Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

If each one of us untangled one string at a time...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Little Upstanders Make a Big Difference

Bullying prevention is complicated.  Sometimes it seems that it's bigger than all of us but it's not insurmountable.  We have an untapped army out there.  If we start training bystanders to start stepping up from an early age, we've got a shot at creating safe and caring school climates.

Read on.  We can learn from the pint-sized upstanders in this story.

I was talking to a mom of a six-year old yesterday.  Believe it or not, her first grader has been on the receiving end of true bullying behavior since Pre-K.  Everything from emotional manipulation to punching and kicking.

She admitted that in Pre-K her daughter was "a biter."  She didn't feel she could address this situation appropriately in Pre-K because she had to work on her own daughter first.  (Don't you love honest and realistic parents?) She was also a teacher before having children so she knew that what you do at home directly affects how a child acts in school.

Seems as if her own child matured beyond the biting stage but another little girl in her class didn't.  Now that they are in first grade, her little girl had already been this other girl's target for two years.  Once a light-hearted child ready and willing to go to school, my friend's daughter was having stomach aches.

The mom went to the teacher many times and although the teacher promised to keep an eye on it, the problem continued.  Like many bullying incidents, most of them were being done behind the teacher's back.

This seemed like a hopeless situation.  My friend was projecting a long and miserable school experience for her daughter.

The teacher was beginning to treat my friend like one of those moms.  She and the counselor started to blame the problem on her daughter being too sensitive.  (As my friend pointed out, anyone becomes sensitive after being mistreated for two years.)

What turned this bad situation around?  The little upstanders in the classroom.  Without "tattling," the other classmates set the teacher straight.  They told the teacher the truth.   Everything that my friend's child was trying to communicate to the teacher and counselor was true.

Then the principal stepped in.  She took the 6 year-olds at their word and the little girl was suspended for a few days. They're working on a strategy for the rest of the school year and next year.

Encouraging Our Little Bystanders To Be Upstanders  

Number One:  Make sure they know the difference between tattling and reporting.  The first is something you do to get someone in trouble; the second is telling the truth to make sure someone doesn't get hurt (emotionally or physically.)

Number Two:  Children know how to manipulate their parents.  Make sure they know that "telling" on a sibling or friend isn't cool if it's solely to get their brother, sister or friend in trouble.  Telling you about something that will be helpful to correct a situation is very different and should be encouraged.  (If you have siblings, I don't need to explain any further.  Most of us let a little jealousy get the best of us when we were kids.  That "green-eyed monster" is part of growing up but it needs to be called out.)

Number Three:  Catch them in the act of doing something good.  The children in that first grade class should be complimented for stepping up.  Of course, not at the cost of hurting their classmate's feelings (kids shouldn't be labeled as "bullies") but because they told the truth and it helped the situation.

Principals, teachers and counselors should be trained in nurturing little "upstanders."  It's called leadership.

Leadership is the anti-bully.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Parents and Children: Lessons on Leadership from Boston

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Fred Rogers
Boston.  Poor Boston. Poor parents trying to explain this to their children, especially after Newtown.

I am truly empathetic because, as a family living in New York, one of the hardest things about 9/11 was trying to steady myself so I could help my four children.

As a child, I was terrified about communism.  Truly terrified.  I didn't share how scared I was with my parents because everyone else seemed ok.  My seven siblings played and my parents went to their usual parties.  I, meanwhile, was convinced that communists, dressed in black, of course, would come in by boat (we lived on Lake Michigan) and would crawl up our yard from the beach and storm the house.  The Cuban Missile Crisis was probably what inspired my terror.  It's difficult to know how kids are affected by the news.

I understand how hard it is to be traumatized by the awful events this week in Boston and then help your kids with their fears.  It's the kids who don't say how scared they are that you might be worrying about most.

Here's a simple lesson I learned: Be active in the recovery.  When awful things like this happen, it can paralyze you and make it even harder to parent.

Kids also need to witness your empathy and strength and then be given a chance to practice leadership.   It can be as simple as drawing pictures or writing letters to the victims or their families or making a meal for someone who was somehow affected.   It can also be helping your child's school with some type of outreach campaign.  Let them help you.   Kids need to know that we can make things better even in small ways.  It gives them hope.

In hindsight, there probably wasn't a need for the thousands of pairs of socks or face masks that I helped my children's elementary school collect after 9/11 but it gave families a reason to snap out of their shock and do something.  More importantly, their kids were now shopping with them, away from the television and engaged in something positive and getting their power back.

I'm not a child psychologist but I'll tell you why I know this is important.  I was in an awkward position the Monday after the World Trade Center bombing.  I had some checks for the Red Cross that I had collected and I just wanted to deliver it to the principal and then "try to get back to normal (ha!)."  Since I lived across the street, I risked just throwing on sweats and running over to the school. No shower. No makeup. I don't think I even really had combed my hair.  (All things that I should have known better but I think a lot of moms can relate to that split second decision..."I won't run into anyone.  I'll just run in and out.")

The school secretary said the principal was in the gym.  What she didn't tell me was that she was holding an assembly for the 500+ students.  The principal was struggling.  It was eery because the kids weren't acting like kids.  They looked like little zombies.  Stunned and silent.  None of the usual squirming or smiles or bright eyes.

Mrs. Macula asked me to say something.  I'm thinking, "Are you kidding me?"  At that time, I was also afraid to do any public speaking and on top of that, I'm aware that I'm not looking much like an authority figure...and two of my kids are in the audience.

I literally prayed.  Please let me say something that will help.

I swear I had no control over the words coming out of my mouth.  I simply said,

You've already made things better.  There's evil in the world but you're good.  There are more good people than bad. 

I could literally feel the mood change in the gym.  As I was leaving the building, a young girl stepped up to me and said, "Mrs. Raisch, that was a good speech."

If it was comforting, I can't take any credit.  I'm being honest when I say that I was panicked but to this day, I'm grateful for those words.  All the kids had heard about for nearly a week was that people can be evil.

Kids can be reminded during these horrible times that they are leaders and they have power.  The smallest thing or person has the power to make things better.

Fred Rogers' mother knew the same thing.

God Bless You, Boston.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Everyone Needs a "Blocker": Leadership Lessons from Nebraska

Friendship.  It's a life saver.

I've been lucky.  I've had many friends but I've also gone through times in my life when people who I thought were my friends were somehow absent when I really needed one.

I've also had the situation when people who I didn't think I knew well, stepped up and really showed genuine friendship.  These are the unexpected "blockers" in our life.

The Nebraska football team is a great example of what we can all be -- people who offer an assist with enthusiasm.

Imagine if everyone, including and especially kids,  had this magical thing called support.

Be the magic today for someone who secretly needs a "blocker" but doesn't know how to ask.

Leadership is the anti-bully.