Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Bullying Education: Weird Series

Bullying awareness is a topic widely covered by most schools and often presents a similar message: Don’t be a bully.  This year I knew I wanted to address bullying awareness with my upper grade girls, but hoped to try a different approach. Obviously I want our students understanding that they should not be a bully, but also want them thinking of how it may feel to be bullied, how it may feel to witness bullying, and maybe even wonder why a person is bullying.

At Edna Maguire Elementary, I held 3 optional lunch meetings with our fourth grade girls.  Rather than discussing “What is bullying?” or “How not to be a bully”, I decided to read books from the Weird Series by Erin Frankel. These books tell the same story from three girls perspectives: the victim, the bystander, and the bully.  The stories present an opportunity to see what each character goes through in a bullying situation, offering many explanations for how someone feels when they’re being targeted, how it feels to see others being bullied and why someone may use bullying behavior.

Lesson #1 “Weird!” - During our first lunch meeting I introduced the Weird Series by reading the first book, “Weird!” The Weird! story is about a girl named Luisa, the victim, who normally is very funny, colorful and unique.  However, Sam, the bully, targets Luisa by calling her and everything she does “weird”. When she jokes with her friends, Sam calls her “weird”. When she participates in class, Sam calls her “weird”. When she wears polka boots, Sam calls her weird. Sam's behavior affects her so much that Luisa stops being herself. With some help from her parents, peers and teachers, Luisa decides she must change her way of thinking.  She went back to being herself no matter what Sam said about her, and she acted like she didn’t care.  She soon noticed that Sam began to leave her alone.

Activity 1: For our activity, each student got 3 white paper dots and wrote negative thoughts that they had about themselves (i.e. I am not smart). Next, they got 3 more white paper dots and wrote positive thoughts that challenged their negative thoughts (i.e. I am very smart or I am a hard worker). Then the girls shared their dots in smaller groups. Once everyone finished, we all gathered around the recycling bin, crumpled our negative thoughts, and threw them in. We discussed how we can recycle our negative thoughts into positive and how we have the power to make ourselves feel good. Many students chose to share some of their positive thoughts with the class, and some even used their positive thoughts to decorate their desks or classrooms. The students really enjoyed doing this!

I concluded the lesson by reading Luisa’s notes she included in the back of the book. She included 5 notes in a WEIRD acronym.

Lesson #2 “Dare!” – For our second lesson, we read “Dare!”, a story about Jayla, the bystander. One thing I really love about the series is the corresponding story line.  The main character, Jayla, is often seen standing nearby in the “Weird” book.  In “Dare!”, we are given the opportunity to learn more about what Jayla was really thinking when she saw and heard Sam bullying Luisa.  We even discovered that Jayla was afraid to stand up to Sam because of her own past experiences with bullying. However, she soon realizes that doing nothing is unfair to Luisa and to herself.  She decides to make her own “dare” by standing up for Luisa even though she is scared.  She prepared herself with responses to give just in case Sam lashed out at her for saying how she really felt.

Activity 2: For our “Dare!” activity, we discussed the courage it takes to stand up for someone and how being prepared can give us confidence to follow through, even when we’re scared.  Jayla has a Courage Club that encourages people to be prepared to be a positive bystander. In order to be prepared, the students wrote statements they can make or actions they can take when they see or hear someone being bullied.  The students were able to share their ideas with the group, and then they taped their star to our “Courage Club” poster.  

The lesson was concluded by reading Jayla’s DARE acronym.

Lesson #3 “Tough!” – For our final lesson, we read “Tough!”, the much anticipated story about Sam., the bully.  The students were hooked after the first book.  They were all ears during the second lesson and were very excited to hear the last book of the series.  The students have enjoyed discovering similarities between the books.  Each had a signature symbol- from polka dots (Luisa), to stars (Jayla), and now hearts (Sam)- which helped drive home a similar message:  Know Yourself. Be Yourself. Sam is the main character in Tough!  Readers get a peek into Sam’s world at the beginning of the book as the author reminds us of situations and comments she’s made to Luisa and Jayla from the previous two books.  As Sam tells the story, we see her brother calling her names and taking her guitar away from her.  It appears Sam has had her share of being picked on, and it turns out she stays “tough” in order to keep others from bothering her.  Her teacher, Mr. C, reaches out to her, and she soon decides to accept his help.  Just as we hoped, Sam begins to listen to her heart and takes a turn for the better and uses her kindness instead of her toughness.

Activity 3: For our final activity, each girl got a paper heart and was given the following instructions:
  • On one side, write how you want to be remember when you leave Edna Maguire.
  • On the other side, write one random act of kindness you will do during break (winter break).
The students then were given the opportunity to share. They came up to the front of the class, said in one word how they wanted to be remembered, and then added their heart to a string that held all the hearts together. 

After everyone had a chance to share their hearts, we red a “Kindness Pledge” as a group:

I concluded the lesson with Sam’s TOUGH acronym and briefly discussed who and where a student can go if they find themselves in weird, dare or tough situation.

I was not only impressed with our turn out, but also so inspired by how kind and thoughtful our students are. Their participation and effort in each lesson provided us with a fun and memorable learning environment. Because the lessons were so well received, I’m planning on taking these lessons to our 5th grade classes next.

