“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me.”
The age-old saying has more falsehood than truth, however.
“Words can hurt,” Joan Knies told a group of educators Wednesday during a training session sponsored by Clay Community Schools/LEEAP Center and the Indiana Youth Institute.
Bullying in schools has received national attention in recent years, and some folks may still downplay bully behavior as just “kids being kids.”
But Knies said that today’s youth don’t always learn self-respect, or get positive messages on how to deal with bullying. Parents may not know how to handle conflict in their own lives, let alone teach their children how to handle a bully when words and actions become weapons.
Some school systems do entire curriculums on bullying, along with healthy relationships, nutrition and safe child training. Others may only do workshops or brief lessons, since each school district has different needs.
Knies illustrated the changes of society by showing different versions of the children’s board game Candyland. The game from 40 years ago included some different characters from the game just 20 years ago when Queen Frostine was the best card to collect. Today’s gameboard is much smaller with the graphics clumped closely together. But an even newer version is available online.
“Just as games change, so does bullying change,” Knies said.
And girls bully in different ways than boys. Girls will often use verbal criticism of clothing or hygiene, as well as eye-rolling or mean glares, while boys will use antics such as lockerroom hazing or aggressive physical contact in hallways.
While it is important for adults to identify bullying at school, also important is how bullies are treated.
“If you’re a bully, and you get called a bully, you will grow up to be a bully,” Knies said. “Instead, point out the bully behavior.”
An illustration that can be successfully used to show the effects of bullying, she said, is to spread toothpaste on a sponge. With the toothpaste representing the bullying action, and the sponge soaking up the toothpaste, the illustration is that words get soaked up. And even though the sponge may be cleaned off, the effect is still there.
Children should also be taught how to apologize sincerely, she said, because children often do not have any idea of how to empathize with the person they are bullying.
Knies emphasized that not all conflict is bad, but people just need to learn how to deal with it in a positive way.
Parents are the first teachers of self-respect, Knies said, and unfortunately, television is often the next teacher. The average high school student has spent 13,000 hours in the classroom by graduation time, but about 20,000 hours in front of the television during the same time.
Often, parents also need to be taught how to handle the bullying of their child. Using the “help me understand” question can get a child to relate not only the action of the bully, but how the bullying affects the child. The parent can then help the child talk about resolutions of the issue. But the parent should not step in and solve the problem.
Knies said that journaling is a good way for bullies to express their emotions on paper, and is a powerful tool in helping release the problems that may cause the bullying. Counseling with bullies show that many of those children often have family violence at home, so the bullying action is their way of getting power.
“You should understand that many times there’s an underlying reason for the bullying. They are not just trying to gain attention,” she said.
The Indiana Youth Institute has a lending library with curriculums on bullying. Several websites also share good information and resources that can be implemented in classrooms and a home.
For more information about primary prevention resources to stop bullying, go online to www.crisisconnectioninc.org, or www.iyi.org, or www.stopbullying.gov.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa