Interview by Grace Merritt with Dr. Jane Bluestein

© 2010, from the Hartford Courant, reported April 14, 2010

Dr. Jane Bluestein, an author and expert on bullying and creating a positive school environment, was the keynote speaker last week at a statewide conference on bullying prevention for teachers, school leaders, and parents. Bluestein believes that fostering a positive and safe school climate, in which teachers treat students and each other with respect, helps reduce bullying. She discussed the issues with The Courant:

— Grace E. Merritt

Q: What should schools do when bullying happens?

A. When adults witness kids being teased or called names, most adults do not intervene. It’s bad enough being teased or being called names, but for a kid to not have support from an adult is even worse.

If an adult does not step up and say, “We do not use that word here,” it’s almost like we’re colluding with this. It’s as though you are saying, “I am participating in a culture of meanness because I do not step up.” A lot of adults honestly are uncomfortable speaking up. I think a lot of us don’t know what to do. But it’s OK for adults to speak up.

Q: What should parents do to prevent bullying?

A: Let’s stop calling it bullying and let’s start calling it meanness. No parents are going to say “Oh yes, my kid’s a bully.”

Parents should recognize that kids need things like power and success. Parents should recognize that they can give kids a certain amount of power. Let them decide where they are going to do their homework or let them pick two out of three chores to do. Otherwise, kids might say, “If I don’t feel like I have any power and autonomy, I’ll get it in another way.” There is a great deal of power that can be derived from tormenting somebody.

Also, have conversations about how people treat one another, including how they treat each other on TV, so meanness does not become an acceptable standard of behavior.

It also helps to have kids build up a kind of psychological strength so they can take a hit without feeling the need to hurt somebody else or hurt themselves. What are we saying to a kid to make it legitimate to understand that there are almost 7 billion people on the planet and not all of them are going to like you, and that’s OK?

Also model respectful behavior. Don’t bully one another, don’t bully the kids.

Q: What should parents do if their kid is being bullied?

A: First of all, listen. Pay attention respectfully. Let the kid talk. Say, “Tell me more.”

No. 2, respond supportively, which means avoid a non-supportive responsive, like “Oh, she didn’t mean it” — basically denying or minimizing it. Saying, “Oh, that shouldn’t bother you” or “That’s not important” doesn’t help. Say something like, “Oh, it hurts when kids call us names.” That creates a feeling of safety. Rather than telling the kid, “Here, handle it this way or that way,” ask her a question: How would you like her to treat you? What can you do to take care of yourself?

Every question you ask can help her solve the problem. It helps the kid build the confidence and skills needed to take care of him or herself.

I certainly encourage parents to alert the school as well. I also suggest keeping track of the behaviors, keeping notes.

Q: The case in South Hadley, Mass., in which a high school girl committed suicide after being bullied and tormented at school for three months, has grabbed national headlines recently. How often does this kind of thing happen?

A: This happens all the time. We don’t write a headline every time a kid goes home and cuts herself, eats a pound of chocolate or smokes a joint. It’s tragic and it is hugely widespread.

This is a much bigger issue than one little school in Massachusetts. There are kids being tormented that aren’t making the news, not just there but everywhere, all over the world. It isn’t going to change until kids have a sense of connectiveness, belonging and safety.

Copyright © 2010, The Hartford Courant

Related links:

7 Steps to Bully-Proofing Kids
Building Your Classroom Community
Bully-Proofing Kids
Bullying Checklist for Kids
The Dignity Stance
The School as a Dysfunctional Family
You Belong

Book: The Beginning Teacher’s Survival Guide: Win-Win Strategies for Success
Book: Creating Emotionally Safe Schools
Book: Managing 21st Century Classrooms
Book: The Win-Win Classroom

Audio: Practical Strategies for Working Successfully with Difficult Students

Audio: TeacherTapes (mp3 download)

Podcast: “Bully” is a Four-Letter Word with Jo Ann Freiberg
Podcast: No Kidding About Bullying with Naomi Drew

Presentation: Bearing Witness: Support for Kids in Crisis
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Presentation: Conflict in the Classroom: Attacking Problems Not People
Presentation: Creating Emotionally Safe Schools: Is Your School an Emotionally Safe Place?
Presentation: “No Really, I’m Fine!” Connecting with Kids in Emotional Distress
Presentation: The Win-Win Classroom: A Fresh and Positive Look at Classroom Management

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