A New Year, A New Approach to Bullying Prevention: How Setting Small Goals Can Make A Big Difference- Part I
"If you want to achieve goals you've never achieved before, you have to do things you've never done before."
This is a quote by author and motivational speaker, Stephen Covey. To me, this quote embodies the spirit of the New Year. If you’re like most people, each year you develop a list of goals to achieve in the coming new year and, like most people, you set aside at least half of those goals by February. This regression is often chalked this up to busyness and this is certainly part of the problem; however, I would argue that the bigger culprit is routine.
When busyness kicks in, it becomes easier to stick with what we know. Upon re-entering the “real world”, we naturally fall back into our real world routines. Don’t get me wrong—routines can be great. They create efficiency and help us get things done. However, as Stephen Covey implied, routine will not create change. If we want to achieve something new, we have to do something new. The same truth applies to bullying prevention.
These new actions don’t need to be big. In fact, when setting goals with younger children, experts urge you NOT to make goals too big. At least, not initially. In a podcast for the parenting website, Kids In the House, psychologist Edwin A. Locke states that children should absolutely set goals for anything they want to achieve, but it’s important to break larger goals down into smaller, incremental goals. According to Locke, it’s also essential to track goals through measurement and to set deadlines for achievement. Because young children are still in a concrete state of learning, parents and teachers should provide consistent and visual benchmarks and evaluations of progress. Dr. Lock emphasizes:
“Make sure the goal is clear, make sure the goal has a deadline and that you measure your progress”.
These expert tips inspire the question: is it possible that this incremental goal setting is also key to ending bullying? Perhaps one reason why 25% of students are still being bullied is partially due to having too broad of goals in school. We tell children they need to “end bullying” and, while we provide them with some tools to achieve this large goal, we rarely, if ever, provide small, incremental goals that can be seen and measured to help reach that long term goal. If we, as adults, find bullying a complex issue, how must it appear to a child?
Telling children to “end bullying” is vague, but encouraging them to “Say hello to someone new in the hallway each day this week” is specific and it’s measureable. Better yet, these are goals that can be set and tracked throughout the year, not just during Bullying Prevention Month, and that is really one of our overarching goals. We want kindness to become a lifestyle so that bullying isn’t even in our kids’ vocabulary.
We want to create a habit of kindness.
January brings a new year and a new semester to begin making changes in our routines that may ultimately change our lives. If we want to see bullying stomped out like never before, we must venture to try things we’ve never tried before. Check back here next week for some specific, measureable goals to help you and your children to reach the ultimate goal: Ending Bullying Forever!!
What's something new you want to try this year? Let us know in the comments!
Looking for some new literature to read this year? Check out This is A. Blob, by L.A. Kefalos! With its vibrant illustrations, rhyming verse, and a sticky, purple blob as a main character, this 20 page picture book is the perfect tool to introduce young ones to the difficult topic of bullying. Readers will learn to put themselves in the shoes of another, discover why bullies might behave the way they do, and what can be done to help.
Have you ever stumbled across a song or a poem that perfectly captures your inner thoughts and feelings? Though sometimes viewed as a lesser genre, poetry has an incredible ability to take the most profound truths and put them simply in a way that makes sense. The rhythm and verse have a way of gently speaking to our souls and revealing things we were never able to see before.
I recently came across a poem that beautifully portrayed a unique way of dealing with bullying. The poem is Edwin Markham’s “Outwitted”:
“He drew a circle that shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win.
We drew a circle that took him in.”
Though short and simple, “Outwitted” has undertones and intricacies beneath its surface that make it an excellent choice for opening up conversations on dealing with bullies.
First, the poem is empowering. Rather than encouraging children to ignore those who are hurting them, the speaker takes action, and that action changes things. The one being mocked takes control of the situation, not by fighting back, but by refusing to engage in war at all. Children are often told that it takes two to fight; that if they ignore the bully, the bully will get tired and ignore them too. While this is one version of “not engaging in war”, for those children being pushed down, embarrassed, and tormented every day, waiting the situation out may not seem like a bearable solution. In the poem, however, we are shown a different way of staying out of battle. Yes, the taunted one refuses to taunt back or fight back, but he is not powerless. He takes action, but it is action for the positive.
