Rebecca Holtz, M.S.Ed, M.Phil.Ed and Lauren Johnson, M.Ed.
PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center wanted a nationwide call to action to help our children in school who were suffering from being bullied. In 2006 they named October National Bullying Prevention Month. Thirteen years later, bullying continues to be an increasingly relevant issue in our schools. Bullying Prevention Month is a great way to bring awareness to this topic; however, this does not mean that we focus on bully prevention for only 31 days. In elementary, middle, and high school, bullying needs to be addressed all year long. In order to help students stand up to bullies and create a positive environment in schools, CORA Counselors Rebecca Holtz and Lauren Johnson work with students in grade school and in high school, respectively, counseling them individually and in groups, and teaching guidance lessons in the classroom.
Rebecca Holtz is a School Counselor at Saint Martha Parish School and Nazareth Academy Grade School. With students in kindergarten through eighth grade, Ms. Holtz addresses bullying from several angles. Primarily, she gives students tools to use when they experience bullying or mean behavior from others. She teaches them to be upstanders, those who do their best to end bullying even when they are not directly involved. She gives them several strategies, such as telling the bully to stop, getting help from an adult, or supporting the people who have been bullied by standing up for them or inviting them to spend time away from the bully. She also teaches students communication skills they can use to resolve conflicts peacefully. She encourages students to use I-statements (I feel ____________ when you ___________. Can you/we___(solution goes here)_____?), which state clearly how the student is feeling and what he or she needs without being aggressive or hurtful. In classroom guidance lessons, small group meetings, and individual counseling sessions, students can learn and practice these strategies to resolve conflicts and create a culture in which bullying is not accepted.
It is important not only to address ways to stand up to bullies but also reasons why students may bully others. If students can understand their own motivations to be mean, they can find ways to fulfill their needs without hurting anyone. Oftentimes, students bully each other because of difficult feelings they experience and need to externalize. Some of these feelings may include, but are not limited to, anger, sadness, anxiety, or jealousy. Ms. Holtz works with students to help them tolerate and express their emotions appropriately. She gives them strategies for coping with difficult emotions, such as talking to an adult about their feelings, taking deep breaths, or walking away from a frustrating situation. She makes it clear that no feeling is wrong and that students have a right to express any feeling that is present for them. When students feel validated in their emotions and able to manage their feelings, they are less likely to express them in hurtful ways.
At Archbishop Ryan High School, where Lauren Johnson is a School Counselor, the issue of bullying is addressed in a multitude of ways. The primary goal is to teach compassion and acceptance and to help students feel more connected to each other. For the past 9 years, Ryan has held a Challenge Day led by the CORA counselors. This is a full day event for 9th through 12th graders that also includes teacher participation. The program includes both large and small group activities focused on getting to know each other on a deeper level. The message instilled throughout the day is that if we really know each other, not just the small part most people show, but really know each other’s struggles, challenges and strengths, then with that deeper understanding, we will start to see the interconnectedness of us all and realize that we are not alone. This helps Archbishop Ryan build a stronger community, and it helps make a large school feel smaller and more personal. Activities like Challenge Days combat bullying in several ways. First, once you know someone else’s struggle, you see them in a different light, and second, you begin to recognize that we are more alike than different. Another program at Ryan that confronts issues of bullying is the “No Place for Hate” club. Through activities like Random Acts of Kindness Week and Unity Day students spread the message of acceptance, belonging and kindness to one another. These types of programs and clubs help students show empathy and compassion for each other and allow their voices to be heard. As we begin a new school year, October is an excellent time to create a purposeful plan to prevent bullying in your school!
This year, October 23rd is Unity Day, a day where schools and communities across the nation will participate in raising awareness that bullying is never acceptable behavior. Unity Day promotes school communities to come together to stand united for kindness, inclusion, and acceptance. If you are looking for more information, please visit www.pacer.org/bullying for resources, videos and ways to get involved, including activities and lessons to help students learn what to do in the face of a bully and how to be the voice of change.
Some key terms to identify with your child include the following:
- Bully: A person who engages repeatedly in unwanted, aggressive behavior, often when there is a real or perceived power imbalance
- Target/victim: A person who is bullied
- Ally/Upstander: A person who witnesses bullying and tries to stop it
- Bystander: A person who witnesses bullying (does not participate) but does not try to stop it
- Cyberbullying: Bullying that takes place online, on the phone, or via social media
- Verbal bullying: saying or writing mean things; can include teasing, taunting, making inappropriate comments, name-calling, or threatening to cause harm
- Social bullying/Relational bullying: hurting someone’s reputation or relationships, often by leaving someone out on purpose, telling other children not to be friends with someone, spreading rumors, or intentionally embarrassing someone in public
- Physical bullying: hurting a person’s body or possessions; some examples include hitting, kicking, pinching, spitting, tripping, pushing, or breaking someone’s things
If your child is experiencing bullying in school, the following are a list of websites to use or books you can read with him or her in order to discuss ways to stand up to bullies:
- One by Kathryn Otoshi
- The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill
- The Juicebox Bully by Maria Dismondy
- The Weird! Series by Erin Frankel
- My Secret Bully by Trudy Ludwig
- Enemy Pie by Derek Munson
- Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson