Creating a Trauma-Informed Learning Environment

By Amanda C. Symmes, LICSW

Creating a Trauma-Informed Learning EnvironmentWe live in a time when trauma seems to be everywhere. Divorce is not uncommon. There have been numerous shootings in schools. Drugs and suicide continue to steal people every day. Poverty and abuse overwhelm, and cycles of dysfunction in families spin out generational patterns of suffering. Life can be so very hard for children.

Yes, I am fully aware that this is a very bleak way to begin a blog post. But before you leave this page depressed and disappointed, I want you to know that there is hope. And that hope is you. So please consider staying with this, because I believe in the power of creating a trauma-informed learning environment for all of us.

For me, there is not a day that passes when I do not engage with a student who has experienced trauma. Given the statistics, if you are working in education in any capacity, the same is likely true for you.

What Does Trauma-Informed Mean?
As schools maintain their critical focus on education and achievement, they must also acknowledge that mental health and wellness are innately connected to students’ success in the classroom and to a thriving school environment. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network is an excellent resource for support, and their website describes in more detail what it means to be trauma-informed. Check out their website and follow the other resources to find out more.

But What Does This Mean for Me?
As a school adjustment counselor, I am on the front line of support for students navigating trauma. Yet beyond this, I am consistently consulting with teachers and staff who are wondering if they are providing the “right” support. If you are a teacher who is wondering this, let me just say: Almost anything you do to help a child feel safe is trauma informed. If you want to know more about how to ensure this idea truly is a reality in your daily practice, remember these four C-words:

  • Care (About the Invisible Backpack). Caring about a child’s “invisible backpack” can be a transformative trauma-informed practice. This means that you actually tell students that you can see their invisible backpacks. Tell them that this invisible bag carries all their unique challenges and hard life experiences. Share that you understand that it may feel like carrying a backpack full of big rocks and that this is stressful and unfair for a child. But then invite students to take off their backpacks, explaining that your job as an educator is to help them carry this weight. Pick a spot in your classroom and point to where other kids have put down their invisible backpacks. Give students permission not to think about those things while they are in school and instead focus on being a kid. Encourage them to talk, write, or draw about one of those “rocks” as a way to make their pack a bit lighter. Tell them you know that some days it will be hard to carry their backpack and hard to take it off, but you see that and you care.
  • Create (a Safe Space). Creating a trauma-informed learning environment looks a certain way in the physical sense as well. Having a welcoming and open space is important. Create an area of the classroom where kids can sit and take a break away from their desks and use some self-calming tools, such as a weighted soft stuffed animal, therapeutic putty, a fidget, or a journal. Consider posting steps for a deep-breathing technique, and provide a timer they can set for no more than five minutes to re-center before returning to their seat. If you are aware of specific students with trauma histories, consider that they may wish to sit near the door, or perhaps near a window, and ask them to let you know where they are most comfortable. If you can turn off some of the brighter lights in your room and use lower lighting and natural light, this can be helpful too. Remember that students with trauma may not be able to sit for long periods of time, and regular movement breaks (every 30 minutes) are effective. Create a system you are comfortable with for taking breaks outside of the classroom as well. Perhaps allow students to take a “break card” and teach them the parameters around leaving and returning.
  • Consistently (Name What Is Happening). Understand that students with trauma need consistent expectations and they need to clearly understand those expectations. Provide a daily schedule and routine. Give clear directions, repeat things in smaller chunks, use visual prompts, ask for students to repeat directions back to you, and give supportive reminders and warnings before transitions. Attempt to notify students of any changes in advance (changes to schedule, if a substitute will be in, and so forth). Resist yelling, because children with trauma can be particularly sensitive to this. It is important to note that just because students have experienced trauma, it does not mean they should be given free reign to do whatever they want. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Kids are looking to see that you are going to keep them safe and contain them in a supportive way. Set clear and fair expectations right away about what will not be tolerated. Stay consistent with this so that if a student is struggling, you can validate that they are having a tough time and offer strategies (calm-down corner, breaks, etc.) to manage their feelings. You can be trauma sensitive and still have limits. If children require behavioral support outside the classroom, offer a warm statement that they will get through their tough time and you will look forward to them returning to your space.
  • Connect. Know your students. Give each child a voice. Having a daily meeting with a question or prompt to give each child a chance to share can be very powerful for students. Give students jobs to build their self-concept and self-worth as well as grow their connection to the classroom experience. Try to build an individual “thing” with each child in whatever way you can. Students with trauma may be harder to connect with, but don’t stop trying. It may appear that students are not responding to your efforts to connect, but they are listening and sometimes waiting to make sure that you won’t give up on them. Don’t give up on them and tell them that you will not.