Along this line of thought, I appreciate that the focus of the poem is on the positive. An article in The Dublin Villager shared the story of Drew Jones, an elementary school art teacher who wanted to find a positive way to educate students about bullying during National Bullying Prevention Month.
He came up with a unique idea: an interactive wall where students could leave notes of encouragement for one another. Using recycled cardboard and paper towel tubes, the students went to work creating a wall that featured multiple slots to house the notes, almost like a wall of mail boxes.
The wall was put up in the school hallway and painted orange, the color of Bullying Awareness. While they worked, the children discussed bullying honestly and openly, sharing their own experiences and coming up with solutions to the issue. Months after its creation, the wall continued to be popular, needing refilled every day. “It’s awesome,” one student stated, “It says I’m special.”
Bullying is a difficult and painful topic and it’s easy to get bogged down in discussing the negative causes and effects of the behavior. While it is important to educate children about the realities of bullying, we must not forget the power of kindness and positivity in stopping the problem at its source. We need to teach our children on how to handle bullying when it occurs, but it is imperative that we also take efforts to cultivate an environment of kindness, empathy, and positivity so that bullying is less likely to occur at all.
Another fantastic aspect of Markham’s poem is its description of love as something powerful. Love is sometimes portrayed as a weakness, or as something that is soft and delicate, but the reality is that love is the most powerful tool that we have and true love is tough. True love changes lives. Many children bully because they don’t feel loved. By loving the bully instead of simply telling him or her to “stop”, we cauterize the wound instead of constantly trying to staunch the blood. It was love that prompted the speaker in the poem to act. It was love that took a situation of pain and separation and turned it into one of forgiveness and togetherness. “Outwitted” teaches children that love is strength, not weakness.
Markham also draws a connection between love and wit. Not only is love often portrayed as a weakness, it is also frequently connected with foolishness and helplessness. People fall in love, they are blinded by love, or they act unwisely because they are in love. However real, true, love, takes all the wits you have. To love someone means to care for them, to want the best for them, even when they aren’t acting very likeable. True love isn’t always easy and it takes thought and wisdom to foster and maintain. Retaliating, ignoring, or running is easy. Loving someone that is hurting you takes intelligence and clarity of mind. This poem illustrates that.
A unique facet of “Outwitted” is that, unlike many other works of literature, it humanizes the bully. It doesn’t call him names, wish a horrible fate for him, or paint him as a villain. Instead, it portrays the bully as someone who can be loved. Many children bully because they feel inadequate or isolated. By creating a circle that includes the bully, the writer is not only saying “you were wrong about me”, but also, “you were wrong about yourself.”
Teaching children to draw others in builds empathy, a core skill in preventing bullying, and provides a concrete example of empathy for children who bully, as well. Our goal should not be to simply end the bullying, but to mold children into adults that will never bully, who will choose to always consider and value the thoughts of others, and who will always try to love first.
The final strength of this poem is that it is visual. Loving someone that is hurting you or trying to view the world from their perspective can be a foreign or even abstract concept, especially to a child. However, even a child can understand the significance of drawing an inclusive circle. This could even be carried into a classroom activity to help illustrate the point.
Have students stand outside on the sidewalk and draw circles around groups of kids. Ask students to describe what is similar about everyone in their circle. Without moving, change the circles (think Venn Diagram). Have the new groups find similarities, illustrating how they all have commonalities if they look for them. Discuss how they felt when they were left out of someone else’s circle or if someone was left out of theirs. Using the poem, connect this literal drawing of circles to the figurative boundaries that are frequently drawn amongst students.
On the surface, Edwin Markham’s “Outwitted” is short and simple, but like most poems, there is a lot going on underneath. Christmas time is filled with songs and rhymes. In this season of goodwill and togetherness, I would encourage you to add this poem into the mix!
Have you read this poem before? What did it say to you? Would you use this to help prevent bullying? Let us know in the comments!
Looking for some more rhyming verse that speaks about bullying? Check out the beautifully illustrated picture book This is A. Blob by L.A. Kefalos! In this story written in rhyme, a purple blob named A. Blob wreaks havoc on the playground with its bullying ways. But is there more to A. Blob than meets the eye??
It was a simple idea thought up by a 6th grade teacher while on a bike ride, but it sparked a national movement.