If your child is being bullied, witnessed bullying, or used bullying behavior, please never hesitate to contact your school counselor or your child’s teacher. We are here to help!

Thank you all!

Friday, November 18, 2016

My Child is Anxious!!

If you are reading this post, you may have at one point worried about your child's level of anxiety. But what is Anxiety? And how can YOU, the parent, help deescalate this feeling?

Anxiety is a feeling that everyone experiences, and for some, may even help function well in difficult times. It’s a normal emotion that many feel when they are faced with nervous situations, such as taking a test, before an interview or even when making an important decision, and often presents as nervousness, worry or fear. 

When faced with danger or a threat, anxiety acts as an alarm system to keep you from harm.  It triggers your “fight or flight” response. 

Children naturally have many more fears than most adults, although most fears eventually go away as they grow.  When evaluating your child’s anxiety, it is important to keep in mind the age appropriateness of their emotional response.
Carolyn Webster-Stratton, Ph.D., from University of Washington, wrote a great article called, “Helping Children Learn to RegulateTheir Emotions”. This article explains and provides tools for parents to help their children learn to control anxiety in an effect and age appropriate way.

In summary, Carolyn explains many steps a parent can take to support their little one if they notice a heightened level of anxiety.  These are nine of the twelve points that stuck out for me:
1.    Provide as much stability and consistency as possible.
a.     i.e. consistent limit setting, clear household rules, predictable routines & consequences, etc.
2.    Accept your child’s emotions and emotional responses.
a.     While emotional responses can be draining, your patience and acceptance are crucial factors in your child learning to cope with his/her emotional responses.
3.   Talk about your own feelings.
a.     Children learn from what their parent’s model. Your children will be less likely to resort to behavioral expressions of negative emotions if they see you use language to express your own emotional state.
4.    Encourage children to talk about feelings – avoid directives about feels.
a.     Avoid saying, “Don’t be sad,” or “You shouldn’t be angry about that.” Instead, try saying, “I see you are said about that: Can you tell me what happened?”
5.    Model appropriate emotional regulation.
a.     Similar to 3, it is important to model the behavior you expect your child to exhibit. Rather than exploding or using swear words to express yourself, you can say, “I feel disappointed that this is not going my way. I need to take a break.”
6.    Teach your child positive self-talk.
a.     Rather than saying, “I can’t do it,” or “I’m going to lose it!”, say “I can do it,” and “I can calm myself down.”
7.     Identify triggering events and use them to teach problem-solving.
a.     You want to teach your child to generate several possible solutions to a problem. This will give them confidence if/when they are triggered.
8.    Use a Time Out for inappropriate emotional angry outburst.
a.     Yelling at your child for misbehaving or giving in to your child’s emotional outbursts actually increases the likelihood they will continue in the future. Using a Time Out .
9.    Praise your child’s efforts to regulate their emotions.
a.     “I am really proud of you for working hard even when it was difficult.”
b.     “That was great. You calmed yourself down.”

Additionally, I would add:
1.     Use the “Size of the Problem” chart to identify appropriate level of response. – (see “Size of the Problem” post for more info.)
2.     Create a “Worry Box” at home where your child can write down a “worry” or nervous feeling that can be left in the box.
a.     I explain to students that when they have big nervous or worried feelings, they can write down or draw the feeling, then leave it in my worry box for me to hold on to.  This way, they will not carry the feeling with them all day. I welcome them to come take it back at the end of the day if they feel they need it, but that I will keep it safe in my box for the day. (They almost never come back for the feelings). Having a worry box at home is a great tool for communication with you and your child.  You can ask your child to write or draw when they have feelings they either don’t want to have or that they would like to talk about with you later.
3.     Establish a safe zone at home such as a “Cool Down Corner” with tools where your child may defuse. Here are some helpful tools to keep in your corner.
a.     Size of the Problem chart and/or Zones of Regulation poster.
b.     Cool Down Tool Box
c.      Lazy 8 Breathing
d.     Kimochis
e.     Timer
f.      Pen & Paper – I even encourage using Mr. Sketch markers because they smell yummy and encourage students to take a deep breath when they smell the marker.
Or any cool down strategies or tools that work best for your family.

Mastering cool down techniques for anxiety takes time, especially for children. Keep in mind that anxiety is a normal and healthy feeling. If the feeling is not impacting your child’s daily functioning, do not see the behavior as a red flag. 

In our school district, we are lucky to have a highly educated and dedicated staff of teachers who use amazing tools in their classes that help your children perform at their highest level.  If you ever have concerns regarding your child’s anxiety, please do not hesitate to reach out to their teacher for support. 

As an endnote, please keep in mind the time of year when evaluating your child’s level of anxiety.  With the holidays around the corner, we will naturally see a heightened level of feelings, especially anxiety.  Keep a few strategies in your back pocket and know that, not only is your child normal for feeling anxious, but you are normal for feeling overwhelmed! 

On that note, happiest of Holidays to all of you!  And when times are not so happy, remember to take a deep breath in….and now out.

Best to you all!