Resilience Is an Experience, Not a Trait
The literature on trauma reveals that resilience is not a characteristic that you either have or don’t. Rather, it’s a process that can be facilitated, and the single most important factor in that process is the presence of at least one supportive adult. You can be that important adult in a student’s life.

Amanda SymmesAmanda C. Symmes, LICSW, is a social worker currently serving as a school adjustment counselor in Haverhill, Massachusetts. She adores her work with children and is continually amazed by the talented and caring staff she is surrounded by each day. Aside from her work family, Amanda lives with her supportive husband and three kids (ages 16, 13, and 6) and enjoys spending time with them taking in all the beauty and joy in the world. She enjoys writing, knitting, laughing, walking, and using mindfulness. Connect with Amanda on Twitter @LicswAmanda and on her blog

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Student Engagement and the Power of Connecting

By Stephanie Filio

Student Engagement and the Power of ConnectingRetaining a student’s attention is only a small part of what educators do to ensure that students are engaged in material. Engagement in learning is a constant cognitive immersion. In environments where this constant immersion is occurring, teachers and students are mutually consumed by rapid cognitive network growth and inspired inquiry. This maintained learning is rooted in rapport building, which grows into shared excitement over subject matter until the learners receive new information without even realizing it. The feeling you get in these types of classrooms is exciting, and you never want to leave!

Information taught in school can be a bundle of facts for testing and promotion or a network of material that links old knowledge with new knowledge, allowing for deeper understanding, retention, and recall. Once students are on a path of engaged and continued learning, they are not only watching educators, they are part of the educational process. That’s what makes engagement meaningful and produces more successful students and more satisfied educators.

Student engagement is the difference between moving through the motions of the school day and interacting with content. There is nothing more invigorating for me than visiting a classroom where the students are fully engaged in the work they are doing. They are excited, they are all participating, and everyone is right there with one another on the same wavelength. Teachers in these classrooms are learning with their students, and they are presenting information that they clearly believe is essential to living. In these classrooms, kids are showing up to class willingly, and they are succeeding by completing work and waiting for the next step. As a bystander, I want to be a student too!

When classes are engaging like this, I get fewer students sent to me for discipline, and the teachers are enjoying their jobs more. So what is the key to creating such an addicting classroom experience?

The Importance of Rapport Building
By far, the quickest way to get students to “buy in” to their education is to build relationships with them. Before expectations are outlined or icebreakers introduce peers to one another, the teacher has to make a connection with each student. When teachers do this, students know they are not just seen as another body in a desk, but as an individual entity to be cared for. When students feel their teacher is an ally, they will trust that teacher. With trust, they will accept the information as important even if it’s daunting and know that if they have a difficult time, help will be available. When trust is lacking, the engagement process isn’t even possible because the student is shutting out information.

Many tried-and-true rapport-building tactics take very little time but yield strong relationships between students and educators. Here are a few examples from my own hallway.

