Friday, 8 August 2014

Bullying? Pondering for the New School Year

When we even say the word, we may conjure up past experiences, we think about something we have read in the news, we may cry for the pain of our own children.

Reading Stuart Shanker's Calm, Alert and Learning gives credence to the fact that children need to learn empathy.  Without empathy we have bullies.  Unless a child learns to care about someone else's emotions, learns to help others deal with their emotions, and learns to distinguish between theirs and someone else's emotions can result in emotional and related psychological and behavioural problems such as bullying (p. 95).

A google search reveals this definition for bullying:
  1. 1.
    a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.
    synonyms:persecutor, oppressortyrant, tormentor, intimidator; 
  1. 1.
    use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.
    "a local man was bullied into helping them"

Shanker states that many psychologists believe that empathy is a core temperament trait and it plays a key role in a child's prosocial development (p.99).  Without empathy a child cannot even imagine how another child may feel should he/she make fun of her or get rough with her.  Children need to do more than communicate; they need to understand another's intentions, attitudes, desires, fears and so on.  In other words, they often co-regulate one another to create a harmonious relationship. Without this ability and an underlying lack of empathy, a child can become a bully. Without the ability to self-regulate in the prosocial domain, or fit in with the larger group or one on one, bullying can become the norm for some children.  If a child cannot empathize, it becomes easier to persecute, tyrannize, threaten, harass and so on.

Shanker provides the following table for teachers to distinguish between play-fighting and bullying:

Play Fighting                                                                         Bullying

-positive facial expressions (eg. smiling)                                  -negative facial expressions (eg angry looks)
-voluntary participation                                                           -involuntary participation
-alternated roles (eg being chased, then being                          -fixed roles (being either the aggressor or the
the chaser)                                                                            victim always)
-tempered force                                                                     -aggressive force
-children stay together after playing                                         -children separate after an encounter
                                                                                                      (p. 96)

These distinctions can help us in the classroom to determine if bullying is indeed happening.  Important to be able to do because we hear the word "bully" for many different interactions in the classroom and on the playground.

How to bully proof your classroom?  Do you need a program?  Or do we need to ensure our students are having opportunities to learn to be empathetic.  Do we offer discussion times about how the other person might feel?  Classroom meetings can be an excellent moment to learn about the perspective of classmates. Can we offer book studies and discuss the feelings of characters?  A few ideas are offered here. Or do you use a program such as Roots of Empathy?  This innovative program uses a new baby in the classroom to help students learn about empathy. A parent and baby visit the classroom every three weeks and children observe the baby and label its feelings.  It has met with positive results.

I would love to hear other ideas to promote empathy in the classroom that resulted in less bullying.  What do you do as a teacher?

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