving School’s social worker, it dawned on me that instead of constantly fixing or correcting our kids, we could do what Bell-Bey does - Empower them! Over the past 13 years, Bell-Bey’s empowerment techniques have grown as District 97 has proactively taken on the problem of bullying. An enthusiastic advocate of “giving kids a voice,” Bell-Bey offers great suggestions for guiding kids in their social-emotional development.
Continual Character Education: How many times do I have to tell you how to behave? Have you ever uttered those words to your child? Kila Bell-Bey says the key is “reeducation” and starting when your kids are young. She believes in talking to kids in their own language so they can easily understand. “A lot of times adults just assume kids should know how to behave, but that really isn’t the case,” Bell-Bey explains. “I like to give examples, show pictures of appropriate behaviors, have kids discuss what being respectful means, how to be responsible. I even get them to role-play, which allows children to come up with unique solutions to problems I never would have envisioned.”
Keep-Your-Finger-On-The-Pulse: Bell-Bey admits keeping her “finger-on-the-pulse” at Irving is simple because her office is strategically positioned next to the playground. Looking through her windows, she watches children’s interactions and if she needs to intervene, she does. But, her focus isn’t on “What’s wrong with you?” instead she connects by inquiring, “Tell me what’s going on? I want to understand.” Staying connected applies to parenting as well, Bell-Bey reflects. “With my own three kids, I try to stay in touch with who they are hanging out with, what happened in school that day, and to know what is going on in their lives. It’s an ongoing process.”
Bell-Bey’s Advice On Bullying:
Speak Out: Bullying or any problem children may encounter requires them to speak out. “I advise children about the difference between ‘tattling’ and ‘reporting.’ Tattling is going to an adult to get someone else in trouble and reporting to an adult is to help someone who’s in trouble,” Bell-Bey remarks. “I tell kids that if you don’t let the adults know - we can’t help you. Here at Irving, we want everyone to know we are watching their behavior and we expect certain conduct. Clear expectations is critical.”
Develop a Trusting Rapport: Kids know who they can trust. If you are willing to really listen without judgment, kids will come to you because they feel comfortable. Bell-Bey explains, “When I work with small groups and the topic is bullying, often kids come up to me later that day and want to tell me their own experiences around bullying. I love moments like this because it gives kids the green light to speak out and be heard.”
Sidekicks and Bystanders: Bell-Bey says in order for kids to be empowered in bullying situations, they need to understand there is more to bullying then just a bully and a victim. “We educate kids (and so should parents) about sidekicks, who are the bully’s inner circle. These kids encourage and egg on the bully, supporting his/her efforts. Kids also need to know about bystanders,” she continues. “These are the kids that just want to get through the day and stay out of the bully’s way. We empower bystanders to speak out on behalf of victims so we can change the culture in our school. We are all in this together.”
The Bully: I’m surprised when Bell-Bey tells me that kids don’t always know they are a bully. “Some kids are very aggressive going after what they want. I have great discussions with overly aggressive kids. I ask them ‘Why do you think your classmates have a problem with your behaviors?’ Sometimes kids need to reflect on what they are doing and the consequences of their actions in order to really understand and begin to change.”
Kila Bell-Bey’s Focus: It’s not just about academics, but it’s about our kids’ social-emotional competency. Strong relationships, caring for yourself and others, understanding appropriate behavior - requires clear expectations, staying connected, ongoing education and most importantly, giving our children a voice.
Personally, I’m grateful to Kila Bell-Bey, who reminds me that raising my children is about empowering my children.