  • Morning greetings. Greetings for each student in the morning can make a big difference. Have a consistent place where students will expect you, and flash your best coffee-induced smile while giving an audible “Good morning” with full eye contact. Double your impact with a reminder or a check-in about something personal to each student. You will not only be building rapport, you will be showing your students that you think about them when they are not there and that you remember them on a personal level.
  • Minute meetings. Meet in a semiprivate location for one minute with each student. I have done this in the hallway right outside the classroom by asking each student three preset questions, but a classroom teacher can easily integrate this into the day during small-group learning, circuit lessons, or “drop-everything-and-read” time. Even a quick word when students enter the hallway or classroom offers connection. Extra props to you if you collect quick data with something simple, such as three to five preset questions on a Google form.
  • Personal life mini-lesson. Letting students know information about you increases student trust and encourages them to be more open with their own sharing. Though you wouldn’t want to compare students to your own family or share beyond boundaries, it’s good for students to know that you are human, too, and to understand what it feels like to juggle multiple lives. I conduct a social media mini-lesson in which students find clues about my family from a collection of my personal pictures. (I generally pull these pictures off my personal social media sites and compile them into a PowerPoint presentation I share with students.) Students discover the name of my neighborhood, my children’s schools, and where I’ve been on trips, all based on clues from the photos. Once they’ve realized how much they were able to learn from simple photos, I circle back to internet safety by asking who else might have access to that information if my sites are not properly secured.
  • Note passing. Having a note-passing system in place is a great way to have private moments with students while managing many kids. Notes can be supportive, refer to individual students’ challenges, redirect attention, or just check-in. They can be on scrap pieces of paper or special stationary of your liking. I have postcards that I write encouraging or congratulatory notes on, and which I hand to students or place in their binders when I visit classrooms. I am often pleasantly surprised when students take it upon themselves to write me letters, as well, with questions or things they would like to discuss but are a little nervous about verbalizing. This is a simple extension of accessibility and offers another avenue for students who do better with more private modes of communication.

Shared Excitement and Continued Learning
Some of the most engaging teachers are not only offering information, they are covering material that they are still curious about themselves. Like anyone else, students can tell when teachers are actually excited about what they are talking about. Real passion isn’t easily faked, and when teachers are riding this roller coaster of gaining knowledge with students, the classroom becomes an experience. Students will be more engaged when their teachers are engaged too.

In counseling we say that we must act as a mirror for the client. In doing so, the client can see where they are, and we can elevate that mood by our own behavior. This type of symbiotic relationship is easy to emulate in the classroom or in the hallway. We do not want students to copy what they see; we want them to see themselves in it. So when an educator is enthusiastic about learning, students realize they can be enthusiastic as well and that this is a safe space to be curious and to experiment with the knowledge being presented to them. When students become captivated by a lesson, they are concentrating, focused, and investing their time. They are engaged, and they will find a determination to keep growing this connection.

Teachers spend a considerable amount of their day bouncing around the classroom to keep their students entertained. They are combating elementary distraction, preteen vulnerability, and young adult apathy. But true and meaningful student engagement is more than that. To the unassuming spectator, student engagement in education might look like a set of bells and whistles—fireworks, puppets, and riding on a unicycle in front of 27 young people to get them interested in multiplication. To us educators, student engagement is a masterpiece orchestration of subtle and constant connections made with students to create trust and buy-in. We tell the student that learning isn’t just fun, but that it is a part of us and a way to view the world.

Stephanie FilioStephanie Filio is a middle school counselor in Virginia Beach. She received her undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Virginia and her M.Ed. in counseling from Old Dominion University. In a discussion with one of her UVA professors about her desire to stay in school forever, her mentor wisely responded, “If you want to be a lifelong learner, go into education,” and so she found her place. Prior to her six years as a school counselor, Stephanie worked in private education, specializing in standardized tests, test preparation, and future planning. She writes about her career and hobbies at her blog, Weekend Therapy, and can be found on Twitter @steffschoolcoun. Stephanie also enjoys spending time with her books, crafts, and family.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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8 Ideas for Building Intrinsic Motivation to Learn in Students

By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., author of Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.

