“Do something now that will make the person you are tomorrow proud to be the person you are today”
Have you ever looked back on a situation and been embarrassed by the way you reacted? Perhaps you were hurt or angry or caught off guard by something someone said or did. Whatever the reason, in the heat of the moment, you responded in a way that ended up hurting you and possibly others. I know I have found myself in this situation on more than one occasion. The truth is, when emotions run high and things happen unexpectedly, it can be difficult to remember to act with kindness and empathy.
In school, and even at work, we practice and prepare for emergency situations such as fires and tornadoes. Each month we rehearse exactly what we will hear, see, and smell, learning the best way to move and act in order to keep ourselves and others calm and safe. As a result, by the end of the school year, even a kindergartner is able to calmly line up and exit the building without panic when she hears the fire alarm sound. She has heard it before and knows just what to do.
Unfortunately, the same sort of regular drilling is not in place for social scenarios such as bullying. Children are taught that bullying is wrong and are even given guidelines as to what they should say and do. However, as we have all experienced, real life situations do not always go as expected. People can be caught off guard, emotions can take over, and when everything is said and done, everyone has acted in a way they wish they hadn’t.
So, how can we “drill” for bullying? The same way we drill for other harmful scenarios. Below, I have taken steps from the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA), as well as from several mom bloggers, including The Survival Mom, who specializes in emergency prep for kids, and tailored them to help prepare children for bullying scenarios. Here are a few basic steps to begin creating your Bullying Preparedness Plan:
Step 1. Education
Few things are as frightening as the unknown. When we don’t expect or understand something, our imaginations can go wild, causing our fear to build and build. The best way to combat fear is through education. The more we know and understand something, including bullying, the less scary it becomes. This first step includes education on several different subjects:
Bullying can take many different forms from cyber bullying, to exclusion, to verbal abuse, to physical harm. It’s important that students are able to recognize the subtleties of bullying and identify the differences between bullying and teasing. Stopbullying.gov offers some helpful definitions and examples of different types of bullying and how to identify them.
It’s equally important to address the frightening things children will come across in bullying scenarios, such as being bullied themselves if they speak up, being physically hurt, being embarrassed, freezing up, or being ostracized. Have an open discussion with your students about their fears; you may be surprised at what’s going on in their heads. Let them know that these are valid fears, but they can learn practices that will make these situations not so scary.
Be sure to discuss all the different sides of bullying: being the bully, getting bullied, and being a bystander. It’s important that children learn about the causes of each of these positions and what to do if they find themselves in any one of these three roles. Blogger, Glennon, of the blog Momastery.com, talked about how easy it is to freeze up and say the wrong thing in a difficult situation, especially when we fear embarrassment. Together with her son, she created some ready-made responses to tricky social situations that matched up with his personality. No kid wants to say something that sounds like it came out of teacher’s handbook. Help your students come up with responses to various bullying scenarios that sound natural and work with their personalities so that they’ll feel comfortable using them when the time comes.
Finally, discuss with your students what measures are already in place to keep them safe. It’s important they know that, while it’s important to know about and be prepared for bullying, there are processes and people already working hard every day to make sure that bullying never happens in the first place. Be sure to let them know they are not alone and that teachers are always looking out for their health and safety. The goal of education is to remove as much fear as possible to keep kids safe and happy—not to create fear or panic.
Step 2. Guided Practice
Now that your students have been told what to do in a bullying scenario, it’s important that they actually practice doing it. Professionals say students should know the sound of the fire alarm and how to respond instinctively, wherever they are in the building, even if they are alone. They recommend visiting other parts of the school and practicing what to do if they are at these locations when the alarm sounds.
Similarly, when practicing bullying scenarios, be sure to practice in several different locations using several different scenarios and responses. Practice situations where there is a big group of kids, situations that are one on one, situations where the people involved are friends, and some where they are strangers. This is the time to talk the students through what is happening and how to respond. Let them try on their own, encourage what they’re doing right, and correct what they are doing wrong.
Step 3. Surprise Practice
Panic can easily and quickly set in when we are surprised. It’s important that children learn what it feels like to be frightened and embarrassed and all the other feelings that can arise in a bullying scenario so they learn how to work through those feelings and do the right thing. When I was in elementary school, my heart would beat wildly and my legs would shake with fear every time the fire alarm sounded. While I knew fire drills occurred regularly, when one came there was always the thought “it might be real this time!” However, over the course of many drills, I learned how to calm myself down. I learned that even if the emergency was real, I had practiced for it and I knew how to stay safe, whether I was in the classroom, the cafeteria, or even alone in the bathroom. I wouldn’t have learned how to do this without the element of surprise.
Every now and then, throw a bullying scenario into what you’re already doing. If the class is working math problems at the board, role play what would happen if one student got the answer wrong and some other students started mocking him for it.. What if the bullying continued at recess? What if the teacher left the room and that’s when the bullying started? What would they do? Why do they think the bully called out the student for getting the answer wrong? Put yourself in different roles and let the students explore what they would say and do when placed in different positions. Try not to interfere other than playing your role and see how your students react on their own.
In their emergency preparedness guide, FEMA emphasizes the importance of making sure your child always knows at least two ways out of the house in case one escape route is blocked. The same can be applied to a bullying scenario. It’s very possible that one method of confronting bullying will not work, so it’s important to prepare children for this possibility. Things rarely go according to plan and it’s vital that kids practice what it feels like to be caught off guard or to try something and have it not work.
This drill doesn’t need to take much time. Some fire drills are as short as 5 minutes. Practice and repetition are what count.
Step 4. Review
The final step is review. After each drill, it’s important to have an open discussion about what occurred. What did the students feel they did well? What could they have done better? What kind of thoughts and emotions went though their head?
Will these drills take time? Yes. Will they be worth it? Absolutely. We spend so much time preparing our children for emergencies, but we fail to prepare them for the social interactions that they will face far more often. The reality is that social issues, such as bullying, drugs, and alcohol are responsible for many more deaths each year than any natural disaster and our kids will face them far more often. Let’s make sure they’re prepared.
Would you try bullying drills in your home or classroom? What other ways have you prepared your children to face bullying? Let us know in the comments.
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