Have you ever had to deal with bullying in your classroom or school? Have you ever been approached by a parent about their child being bullied while in your classroom? Here are some great tips to help teachers keep their kids safe from bullying and their classrooms running smoothly.
First and Foremost: Teach Your Class How to Recognize a Bully
Although children may hear the word “bully” now and then, they may not really know what a bully actually is! So we teach everyone exactly what a bully is and does. That way, whenever we discuss bullying, we have a common vocabulary to work with. Only then can the children recognize and accurately point out a bully when they see one. After that, then it is more reasonable to expect that they might try to stop someone from bullying if they see it happening.
Ronald Mah in his wonderful book, Getting Beyond Bullying and Exclusion, says that the best way to make sure that there is no bullying in your class is to create a culture where the students themselves will not allow it. They all have to agree that there will be no bullying. So the best thing we can do is encourage our students to report bullying and always stand up for each other. Tell the person that is bullying to stop, and tell your friends to also ask the bully stop. If everyone agrees to disallow it, then it won’t matter so much if adults have eyes in every single corner at the same time! There is less of a chance that bullying will happen because the entire class becomes the police force.
Some children start picking on other children, and don’t seem to realize that they are bullying; they are simply copying the behaviors that they have seen elsewhere or in the media. If children have been bullied themselves, and they may then start to pick on other children in turn. And others are looking for attention from adults, even if it is negative attention. One year, I had a little girl that was constantly aggressive with the other children, and nothing I did to change that behavior was producing a permanent change. She was habitually hitting, pushing, or calling other children names. So I decided to give my class a lesson about bullies, and then wait for the next incident.
Lo and behold, another hitting incident happened, and when I talked to her about it at recess, I pointed out to her that she was acting like a bully. I was actually quite surprised to see her face fill with surprise! She had not seemed to connect her behavior with bullying at all! Apparently, she had not seen herself and her behavior in that way… and her eyes filled with tears. She cried as we talked about it, and her behavior did change (mostly… for a while.) When she fell back into her old habits, I would pull her aside and remind her that bullying wasn’t acceptable.
The reason for some of this bullying behavior is that young children don’t develop empathy (and so can’t understand how someone else might feel) until around five or six years old. Of course, the age that empathy develops varies from child to child, according to research on child development. As a result, children may hit, bite, or say mean things, and never really realize the pain that they are causing in someone else, because their brains just are not yet able to put themselves into someone else’s shoes! Adults can help them improve by pointing out to them how the other children must be feeling as a result of their actions. Children that don’t see themselves as bullies need to be taught what is appropriate behavior.
I picked up the book pictured above Are You A Bully? at the I Teach K! Conference last summer in Las Vegas at “The Book Fair Shop” booth where all of the books are half price. (Love that!) The Are You A Bully? book sold for half of $6.99, which is about $3.50. If you order from them through the mail, they charge a flat five dollars per single book ordered, INCLUDING SHIPPING! If you purchase their book sets, they don’t charge shipping. That’s great news, because this book doesn’t even appear to be sold on Amazon! Their website, though, is not yet set up to take orders online, so you’ll just have to call them with their credit card. I have met the owners many times at conferences in person, and I know that they are honest, hard working people. I can’t imagine that you would need to have any worries about ordering from them with a credit card over the phone, but you could probably also mail them a check. The phone number for the Book Fair Shop is (847) 965-1466, and the owner’s name is Diane Reiter. They also sell Dr. Jean’s books, plus a LOT of great non-fiction titles that are simple and easy for little ones to listen to and learn to read from, with usually just one sentence per page and clear photos that illustrate the meaning.
To help students understand the school’s stance on bullying, it should help to make the policy visible in your classroom. You might even think about making an anti-bullying bulletin board! We have some nice “How to Solve Disagreements” posters that may help with this, too. They match the lyrics on our “We Don’t Fight” song on the Classroom Management CD/DVD.
Discussing the rules often will help students have a clear understanding of behavior expectations and the consequences for not following the rules. At the beginning of the year try making a game out of learning them. I always use the “I Can Follow the Rules” song from the Classroom Management CD/DVD.
Work as a class to act out what to do if they are being bullied or see others that are being bullied. Older students could even create posters for the classroom or hallways. Then reward children for STOPPING bullying when they see it. Encourage children to stop their peers from mistreating each other by praising them when you see them standing up for one another. Make a big deal out of it, and have the whole class clap for the one that stood up for the other!
Teaching students the school rules sets clear expectations and encourages positive behaviors. I use the Wiggles series of books to help teach the rules at the beginning of the year, and it really helps a lot!
Looking for more classroom management ideas? Check out our line of music, posters and books all dedicated to helping your classroom run smoothly!
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