8 Ideas for Building Intrinsic Motivation to Learn in StudentsI love to travel. Most everything about it excites me—from the packing to the hustle-bustle of the airport to landing in a new location. Prior to my trips, I study where I’m going. I investigate the culture, foods, places to see (especially off-the-beaten-path locations), and the people. I do this research not because someone tells me to, but because I know it will help me enjoy my travel a lot more. I’m motivated by the unexpected rewards of travel. Doing my own research gives me a sense of confidence about what I’m going to experience, autonomy in where I can go, and a connectedness to where I’m going.

Throughout the history of schooling, we’ve approached the idea of “learning” something as mandatory, or an act of compliance. This was because the knowledge flowed from the teacher and the text to the empty vessel of the student’s mind. The structure of education was one of reward and punishment. You were either rewarded with good grades or punished with poor grades. Both the reward and punishment were contingent upon how someone else evaluated your learning—if you met the teacher’s approval, you were compensated with a good grade.

Extrinsic reward and punishment (compliance) may have a benefit when learning and doing routine, unimaginative tasks—such as brushing your teeth, taking out the garbage, or cleaning the bathroom. However, it can have a divesting effect on creative, exploratory tasks—such as learning how to read, doing a science experiment, and learning how numbers work. As Daniel Pink states in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, routine jobs require direction, whereas nonroutine or creative jobs depend upon our ability to be self-directed. He also says that successful people work hard and persist through difficult situations because of their “internal desire to control their lives, learn about their world, and accomplish something that endures.”¹ Isn’t this what we want from our students—that they work hard, learn about their world, and create for others?

Research suggests we learn more through intrinsic motivators than we do through the reward/punishment model of extrinsic motivators.² Students who are more intrinsically motivated do a better job at deep thinking, perform higher academically, manage their time more efficiently, have more focus, and have lower dropout rates.³

All humans have three basic universal needs: to be competent, to have autonomy, and to feel connected. This is how we build intrinsic desire to learn. To gain competence, students must feel confident about their skills and believe that the skills are worthwhile. Autonomy comes when students can define and set their own goals based on what they believe to be valuable and relevant. When content is valuable and relevant, we’ve found the key to connectedness.

Here are eight ideas for building intrinsic motivation:

  1. Build student confidence by finding and celebrating successes, no matter how small. Students who experience failure on routine tasks often don’t feel confident—they don’t know what it feels like to be successful. Find those little things the student is good at—even if it’s simply getting to school on time—to nurture the child’s feelings of worth and value. Remind them how it feels to be successful. This way they can think back to those feelings when things get tough.
  2. Use descriptive feedback to focus students on what they are good at, what needs improvement, and where to find the resources to make those improvements. Ongoing and timely descriptive feedback during the instructional period can increase a student’s confidence and lead to a greater sense of autonomy.
  3. Treat every child as an individual. Each of us is a sum of our parts—including our personal history, belief systems, values and morals, ethnicity, race, and economic status. Avoid generalizing about a child—get to know each as a unique being with talents worth developing and gifts to offer the world. Boosting a child’s sense of individuality can also boost her or his self-confidence to succeed.
  4. To increase a child’s feeling of autonomy, provide each child with a space he or she can “own.” For elementary teachers, this may be a cubby, desk, or basket for students to store their supplies. For secondary teachers, this might be a preferred seat in the room, a file folder (either real or virtual), or a mailbox (also either real or virtual). Having a space to call their own helps students feel a sense of ownership and place within the classroom community.
  5. Build a classroom community in which learning is the expectation, not the exception. Sometimes bright kids are put down for wanting to learn and be successful—they will then hide and become less motivated. Students who have traditionally not done well are less inclined to take intellectual risks for fear of continual failure. Make learning the central value of the classroom community. Praise effort over achievement. Ensure that mistakes are considered learning experiences. Never use grades to reward or punish compliance. Grades should represent the child’s gains from the beginning of the unit to the final lesson.
  6. Use grades to communicate levels of learning, from the beginning to the end. Significant research informs us that giving a student a poor grade does not make that student work harder next time—in fact, it can do the exact opposite. Teach students about grades—what they mean and what they communicate. Provide students with rubrics, examples of quality work, and the resources they will need to be successful—right at the beginning of learning. Students feel better about learning when they know precisely what is expected of them, how to do it, and where to find the resources.
  7. Build on student interests. Provide opportunities for students to explore and incorporate their interests in the learning process. The number-one way to get learning to “stick” is through interest—when students are interested, they will pay attention.
  8. Finally, to keep students motivated, have them routinely reflect on their learning. Real achievement doesn’t happen overnight—it’s incremental and sometimes takes a while. Have students reflect on such questions as:
    • Did I do my best today?
    • Did I do better today than yesterday?
    • In what ways did I feel successful or challenged today?
    • Was I able to do more today than yesterday?
    • What can I do tomorrow to make it a better day?

