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Creating a Culture of Kindness in Middle School

By Sunni Stokeld, TCA Middle School Counselor 

At Trinity Christian Academy (TCA), we take bullying very seriously, and Bullying Prevention Month is a great opportunity to take time with parents and students to discuss this issue. Particularly in middle school, bullying is one of several topics we address with our parents through a series of “parent talks” and also with our students through chapel times and other opportunities. Using the book by Barbara Coloroso, The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander, we work with parents and students on concrete ways to combat instances of bullying and, as the ultimate goal, to prevent them altogether. 

There is a continuum of behavior that ranges from general unkindness and mistakes to behavior that we call bullying, and all of our children have been on that spectrum at one point in time or another. 

Verbal unkindness happens most often in third through seventh grades, when children are undergoing many physical, emotional and social changes that often lead to insecurity. The search for power, independence and identity can easily take a negative, antisocial and unhealthy turn. The real problems begin when bullying happens without any adult intervention. However, most bullying happens outside of the purview of adults. 

Bullying is an intentional pattern of behavior and involves an imbalance of power. It is not a problem between friends, and it involves unequal reactions: the target shows a high degree of distress, the bully shows very little, if any. According to Coloroso, children who engage in bullying without empathy or shame most often have a strong sense of entitlement, are intolerant of others’ differences and feel a liberty to exclude people they view as inferior. 

In addition, bullying often happens when other people are present, resulting in three distinct roles in most bullying situations: the bully, the target and the bystander. So, how can you help your children in these scenarios? 

If you suspect your child is the bully:

  • Check your own behavior.
  • Check your child’s media diet.
  • Teach the skills of being a kind and good friend. 

If your child is the target:

  • Teach your child good responses and role play the responses: ignore (only once), make a joke of it, say STOP in a firm voice, leave the area and then tell an adult.
  • Work with your child on re-framing the situation. Perhaps the bully is struggling with an internal issue they feel the need to be unkind to people. Reinforce that it’s not the target’s problem, but the bully’s.
  • Check to see if your child might be a provocative target. One may become a target because he/she annoys others, doesn’t understand personal space, tattles or exhibits similar behavior. Parents must be intentional to develop social skills for the child who is a provocative target. 

If your child is the bystander:

  • Teach your child that there are no innocent bystanders; we all play a role. 
  • Children must be taught to reach out and help. They must be taught to be courageous and come alongside the target to help.
  • As parents, we must model compassion, kindness and the boldness to not allow unkindness to exist.
  • Role play ways to come alongside a target: step in and remove him/her from the situation, invite the person to play with you at recess, lunch, etc. or tell an adult.
  • Role play assertive responses: “We don’t do that here.” “Leave him alone now, or I will tell an adult.”
  • Teach the difference between tattling and reporting. Tattling is telling just to get someone else in trouble; reporting is telling to get yourself or someone else OUT of trouble. When in doubt, report. 

Courage is the missing ingredient. Only 13 percent of bystanders help a target. 

As parents, it is important that we talk with our children and teach them how to stand up for themselves, how to report dangerous situations and how to treat even an unkind person respectfully. When we respond with a generous spirit, wisdom, discernment, abundant kindness and mercy, we create safe harbors and caring communities for all our children.

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Monday, October 21, 2013