In 2012, 6th grade teacher Eric Johnson noticed increasing meanness among his students. He wanted to rebuild the community his classroom had once enjoyed, but did not want to stand in front of the room and give one more lecture on bullying. Instead, he let his students take the lead.
On a sleepy Monday, as the students began their work, Johnson cleared the whiteboard and showed a video on how to stand up against bullying. The following morning, he wrote one word on the board: meanness.
As the week progressed, Johnson and his students watched more videos and had open discussions, led by the students, about how our words can affect others and define them, as well as ourselves. Together they brainstormed words that could erase meanness and replace it with kindness. At the end of the final day, the whiteboard was filled with a rainbow of kind words, all student written, surrounding the big question “How Do You Want to Be Remembered?”
Following this lesson, Johnson blogged the impact it had in his classroom and the idea spread like wildfire. Teachers around the country adapted the lesson for their own students and within two years, an entire website had been dedicated to the cause of erasing meanness. Today, people from countries all over the world can participate in Worldwide Erase Meanness Pledge Day on September 16th, joining with thousands of others to stand against meanness and stand up for kindness.
To get the full impact of this lesson, visit Johnson’s blog, which he still keeps up today, offering insights and tips for education.
Here is what I love about this activity:
1. It is easy to do regardless of location or budget. The videos are a wonderful addition to the lesson, but the whiteboard activity alone is impactful.
2. It provides an alternative to bullying. We often teach children not to bully and not to be mean, but sometimes we forget to provide them with alternative behavior. Choosing not to bully can stop meanness, but acting with intentional kindness can change lives.
3. It encourages children to draw a connection between their words and the effect of those words in a tangible and unique way. Students are constantly told to be nice, not to bully, and to stand up for one another. However, as we all know, regardless of how important a topic is, once you’ve heard it 100 times, you begin to tune it out, and even become annoyed that you are being forced to hear it one more time. But this lesson is different. In this lesson, the children take an active role in defining meanness, as well as defining kindness. They physically walk up to the board and replace mean words with kind ones. They can visibly see how small actions of both kindness and meanness can quickly add up to create an entire atmosphere of either negativity or positivity.
4. It provides a visual reminder that small words can add up to have a big impact. I think we have a tendency to believe that our words don’t matter that much. We all know that words matter in a conceptual way, but too often forget this in practice. Most of us would never berate someone to their face or outright “bully”, but we don’t always keep track of all our words throughout the day. How often have we called someone an idiot or a jerk? How often have we been short with a cashier? How often have we ranted about another person without taking the time to consider their perspective? You might say, “But they never heard what I said!”, but with each word of meanness, you are training yourself to not think the best of others. You are attaching those negative words to that person. What may have seemed like a minor slip of rudeness to you could have been the final straw in someone’s awful day or terrible self-perception. I think that this lesson created for children can also have a huge impact on adults.
5. It is age-adaptable. As soon as children can speak, they learn words that are both kind and unkind. If they cannot write yet, write the words for them, or have magnetic pictures representing words that they can manipulate.
6. Not every mean word was erased. As much as we would like to believe that meanness and bullying can be completely eradicated, it just isn’t true, and we need to prepare our children for this reality. However, as Eric states in his blog, “… kindness and caring can overwhelm the unkind.”
Sometimes it is the simplest lessons that have the most profound impact, and I believe this lesson definitely fits in that category. The fact that this idea started with one man and has blossomed and spread into a national campaign is a testament in itself to the fact that one person can make difference!
If you love this lesson as much as I do, visit Erasemeanness.org to find the full lesson plan and accompanying resources. You can also join over 30,000 others and pledge to #EraseMeanness today!
The question we'd like you to answer in the comments is:
For another way to open discussion on bullying and meanness with young children, check out our latest release, This is A. Blob.
This is A. Blob is a masterfully illustrated picture book suitable for children ages 4-8. This is A. Blob is the first of a series following the antics of A. Blob, a slimy, purple, blob-like creature who wreaks havoc on the elementary school playground with its bullying ways. As the story progresses, however, readers learn that there may be more to A. Blob than meets the eye. Along with its powerful illustrations and rhymed verse for early readers, this story invites children to put themselves in the shoes of another. The book encourages readers to consider why bullies behave the way they do – and start to consider what can be done to help
It's Labor Day!