Give students the tools they need to be more confident in their learning, self-directed, and connected to others. Let’s remove the “carrot-and-stick” theory in the classroom. Help students take charge of their learning by being more intrinsically driven to succeed.

¹Pink, D.H. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. New York: Riverhead Books, 2009.
²Schunk, D.H., and B.J. Zimmerman (eds.). Motivation and Self-Regulated Learning: Theory, Research, and Applications. New York: Routledge, 2008.
³Cash, R.M. Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing, 2016.

Richard CashRichard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.

Free Spirit books by Richard Cash:

Self-regulation Advancing Differentiation Revised and Updated Edition Differentiation for Gifted Learners

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Posted in Teaching Strategies | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Flu Season Survival Guide for Teachers

By Andrew Hawk

Flu Season Survival Guide for TeachersBeing a teacher comes with several occupational hazards. One of these hazards is the exposure to infectious diseases. It’s not just that children take part in a variety of habits that spread germs, it’s that schools put a large group of people together in close proximity to one another. Prior to student teaching, a professor told my class to be prepared to be sick while our immune systems adapted to all the new germs to which we would be exposed. This professor stated that our first year of teaching would be even worse. I had already worked as a teaching assistant for six years, so I thought I was safe. I was wrong. During my first year of teaching, I contracted a cold that lasted from January to the end of March.

The flu is the one contagious ailment teachers fear most. My worst experience was during the swine flu outbreak in 2010, when, for nearly a week, only 8 of my 25 students attended school (though I did not get sick). Just last year, a teacher at my current school had 16 students absent simultaneously due to the flu.

Here are some tips that can help you survive this year’s flu season.

Get a flu shot. As with religion and politics, I have learned not to debate with people about the flu shot. Many people buy into the idea that the shot can give you the flu. I can only tell you that I get one every year and have never contracted the flu from the shot. I hope you will consider getting a flu shot.

Distribute your school’s policy. At my school, a student is not allowed to return to school if he or she has regurgitated within 24 hours. I have heard of parents arguing with the nurse and office staff that their child felt fine the day after being sent home for puking. These policies are in place to try to prevent a wide-scale outbreak of illness. Make sure parents are aware of the policy in place at your school so no one is caught off guard. I like to also mention this in parent-teacher conferences in case parents miss the form that is sent home.

Teach proper sickness procedures. Deciding whether a child is too sick to attend school can be difficult for parents. Most schools do not send children home unless they regurgitate or are running a fever over 100 degrees. Every year, teachers will have students that fall into the gray area of feeling bad but not bad enough to go home. Teach basic procedures at the beginning of the year to help limit the spread of germs. Include proper handwashing and how to cover your mouth when you cough. The school nurse at my first school visited classrooms and taught a lesson on handwashing. She told adults and children to sing the song “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” two times in your head to ensure that you wash for the recommended two minutes. In addition, always correct students when they cough into their hands. Unless you wash your hands immediately after coughing, coughing into your hands only works to spread germs. Coughing into your elbow is a better alternative. I also keep a large bottle of hand sanitizer next to my tissues and encourage students to use some after they blow their noses.

