As I came into the classroom and was introduced to the kids, I noticed a kid on the front row that was a little loud and saying possibly a few inappropriate things and just a little quirky. Throughout the class I was watching the kids and their reaction to this student. There were some eye-rolling and a few looks like they were put-off by his comments. As we progressed each week I continued to watch this student curious to see how things would go once we got to the bullying content. He got pretty quiet during this portion. His comments sometimes even more inappropriate and almost like he was getting attention. I later learned from the teacher that this student was left isolated and did not interact well with the kids.
To be honest, I can pick out these kids pretty quick, they are usually the ones that are a little different from the mainstream kids, may be loud and trying to get attention or very quiet in the back of the room. One of my goals in teaching this section to the kids is to teach them empathy. So many people get empathy and sympathy mixed up. I have had many teachers that don’t really understand the difference. They also get very frustrated with these kids. Some come to me saying, “If they would just stand up to them they wouldn’t get bullied” or “if they wouldn’t be so weird and try to fit in they would be accepted”
First of all the difference between bullying and abuse is really nothing. If a kid bullies at school, they will more than likely bully as they go through life. That leads to unhealthy situations in the home and workplace. Second, empathy is not feeling sorry for them, it’s seeing that person’s viewpoint through their feelings.
Many of these kids do not have a good support system at home. I have noticed, but have not found research that shows this, kids from non-traditional homes have more trouble with bullying. Either they are the bully because they are angry or they are bullied because they have no confidence.
I do believe that we as adults need to step in and help these kids. It’s kind of interesting, when you have an adult that will say, “that’s inappropriate” to the bully the kids will usually leave the student alone. I But you need all the staff to believe this. Many say they believe it, but they think they need to help this child learn.
If a child does not have a good support system at home many times they do not have the self-confidence to stand up or just leave. We all want to be accepted, and it’s very hard to feel so rejected by a group of people. One teacher that I worked with did the best thing I’ve seen done. When she saw a freshman student being picked on, and the child tended to cower a bit, she called some of the Senior Girls that were pretty popular and had great empathy skills. She asked them to just walk the student from class to class and become friends with him. Wow! Guess what happened? That student got some confidence! He felt accepted by somebody. They showed they genuinely cared for him.
We teach the empathy skills in our class by showing videos of a student getting physically bullied, and one being cyber bullied. Both are matters of rejection. In the videos it is important for us to ask the students why certain people intervene and why they don’t. More times than not, the people that intervene with someone being picked on or bullied are people that have either been bullied or left out, or have strong empathy skills that have been taught at home. I then ask them for feelings about how the bullied student might feel? When they can feel those feelings, many will learn empathy and leave them alone. One saying that I have is. “Hurting People, Hurt People”.
It’s so hard to monitor prevention so can I tell you that our method is effective? Well, there’s still some bullying going on, but how can you tell if it’s more or less. To be honest, I have seen teachers bully and not realize they are bullying. I wonder sometimes if these students that are the bullies really know that they are bullying. One boy we taught after going through our classes in the school said to us, “I don’t think I’ll just go pick on those little freaky kids any more”. Wow! guess we kinda helped there. When we can help these kids feel what the bullied kids feel, I think they will be more open to different types of people and accept them as they are. Empathy works! not sympathy.
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