Today we’re sharing a guest post from Sandra Woffington, teacher, developmental editor, and author of the new Warriors and Watchers Saga.
Current studies show that nearly all children suffer the adverse effects of bullying, because they play an unwitting role: the child who bullies, the children who join in, the children who don’t join in out of fear but serve as an audience, and the target of the attack. The consequences can be lifelong and devastating: anxiety, depression, loss of interest in school, lower grades, drug abuse, even suicide.
Common advice given by parents and teachers is “just ignore it.” But teaching children to do nothing, teaches them to acquiesce to aggressive peers and remain mute. This cycle may repeat itself throughout life.
As a teacher of fifteen years, my curriculum now includes lessons that teach children the difference between teasing and bullying. Once children understand the difference, they gain compassion and foster an inclusive environment where all children feel accepted and valued.
Bullying is defined as a “real or perceived” imbalance of power or an action that is repeated. Many times, a child has come to me, saying, “Don’t say anything, but it bothers me when they call me short,” or fat, or other derogatory terms. Or a child complains, “I try to make friends, but I’m always left out.” Other times, the child has confided in a parent, and the parent comes to me. While parents and teachers can intercede (and should), no solution has greater impact than teaching children to raise their voices. A simple phrase can change a life.
Just as Marty McFly’s father in Back to the Future changed his life by standing up to his bully, Biff, in the past, so too can children take control by speaking up. Of course, at no time, should children confront physically violent bullies — this is best left for administrators and authorities.
Over the years, I’ve handled numerous bullying situations, including one where a pack of mean girls bullied my own daughter.
Two simple techniques work best to stop bullies:
Tip 1: Do not retaliate. Do not mimic bullying behavior, as that escalates the situation as well as brings a decent child down to bully-level. Do not call names, curse, touch the other person’s property, or engage physically. Remain calm and in control at all times. Bullies want their targets to react.
Tip 2: Parents should role-play with the child using words he or she feels comfortable saying, words that call the other person mean or express disapproval for the behavior. Use a tone of controlled confidence. Be patient. Depending on the child, this may take time. Once the child speaks up, he or she should walk away, so as to have the last word and not escalate the situation.
Here are sample phrases to consider:
- “Wow! That was really mean.”
- “And another mean comment.”
- “Do you ever say anything nice?”
- “If I valued your opinion, which I don’t, that would hurt.”
- “If you were teasing, it would have been funny. It wasn’t funny. It was mean.”
Speaking up requires no force, just courage. If bullies had courage, they would not pick on the weak, the lonely, the different—they’d choose an equally strong opponent. As soon as someone stands up to them, bullies move on. Or if they learn the difference between teasing and bullying, they change. With education, children show compassion to one another.
Albert Einstein said:
Nothing that I can do will change the structure of the universe. But maybe by raising my voice I can help the greatest of all causes — goodwill among men and peace on earth.
Many of my students and my daughter learned the best lesson of all: speak up and be heard. Empower children—teach them to stand up and raise their voices.
Sandra Woffington is a middle school teacher, freelance developmental editor, and author of Evil Speaks, book #1 in the Warriors and Watchers Saga, a mythological fantasy series, featuring quirky and special needs teens who must become warriors to save the world. She’s had numerous guest appearances on radio shows, speaking about inclusion, special needs children, and bullying. For more, please visit WarriorsandWatchersSaga.com.