On a morning jog, I happened to notice some bright, tiny, yellow flowers beginning to sprout out of the ground.
They made me stop in my tracks. I had to take a picture of them.
I was immediately taken back to a day when I was about 12 years old. I remember my grandmother—who I affectionately called Meme—and I were pulling weeds in her garden. I remember seeing these sweet little yellow flowers sprouting up among the other flowers in the garden. I remember Meme cringing when I commented on them. Since she seemed to know everything about every flower, I asked what they were called.
“They are buttercups,” she said hastily. “I hate buttercups.”
Now you must know, my Meme loved EVERYONE, and EVERYONE loved her. Anywhere we would go people would strike up a conversation with her. We always joked that she knew people everywhere. She was so friendly and loving.
That was why I was so shocked to hear her use the “H” word. Apparently she saw my shock and confusion and decided to explain.
Meme told me that when she was in middle school there was a girl who everyone called Buttercup. Just like the flowers, Buttercup was beautiful. To adults she appeared to be sweet and innocent, but to the other girls, she was vicious.
Buttercup spread rumors. She made fun of girls to their faces and behind their backs. She would not allow certain girls to sit with her and her friends at lunch. When students complained to teachers and parents about the way they were treated by Buttercup, no one believed them. “Buttercup would never do such a thing,” they would say.
Buttercup never was physically violent to anyone. Her words, however, felt way worse than a slap across the face.
I couldn’t imagine anyone ever being mean to Meme. And I couldn’t imagine how something that happened in middle school could affect you later in life. Now, having survived middle school myself, I can imagine. I still remember mean things that people said to me and about me. I remember dirty looks and feelings of isolation.
I now know that Buttercup’s behavior is an example of relational aggression. She used her power to manipulate girls, including Meme.
To this day it pains me to think that someone could still hurt so much so many years later as an adult—even as a grandmother.
I see part of my mission as a school counselor is to help students realize the impact their words and actions have on others. I try to help them understand the power they have to make someone’s day better or miserable.
Here are some ways you can engage students in discussions about bullying and help them realize the positive impact they can have!
- Act it out. Have students pull bullying or relational aggression scenarios out of a hat or bucket. Instruct the students to role-play each scenario. Ask the audience, “What advice would you give to the student(s) being targeted in this scenario?” “How do you think each student feels?” “What could the student who is displaying bullying behavior do differently in this situation?”
- In someone else’s shoes. An idea I love from Naomi Drew’s book, No Kidding About Bullying, involves having students literally stand in the other person’s shoes. Using two sets of traced feet, have the students switch spots (shoes) after hearing the other person’s perspective. It is even more powerful to have the student repeat what they heard the other person say and how that person felt.
- Focus on kindness. I often have students brainstorm ways they could be KIND to someone else. I feel that oftentimes we focus on the behaviors that are unkind and fail to teach children positive ways to interact with others. You can challenge students to do a certain number of acts of kindness.
- Super Bystanders. I often tell students that they have the POWER to change the situation just by being there for someone. A positive bystander is someone who supports a target of bullying, or tells the person who is bullying to stop. After reading Confessions of a Former Bully, I had students create capes using construction paper with ways they could be a “hero bystander.”
What instances of bullying still haunt you as a grown-up? What methods, techniques, or ideas do you use to teach children and adolescents about bullying? Please share your stories, thoughts, and reactions in the comment section.
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Confessions of a Former Bully by Trudy Ludwig
ODD Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls by Rachel Simmons
Girls in Real Life Situations: Grades K-5 Group Counseling Activities for Enhancing Social and Emotional Development by Julia V. Taylor
Girls in Real Life Situations: Grades 6-12 Group Counseling Activities for Enhancing Social and Emotional Development by Julia V. Taylor
No Kidding About Bullying by Naomi Drew
Respect: A Girl’s Guide to Getting Respect and Dealing When Your Line Is Crossed by Courtney Macavinta and Andrea Vander Pluym
The New Bully Free Classroom by Allan L. Beane, Ph.D.
Good-Bye Bully Machine by Debbie Fox and Allan L. Beane, Ph.D.