Creating a culture of caring is an important way to work with students in combating bullying. By empowering students to take action in their environments, we are not only improving the here and now, but teaching skills that can be used by students in their ongoing character development. This means teaching students to speak up when they see something they don’t think is right, as well as recognizing good things they see happening in the world around them.
Engaging in prosocial behavior means doing something voluntarily solely with the intention of it benefitting others. Not only do these behaviors make other people happy, but it usually means making yourself happy. Doing nice things for others reinforce a positive self-image, which helps to build feelings of self-worth, and resiliency. Resiliency is what helps us to get through hard times – such as coping with bullying.
Research shows that prosocial behaviors can be grouped into three different categories: sharing, helping, and cooperating. These behaviors can include things such as “showing sympathy and kindness, helping, giving, sharing, showing positive verbal and physical contact, showing concern, taking the perspective of another person, and cooperating”. Looking at this from a developmental standpoint, we can point out noticeable differences in the ways children are processing information and able to interact with each other as they engage in these prosocial behaviors. They begin to notice and interpret social cues with increasing accuracy. They are able to formulate social goals, and when problems come up they are able to think of different ways of problem solving and evaluate which would give the best results and act accordingly. It seems like common sense that if children are properly able to engage these social skills there will be less conflict. Similarly, if students are taught to value others just for whom they are, it should reduce instances of bullying.
Resiliency is what helps us to get through hard times – such as coping with bullying.
So how do we do this? How can we teach our students these skills? Teachers can do this through facilitating positive play interactions. One suggestion could be to emphasize cooperative games which emphasize working together and where there is no “winning” team. This is helpful because working to reduce power struggles reduce bullying, and the act of working together to accomplish a common task can help kids to develop feelings of empathy for others. Try to set up your classroom to provide space and materials which facilitate cooperative play. Stock your bookshelves with literature featuring characters who demonstrate empathy and caring actions instead of competition. Some cooperative activities include puzzles, skipping rope, blocks, or frisbee. These activities encourage social interaction between children who have different strengths and abilities.
It’s also important to recognize student’s efforts to engage in prosocial behaviors. This works especially well when it is not just an adult pointing these out but when prosocial behaviors are noticed by peers. I have worked to incorporate this into iCare; an app which is free for students to download and use to anonymously report bullying as well as “superstar” behavior in their peers. By giving students the tools to empower them to report bullying and recognize the good deeds of others we can help to change the culture in our schools. Watch for my next blog entry all about iCare and how it works!