The Smack Down: Preventing Bullying

Bullying is the latest buzz word everywhere. 6 years ago when I started teaching kindergarten, the term “bullying” was never something we needed to discuss as a class. As of late, my students have been coming to kindergarten using the term “bullying” WAY too freely. Student A pinches Student B: “He’s bullying me!” Student A whips their scarf around in the hallway and hits Student B by accident: “Hey! Quit being a bully!”
I agree that bullying has become an ongoing and more prominent problem within recent years, and that has made me focus on certain area in my teaching practice. It’s time teachers took steps to change their teaching to be more proactive rather than reactive when it comes to this subject. Teachers should discuss with their students, ESPECIALLY younger aged students, the difference between a bully and someone who is being mean. Here are the following areas I focus on heavily in my classroom to prevent my students from using such a strong term so loosely.

Talk About Comfortable Feelings vs. Uncomfortable Feelings
Whenever we are doing ANYTHING in the classroom, we talk about comfortable feelings and uncomfortable feelings.

I come into the classroom after recess and see many students on the carpet with their hands to themselves: “Thank you everyone. It gives me very comfortable feelings when I see that people are keeping their hands to themselves while waiting for me to come in from supervision. I feel so happy. Happy is a comfortable feeling.”
I see one student share a book with another student: “Wow Student A, Student B probably had very comfortable feelings that you chose to share the book with them. Sharing makes everyone feel happy. Happy is a comfortable feeling.”
I see a student excited to try a new game: “You look excited to play that game. Excited is a comfortable feeling.”
I see a student hit another student: “You hit Student A. Student A felt angry and upset that you hit them. That gave Student A uncomfortable feelings.”
I hear a student say something hurtful to another student: “You said a hurtful word to Student B that hurt their feelings. Now Student B is feeling sad. Sad is an uncomfortable feeling.”

It’s so important for students to be able to sympathize with the feelings of others so they can fully understand the situation at hand. All people have feelings. Students, pets, grown ups, everyone. It’s ok to have those feelings if something happens but it’s not ok to go around giving those uncomfortable feelings due to “not OK” choices.

Talk about “OK choices” and “Not OK choices”

As a teacher of young learners, this is a fundamental building block for consistent vocabulary in my classroom.
OK choices give people comfortable feelings.
Not OK choices give uncomfortable feelings.
Plain. And. Simple.
“You made the OK choice of telling Student B they needed to get their own piece of paper when they scribbled on your art. You also made the OK choice of getting your feelings under control, keeping your hands to yourself, and keeping your words kind. Your OK choice gave me comfortable feelings.”
“You made the not OK choice of pinching Student B when you wanted a turn with the toy. Your not OK choice made Student B feel angry and upset. Your not OK choice gave Student B uncomfortable feelings.”

If students know the black and white of situations, it makes it much easier for them to process. They’re young! Let’s not complicate things! That’s the reason why I don’t like any of the traffic light systems (red light, yellow light, green light) to discuss feelings. Three choices is too much. I also dislike the “how my engine runs” analogy with young learners. Then they think there is ACTUALLY an engine inside them somewhere. Let’s teach them the REAL stuff. The choices they make are either OK or NOT OK. OK choices give people comfortable feelings. Not OK choices give uncomfortable feelings.

Ask “What Can I Do To Make You Feel Better?”
My good friend Amy and I (@happycampergirl) use this all the time to avoid the lame “I’m sorry” words that students think make everything go away. I always make my student say “I’m sorry” but then make them add “What can I do to make you feel better?” Sorry doesn’t always make everything better. Student answers will surprise you. Answers have been: stop doing that to me, don’t do that next time, help me rebuild my castle, give me a hug, and play with me right now. This lets students know “but I said I’m sorry!” is unacceptable.

Talk About Facial Features
Point them out. Illustrate them. Look closely at pictures. Use peer models. Use teacher models. Do everything you can to point out different facial features associated with different emotions. And don’t forget to insert them into conversations you have with students. I had students who SERIOUSLY didn’t know that tears streaming down someone’s face means they are sad. To me, huge red flag, people.
“When you told Student B that you would play with them at recess, I bet that gave them comfortable feelings. When you said those kind words, Student B had a big smile on their face, their eyes were wide open, and their eyebrows were arched. Have fun!”
“Student B grabbed your block right out of your hand. That made you feel angry and upset. Angry is an uncomfortable feeling. You made the not OK choice of hitting Student B on the arm. When you hit Student B, did you look at their face? The corners of their mouth were turned down, they were frowning, they had tears in their eyes, and their eyebrows were scrunchy. Their face says they are having uncomfortable feelings. Those uncomfortable feelings happened because of your not OK choice.”

Talk About the Difference
We talk about the difference between a bully and someone who is being mean.
A bully is someone who bothers you every single day, seeks you out to bother you, is malicious, and knows they are being mean.
Someone who is being mean is a person who you have had ONE problem or a FEW problems with.
When I explain this to parents, I like to use the grocery store analogy. If you shop at Safeway and you have had 3 customer service issues while getting your groceries, of course you will complain about Safeway. Safeway is the only place you have gone for groceries. Safeway is someone who is being mean. They have given you a few problems, but they didn’t seek you out to give you these problems. The same goes with young kids. Of course they are going to complain about the same kids over and over: they play with each other and gravitate towards each other. They’re also all learning at the same time but at different rates.

These strategies have been very successful for me in my classroom. Being in a preventative mindset has been much more effective for me as a teacher rather than freaking out when one big blow out happens at recess. Consistent vocabulary has been fundamental for communication between me and my students and it also comes in handy when solving situations on the playground with my previous students.

Please know that the intention of this post it to outline what I have been doing in my classroom. I’m not saying bullying doesn’t happen. I’m not saying these strategies will solve everyone’s problems. I’m not saying bullying is happening less frequently. I’m just saying we try together, using strategies we know will work, to improve student communication, to improve students’ awareness of their feelings, and to know the difference between a real bully and age appropriate problems.



1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. faige
    Oct 31, 2013 @ 03:55:05

    Interesting reflections and concepts you shared. Need to think about some of your ideas. I too feel the term “bully and bullying” are used too freely. They do happen but with Ks and younger most of their actions I wouldn’t attribute to bullying.


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