September/ October 1999 - Volume 2 - Issue 7
Keeping Schoolyards Safe From BulliesPsychologists design a program for tormented children look out for themselves. By Nathan Sappa - Monitor Staff A publication of the American Psychological Association
It's natural for parents to want to protect their children from a school yard bully. But psychologist Carla Garrity, Ph.D, knew things had gotten out of hand when one child's mother - frustrated with her school's inaction - began hiding behind a shed on the school grounds, waiting to catch a bully when he picked on her child, then tuning him in.
This may sound ludicrous, but not to the parent of a tormented child, said Garrity, who specializes in school-related work as a part of her private practice in Denver. Every day, 160,000 children miss school for fear of being bullied, the National Association of School Psychologists estimates.
In a continuing-education workshop at APA's 1996 Annual Convention, Garrity and tow colleagues described a system for 'bully-proofing' and elementary school.
The researchers had reviewed literature on aggression, conflict resolution and violence in schools, and matched it with their own observations that social-skills training in the classroom wasn't helpiing children ward off bullies, said psychologist William Porter, PhD., associate director of student achievement services at the Cherry Creek School District in Englewood, Colorado. So the psychologists developed a program that also taught children skills for defusing tense situations, created an 'umbrella' of bully-proofing concepts sucha s a 'caring majority' in the school and exposed bullying - without naming names - by putting such behavior out in the open as a topic of classroom brainstorming sessions. In the process, they created a new school norm - that bullying was not cool. "Beforehand, the norm was set by fear and silence, " Porter said. "Now it's set by caring and speaking out."
The result: Bullies lost their position of dominance, victims became less vulnerable
and gained self-esteem, and teachers learned conflict resolution skills. Parents,
especially those of the victims, felt better about security at school, Porter said.
To start the bully-proofing program, the researchers held brainstorming sessions in classrooms, asking children to describe bullying behavior. Then the children drew pictures of these incidents.
Boys drew scenes of physical aggression and big, menacing bullies. The bullying extended to extortion and intimidation.
Girls drew bullies delivering verbal assaults such as, "Your hair is too long" or "Look at her gross dress." Female bullies play on social alienation by excluding victims, making ethnic slurs and setting a victim up to look foolish, the researchers found.
In the intervention, children made their drawings into "No-Bullying posters that they placed around the school. Meanwhile, teachers and school counselors held other sessions, such as a program to help newcomers find friends and avoid being loners. The team offered support and mobilized a "caring majority" in the school children whose exemplary behavior in empathetic situations was rewarded.
Bullies do well when allowed to rechannel their power, such as becoming active in safety patrol, says Kathryn Jens, PhD. A school psychologist at the Cherry Creek School District. In one incident, school officials heard that a fifth-grader was terrorizing kindergartners and first-graders. A school counselor took the bu\lly aside and told him someone was picking on the younger children and asked the bully to help. In short order, the bully became a guardian.
Some subtle punishments can send a message. In one school, bullies were sent to clean up the kindergarten classroom for their misdeeds. The kindergartners wrote thank-you cards to them, a form of praise. "The bullies got their power in the right way," Jens said.
Bullies also were chosen to pass out "social caring" awards to peers who had performed good deeds. The action sent a clear message of the new norm in the school.
The norms spilled over into the school yard as well. Victims, for example, learned skills for defusing situations. An effective device was "HA HA SO" and acronym for Help (is available), Assert (yourself), Humor (works well), Avoid (trouble), Self-talk, Own (the situation)
Victimized children need to understand they must protect themselves first, which includes walking away, Porter said. Their role is not to change the bully or retaliate. "Sooner or later, the other strategies change the behavior of the bully."
With out intervention, bully problems may not go away. While some school officials may
be tempted to bring together parents of bullies and victimes to discuss the problem, the
researchers urged caution. "Our recommendations is, don't do it." Jens said. One
such a meeting resulted in the adults fighting in the parking lot afterward.
Article source reprinted from: www.apa.org/monitor
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