Wipe down your room. Be sure to put sanitation wipes on your school list. During flu season, your room should be wiped down regularly. I recommend having students help with this at the end of the day at least once a week. I tell my class to wipe down all the places hands are most likely to touch. Don’t forget to have your helpers wipe down classroom pencils and pens.

Take vitamins. My mother is a dietician. From a young age, I was taught the impact of proper nutrition on building and maintaining the immune system. On my mother’s recommendation, I take a multivitamin and 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C daily. It is also helpful to eat fresh fruit and raw vegetables.

Get enough rest. Between home life and classroom preparation, it can seem that there are not enough minutes in the day. Still, getting eight hours of sleep contributes to your overall wellness both physically and mentally. If you find you are having trouble finding enough time in the day to get eight hours of sleep, examine your daily schedule and see if there are ways you can save time.

Don’t be a hero. It is painstaking preparing for a substitute. Oftentimes I hear colleagues commenting that they come to work sick because it is easier than missing. In addition, many teachers would rather deliver instruction themselves instead of relying on a substitute. However, rest and fluids at the onset of a cold or flu can shorten your recovery time. During my long illness my first year of teaching, I did not miss a single day. While I thought I was doing what was best at the time, now I wonder if I would have recovered faster had I taken a couple days off in the beginning.

If you get sick, get a prescription for Tamiflu. Last school year, I contracted the flu in early September. This was prior to the beginning of flu season, and I had not had my flu shot because they were not yet in stock at my doctor’s office. In the past, I have not visited the doctor due to flu symptoms, but in this instance I was feeling so ill that I was not sure I even had the flu. My doctor tested me for strep throat, mono, and the flu. Based on these tests, she diagnosed me with influenza A (H3N2). She wrote me a prescription for something called Tamiflu. I had heard of Tamiflu but didn’t really know any details about it. I filled the prescription and was feeling better just an hour after taking the first dose. I returned to my classroom after only one more day of rest.

Andrew HawkAndrew Hawk has worked in public education for 16 years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher, and for the past five years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. Andrew earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University, and in 2016, he completed a second master’s degree in educational leadership, also from WGU. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2018 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Elementary Angle | Tagged | Leave a comment

Bullying 101

By James J. Crist, Ph.D., author of The Survival Guide for Making and Being Friends

Bullying 101Bullying is essentially a pattern of repeated hurtful behavior toward others, generally with the bullying person having a power advantage over the target, in terms of age, size, gender, peer group status, or something else. It can take the form of repeated verbal teasing, spreading rumors, threats of harm, or actual physical aggression. Ostracizing or excluding others from social interactions is also a form of bullying. Bullying can have lasting effects on a child’s mental health and school performance.

Often bullying occurs out of sight of adults, which makes it harder for adults to intervene. It happens at lunch or during recess, when there is often less supervision. On the bus or at the bus stop are other common bullying locations. Finally, with kids’ use of social media and texting, bullying can go online (cyberbullying), which can be humiliating for kids and has even resulted in suicide in extreme cases. Furthermore, many kids do not want to report bullying, since they may be labeled a “snitch” for telling. This is one reason why many kids don’t tell adults, even their parents. Research also shows that very few kids intervene to stop bullying when they witness it.

According to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 percent of students in grades 9–12 in the United States reported being bullied on school property in the 12 months preceding the survey. A majority of kids said they have witnessed bullying in their schools.

Warning Signs of Bullying
Parents and educators should be aware of signs that may indicate a child is being bullied. These may include sleep disturbance, reluctance or fear of going to school, unexplained injuries, “lost” or damaged belongings, isolation, stomachaches or headaches, or other sudden unexplainable changes in behavior. Paying attention to these signs is particularly important since bullying can be a risk factor for suicide.

