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Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012 12:01 am

What parents should know about bullying

 

Springfield School District 186 tells students who get bullied to answer the attack with a SWAT: Stop, Walk Away and Talk to an Adult.


The SWAT program, introduced this past school year in District 186 at the elementary school level, teaches students how to deal with bullying. These strategies include telling a student to stop making rude or hurtful comments, walking away or avoiding bullying situations, and ultimately seeking out and speaking with an adult if the problem continues.


Cindy Martsch, a social worker and student support leader at Carl Sandburg Elementary School, said it is important for teachers and parents to avoid labeling students because it implies that a student cannot overcome the issue.


“We try not use the word ‘bully’ because that suggests that we are labeling someone, almost like we are immediately writing them off as a troublemaker,” Martsch said. “You wouldn’t say to a student who is struggling with math, ‘Oh, I’m done with you,’ you would tell them, ‘Hey, we are going to practice at this and work until it improves.’”        


Martsch, a mother of two boys, said at the core of the SWAT program is the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports initiative, or PBIS, which teaches students behavior expectations in a school building. 


The PBIS initiative, which addresses students in elementary and middle schools, teaches students how to behave on the bus, in the classroom and in the cafeteria, while also instilling expectations in the students before they have a chance to make a mistake. PBIS also includes training for school staff members. PBIS concepts are taught to students and faculty through informational handouts, in-class role-playing games and Q-and-A sessions. 


“We would ask kindergarteners through fifth-graders during their classes different questions like ‘What should you do if your friend is being bullied?’” said Martsch, the internal PBIS coordinator at Carl Sandburg Elementary. “We went through and asked one student in each class per week a different question and by the end of the school year more than 80 percent of the students knew how to handle various bullying situations.”  


Middle school: Expect respect

Laura Rennison, the student support leader at Jefferson Middle School, said the middle school program is called Expect Respect, which teaches students the difference between teasing and bullying. Teasing refers to reciprocal interactions between students where both students are “joking around and having fun” with one another in a manner that both can laugh at, without feeling the other is serious about the comments that are being said. Bullying, however, refers to only one student enjoying the exchange of comments between two students, while the other has hurt feelings about the exchange.  


Educating students is only half the answer to bullying in schools. The other half involves educating parents about ways to help their children overcome bullying. 


Communicating with your children

Rennison, a mother of two boys, recalled an experience during the past school year that taught her nine-year-old son, Isaac, and herself about how to deal with bullying.

 

Over a few weeks, Isaac and his friend had been sitting together while riding the bus to school. Isaac’s friend had been the target of a young boy who liked to start arguments with him, which continually upset Isaac’s friend. Isaac didn’t like to see his friend upset and spoke with his mother about the situation. The primary argument between the two boys revolved around which was the better sport: baseball or soccer? 


After Isaac told her about this situation, Rennison sat down with her son and began to talk about ways to get through the problem, such as ignoring the young boy’s comments and remaining calm when the bullying began.


“Isaac told his friend to not give the bully any power by showing that his words are affecting him and simply stop interacting with him,” Rennison said. “Eventually, the bully lost interest because he wasn’t getting the same result as before.”


Martsch and Rennison agreed that parents’ ability to communicate with their children is highly important. They suggested listening to how their children are feeling, while not dismissing those feelings, and reassuring children that everyone worries from time to time.


Finally, Martsch and Rennison suggest that parents not overreact about bullying by immediately calling the school. Instead, they should help their children work through it, so they can eventually get through it on their own.  


For more information on how to talk to your kids about bullying, strategies to deal with bullying and ways you can get involved with addressing bullying visit www.springfield.k12.il.us/teachers/cmartsch/ and www.pbisillinois.org.  


The evolution of bullying

With the help of the rapid evolution of technology and applications such as Facebook and Twitter, bullying has also taken on a viral form, where students no longer bully each other through face-to-face confrontations, but through online exchanges.


Martsch and Rennison suggest that to help curb these online bullying issues parents take an active role in monitoring what social media websites their children visit. 


Rennison said the advancements in social media websites have given students a feeling that what they say about one another on the Internet will not be heard about at school.


“Students feel there is a safe level of anonymity and they might not realize the repercussions of their comments,” Rennison said.  

To learn more about cyberbullying and ways to address it visit www.stopbullying.gov.  


Contact Neil Schneider at nschneider@illinoistimes.com.

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