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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Bullying

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I am a mom, a full-time student, and author of a blog called Kindergarten Bullies. I started the blog because my daughter, in pre-K, came home telling a story about her peers actively excluding a girl in her class. She had mentioned other incidents before. I started researching bullying in kindergarten. It turns out from the studies I have found that its prevalence is similar to later grades. This shocked me although, I remember being bullied in kindergarten. I write the blog to increase awareness about bullying, but specifically about bullying in kindergarten. I have a lot of opinions, some not alaways popular. The reason I post here is I would like to hear from educators of smaller children what their response is to bullying. How do they handle it? Is it a problem in the classroom? Or grades 1-3 do you feel some behaviors could be changed if there was increased priming and focus on social learning at early ages. I would love to hear from you. I will not share your information on my blog, unless you say it is alright. I only mentioned it in the interest of full disclosure. I would like to know for my own interest what your experiences are. Thanks for reading and responding! I know teaching is incredibly hard and I thank you for all you do!

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Comments (28)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Ashley's picture

Bullying is a big probelm that starts at a very young age. I enjoy having circle time with my Pre-K class about saying something positive about one another. I believe bullying can be prevented if we teach respect at a younger age.

Jeanne Osgood's picture
Jeanne Osgood
Communications Outreach Coordinator at CASEL

It's important to avoid labeling young children "bully", "victim", etc. These names can stick with kids long after they should. To avoid doing this, it may be useful to help kids learn from their mistakes. If someone has hurt someone by their actions or words, it's time to talk about it and learn how others feel when hurtful things happen. If kids are given a chance to learn, apologize, and be forgiven, they can often grow out of the behavior. Ten to one, a young child who is picking on another student may be being picked on himself/herself too, and may even understand how bad that feels.

Lisa's picture

What is the punishment you use? I'm having a hard time figuring out increments of consequences that are meaningful.

Jane G's picture

I began subbing in 2007 as I worked on my teacher certification, but have been a long time advocate of the education of children. In my opinion, I find an overwhelming number of children coming to school programmed to expect everything to go their way. In short, our children are being spoiled and getting their way is what they know. In school this same mentality exists. Our parents/caregivers may need to look into teaching children a higher sense of empathy, kindness and being allright with not having their way all the time. Also, it seems bullies are not happy with themselves. Time needs to be spent teaching children to love and respect themselves and the differences in others. I don't think a parent/caregiver have to teach agreement for others choices (such as homosexuality) but children can be taught to respect the person and agree to disagree. Parents, educators or anyone who spends a significant amount of time with a child has these responsibilities and their part in ending the cycle of bullying to the degree it is now.

Mary Ellen Bossack's picture
Mary Ellen Bossack
Elementary Counselor

We start in Kindergarten with small group discussions of why we might need to make someone feel small for us to feel big. We stress the role of bystanders in giving the bully more or less power. We spend time with what makes a child want to hurt. We also try to show every child that they may be a bully at times, but that they don't have to do that to feel important. It is difficult because many of our students come from angry homes where parents are suspicious and defensive.
We also use Second Step to help with school and classroom climate.

Loren Brauner's picture
Loren Brauner
Parent of 2E/PG 6th grader in Los Angeles

I'm a very active parent and I'd like to add a few thing to the discussion. First, it's really hard to teach children to be respectful when we adults can be so resentful or bullying in our own lives. I see this basic lack of respect even at district meetings from both ends (see finger pointing above) Teachers do get a lot of blame, for my part I was very careful about finding a school I felt comfortable with and have been deliriously happy with my son's teachers, though I also cringe at some of the people I met at the schools I passed up - regardless of how high their API scores might be.

When I overlay the CST scores on a graph of bullying incidences across grades guess what I see? The years that have more bullying have lower scores. I also think that every generation has it's Columbine because society as a whole does not address the problem with honesty. When we look at the way adults behave in the public and private eye, we cannot be surprised that kids learn this seemingly vital skill at younger and younger ages.

We learn that negative campaign attacks, even if complete lies can win elections. The majority of media shows that humiliating the weak is fun and funny and generates a lot of attention - and this is the basis for much of our entertainment. We may occasionally shake a finger at someone who has gone overboard, but our society lavishly rewards aggressive behavior as long as it is not overtly violent, and in subcultures, even that fence has been torn town. Being nice is perceived as weak, and scoffed. I grew up in the 80's when we celebrated as a culture that "Greed is good" and "Lunch is for wimps."

Now we spend a lot of time hand-wringing conflicting opinions on whether a bully has too much self importance or too low self esteem, but we are still focusing on the bully, putting more and more attention and resources there. We need to stop feeding this beast - stop glorifying all that is bullying (cruel, humiliating, etc.) people bully because it works, it is effective - whether we want to win an election, or get attention, or look cool in front of our friends. Behaviors will persist as long as they are effective. We need to spend a bit of time with the would-be victims.

While we cannot legislate (even in school) that everyone be friends and say only nice things, we can teach students how to stand up to a bully, how to speak back with a clear strong voice, how to not be a victim, what to do when they are targeted. Some lucky kids learn this on their own, but I think by focusing on the bully as someone who is doing something wrong, when they are really behaving exactly as they have learned they need to go get ahead in our culture, we remain out of balance because we are trying to fight a very big message with a very little one.... we need to work to build up the other side. Nobody can bully without a vulnerable target. The more we build up this forgotten variable, the less bullying will occur because it just won't work. I was horribly bullied for all 13 years of school (K-12) because nobody taught me how to respond other than "ignore them and they will stop" but bullying is a self-gratifying activity and ignoring a bully just empowers them that they know they got away with it and will continue to do so, it reinforces that IT WORKS. I kept this in mind when working with my own very shy son and when someone tried to bully him on the playground he was able to laugh in the kid's face. When a boy came around punching all the kids at his lunch table my kid punched back and the bully never came back to his table because he knew that someone there would not tolerate it. My kid is not a bully - but he knows how to stand up for himself and his friends and to not be a victim.

Loren Brauner's picture
Loren Brauner
Parent of 2E/PG 6th grader in Los Angeles

As you've found, it's awkward, if not impossible to legislate attitude, instead, you may want to focus on helping the victims to project a stronger sense of self and learn how to respond to meanness with strength. We have come across some teachers who suggest telling the bully how much it hurts them (duh, that's why they do it) instead coach them on being firm with boundaries.

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