What Makes Kids Bully
Kids who bully tend to be self-centered and often lack a sense of empathy. Some have been victims of bullying themselves (possibly by parents or siblings) and take out their anger on others. Others suffer from low self-esteem and try to make themselves feel better by putting down others, which can be a way of trying to impress friends. Also, kids who bully may have trouble interpreting others’ feelings and intentions. They enjoy seeing others upset by their actions, rather than feeling bad when they realize they are hurting someone with their actions.

Helping Kids Who Are Being Bullied
First, it is important to validate the feelings of the child being bullied. If kids don’t think you are taking them seriously, they likely won’t seek out an adult for help in the future. Thank them for coming to you. Find out how often the bullying is occurring. Kids teasing other kids once or twice is different from repeated taunting, which is considered bullying.

Ask students being bullied how they have tried handling it so far. If they are reporting the bullying, chances are they have tried to stop it but have been unable to do so. Any threats of physical harm should be dealt with immediately. The child doing the bullying should be spoken to, parents should be notified, and both the bullying child and his or her parents should be aware of the consequences should the harassment continue.

While telling kids to ignore teasing is a common strategy, it’s easier said than done. Words can hurt a lot. Still, ignoring name-calling can be a good first step. Walking away is sometimes helpful, as is having a response already rehearsed. Saying, “I’ll think about that” or asking questions such as “What do you mean?” or “Why do you care?” can be a way of disarming someone who is bullying. The book Bullying Is a Pain in the Brain is an excellent resource for kids.

Preventing Bullying
While teasing and conflict are a part of many kids’ lives, bullying takes these to a higher level. Given the lasting effects of bullying, it is essential that parents and teachers intervene early to prevent bullying as much as possible. Educating kids about bullying is a first step. Encouraging kids to come forward if they are being bullied or if they witness bullying is also important. Increasing supervision of students and knowing what to look for can help prevent bullying, or at least catch it early before it becomes a pattern of behavior.

Encourage kids to avoid being alone so they are less easy to target. Closer monitoring by teachers often helps deter bullying or helps them catch it when it happens. Use of security cameras can help as well, since many schools and even buses now have them. Close monitoring of areas such as stairwells and playgrounds is essential, since these less-supervised areas can be frequent locations for bullying.

Spending classroom time talking with students about bullying is important. This should be an ongoing discussion, not just a one-time lecture. Asking kids how often they observe bullying, how they feel when they see it, and what options they have for intervening can all be helpful. Role-playing in class can help kids practice skills needed to respond to bullying constructively.

Finally, intervening to prevent bullying should not only focus on punishing offenders. That does not teach them to stop. Rather, education is critical. Understanding why some kids resort to bullying can help educators and parents intervene. Kids can be taught to be more empathetic. When adults set an example of kindness and inclusiveness and actively work toward instilling those qualities in the students they oversee, the likelihood of bullying decreases.

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is one way to improve relationships among children as well as between students and teachers. SEL involves teaching kids skills such as managing emotions, interacting appropriately with others, asserting oneself, understanding the thoughts and feelings of others, and resolving conflict. More school systems are implementing these principles, which not only improve students’ interactions, but can also improve their academic performance. One resource for more information on this approach is the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning.

Mutual respect is also key, and parents and educators must model respect if they expect their students to treat one another with respect. Yelling, making fun of students, and embarrassing them in front of others teach kids that it’s okay to treat others this way.

Other Sources for Help
Fortunately, there are many resources available for parents, educators, and kids about dealing with bullying. One such resource is the US government site Another is PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center.

Dr. James J. CristAuthor James Crist is a psychologist specializing in children with ADHD, depression, and anxiety disorders. He is the clinical director and a staff psychologist at the Child and Family Counseling Center in Woodbridge, Virginia, where he provides psychological testing and individual, couples, and family psychotherapy for children, adolescents, and adults. Visit his website at

Free Spirit books by James Crist:

The Survival Guide for Making and Being Friends WhatToDoWhenYou'reScaredAndWorried What to Do When You’re Cranky & Blue

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