For some, Labor Day is a day off to relax, maybe barbecue, and enjoy a day,well, not laboring. For others, it is the last hold on summer before school and commitments kick into high gear. But what is Labor Day supposed to mean? I decided to do a bit of research to find out.
According to the U.S Department of Labor: “Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” The first Labor Day celebration was held in 1882 in New York City -- a hub of industry and a shining example of the achievements of the working man. In these early days, the holiday was celebrated with a parade showing off various trades and organizations, followed by a festival for the amusement of the workers being honored. Essentially, the day was built to celebrate the working man and to give him or her a much needed day off to show gratitude for the labor which keeps America running.
Labor Day is a day to say “thank you” to America’s laborers, but how many of us take the time to show our thanks? I recently came across an article by Amy of the blog, Teach Mama, describing how she and her family decided to take their day off and make a difference. Inspired by a show on PBS Kids, she decided to make Labor Day, Neighbor Day-- a day filled with helping those nearby and making their day a little bit brighter. I love this idea, not only because it spreads kindness—something we need more of in this world—but also because it brings us back to the original intention of Labor Day—showing our love and gratitude to those around us.
To help with your Neighbor Day celebration, I have created a list of 11 easy ways to show kindness to those right on your own street:
1. Take over a pretty potted plant for them to enjoy or collect a bouquet from your own garden.
2. Mow your neighbor’s lawn—This is probably one of the kindest things you can do as most people dread this chore. Make sure you ask first, though!
3. Place a kind note in their mailbox. It could be a note of encouragement, a compliment on the house or gardening, or even an invitation to have lunch together sometime.
4. Take in their trash cans. This is a chore I always put off for some reason. If you know your neighbors well enough to know where they store their cans and you know they won’t mind you walking up their drive, take a couple extra minutes to bring them up from the curb.
5. Offer to help carry in groceries.
6. Offer to weed your neighbor’s garden.
7. Smile and say hello! This seems simple, but it’s amazing how such a small act can brighten a day! Check out our post from June about National Smile Power Day to learn how a smile really can make a difference!
8. Collect any litter that has accumulated along your street.
9. Pay one of your neighbor’s utility bills while you are paying yours. This idea came from the blog Mom It Forward and I absolutely love it. You never know when someone may be struggling between keeping the electricity on and buying groceries.
10. Make some cookies and bring them over to your neighbor. Now, this is one that may require some previous interaction with your neighbor. For example, you wouldn’t want to make cookies for a neighbor with diabetes or a nut allergy! If you know the person is lonely, bring some lemonade too and offer to stay and chat.
11. Bring over some good books—what better way to share a piece of your heart? For some books that teach the importance of kindness check out our post In A New Light!
These are just a few ideas to get you started! The great thing about each Neighbor Day activity is that each can be done on any day of the year and by someone of any age! What a great way to teach our children that kindness starts at home.
If these ideas get you energized, consider checking out these organizations for even more inspiration:
Small Acts Big Change- This group was actually started by kids and continues to be run by children today! They operate under the belief that small acts of kindness can cause big change in this world and from the results of their work—they’re right! Right now and through the whole month of September, Small Acts Big Change is hosting an entire month of Random Acts of Kindness. Each day they challenge their followers and themselves to complete a certain kindness challenge. Are you up for the challenge??
RandomActsOfKindness.org- An entire website dedicated to random acts of kindness! Check out the website for kindness ideas, stories, and resources for spreading kindness in your school or workplace.
Let us know in the comments how you plan on celebrating Labor Day—or Neighbor Day—this year!
Our latest release, This is A. Blob, by L.A Kefalos illustrates to children what can happen when bullying, instead of kindness, is let loose on the school playground. Find your copy on Amazon.com or at LaughingLeopardPress.com
About Laughing Leopard Press
Hello! We are Laughing Leopard Press, an independent book publisher from Akron, Ohio. At Laughing Leopard Press, we’re interested in publishing works that contribute to our understanding of this wonderful world. Through this blog, we hope to add to that understanding with commentary on life, literature, and a few things in between. We hope you enjoy the blog and take some time to talk with us in the comments or on our social media sites. Happy reading!
This is A. Blob by L. A Kefalos. $14.95
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