Eradicating bullying: Parents, teachers and positive reinforcement preparation

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Most kids will experience some form of teasing from fellow classmates, which, unfortunately, is just part of growing up. Teasing becomes bullying, however, when it's cognizant, repetitive, disrespectful, used with a malicious intent and in some cases when an imbalance of power is present. Children can be bullied verbally (threats, humiliating, harassment, mocking), physically (hitting, shoving, stealing property) and psychologically (excluding, intimidation, gossiping). With the use of technology and social media, kids can also be cyber-bullied.
Currently, schools have become savvy to the detrimental effects of bullying and many schools are incorporating the use of a program called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). PBIS recognized a need for creating a constructive and healthy school setting for students by defining and teaching proper scholar behavior. Rather than focus on negative behavior and consequences therein, this strategy concentrates on encouraging and rewarding positive and sustainable conduct.
The PBIS program, established by the Office of Special Education Programs, US Department of Education, implements many tactics including an explicit three-step school-wide reaction to unwanted behavior. The first step is to articulate an agreed upon demand to the offender akin to "Stop" or "Back Off" while using a specific hand signal. The second step is to walk away and the third step is to inform an adult. If the child is in serious danger, an adult must be notified immediately.
"From what I've witnessed, there's also a line sometimes between what happens in school and out of school in terms of school's level of involvement. A parent might report something that happened at a sleepover or an e-mail that's being circulated. The school wouldn't really get involved but we'd have antennae up to see if there was carry over," said Annie Darley, a teacher at Whittier Elementary in Oak Park. "If a parent reports that his/her child is being bullied at school, it's often the social worker (if the school has one - many don't) who would try to talk to individuals involved and follow up with a behavior plan and any other intervention like social skill groups or an individual plan for the bully and the victim."
Parents also have a responsibility to help their children at home. Many children might be embarrassed or too ashamed to let an adult know what is going on at school. Some kids may believe that there is nothing that can be done or that telling an adult will only make it worse. Parents should let teachers and/or principals know if they suspect bullying. It's important to have a collaborative effort with the school in order to effectively solve the crisis and provide a safe learning experience.
"I think there's a lot that goes on that doesn't end up getting reported for a lot of reasons," said Darley. "We have parents who take responsibility on and share in the plan to help the kids once we've initiated contact."
Many signs and symptoms could indicate bullying. Parents must be aware if their child has torn clothing, bruises or scratches, a reluctance to go to school, bad dreams or excessive crying, a decline in grades, mood swings including: anger, depression, and irritability, an increase in passivity and loneliness.
Teaching your child how to be self-assured and socially aware may help. Encouraging your child to make friendships, get involved in school clubs and participate in team building athletics might also foster confidence. In some cases, it may be beneficial to seek professional counseling to help your child cope. Offering support, a listening ear and refuge to your child is essential. Visit www.pbis.org for more information.