Posted by: l2bb | August 14, 2010

Anger management as part of anti-bullying

Helping children learn how to effectively manage strong emotions, such as anger, is another important weapon in the fight against bullying.

Anger

Anger can come from many sources.  It can come from a feeling of frustration – such as not being able to live up to your own, or others’, expectations of yourself.   It can come from a feeling of helplessness as others do or say things that you feel impinge on your freedom of choice.  It can come from a sense of helplessness, powerlessness.

Being angry is not “wrong”.  Being angry is part of life.

Managing Anger

As Seymour (2009) suggests,  it is not about trying to teach children not to be angry.  It is about validating their feelings, helping them recognise what the emotion is, and then what to do about it.  It is about empowering children as early as possible in life to recognise and manage their own emotions so that they do not harm themselves or others.

When we look at helping children of all abilities learn about emotions, we need to use as many different senses as possible to teach the skill.

Visual

Pictures are an effective way to teach about emotions right into adulthood.  Part of the reason for this is visuals give us quick, easy references and chunks of information so that we can store it and retrieve it when necessary.  As the saying goes, a picture is truly worth a thousand words.

Pictures are especially useful for children/youth who learn visually (such as those with Autism Spectrum Disorders) and have difficulty with literacy (such as children with dyslexia).

Seymour’s book provides a series of pictures that help children learn about what anger looks like, feels like, what might make you feel angry and what you could do if you do feel angry.

Using visuals, such as a feelings thermometer, can also help children identify, communicate and control their anger appropriately.

Example of a feelings thermometer

Verbal

Talking about it, using social stories and teaching children to “self-talk” their way through their anger is also an important strategy.

Seymour’s book is again a good tool as it provides statements that are simple, explicit to help parents and teachers talk about emotions such as anger and what to do when those feelings arise.

Getting children to count down from 10 in their heads, to repeat a set of steps to follow or repeat a phrase to help them calm down are all examples of “self-talk” – an essential tool in helping to manage emotions.

Kinesthetic

Anger increases the adrenalin in a person’s body.  Sometimes it is important to have a physical release for that emotion.  Stress balls, a “cool down” walk, bouncing a tennis ball against a wall… all these strategies have been used effectively in schools to help children manage their emotions.

However, when using these strategies there needs to be clear boundaries.  For example, the stress ball is for squeezing (not throwing :-) ).  The “cool down” walk needs to have a time frame and a physical boundary.  The bouncing of the tennis ball also needs these boundaries – for example, what wall can be used, and how many bounces can be taken before they return to their task.

Leading by example

But one of the most effective tools to help children learn to manage their emotions is by modelling the behaviour we want.  No matter the situation, we should make our best efforts to remain calm and openly use the strategies we are teaching our children.

Why anger management is important…

Part of being able to relate to others and live peaceably together is being self-aware and being able to self-regulate.  By teaching children from the earliest ages to manage their emotions we are increasing their chances of developing healthy relationships right into adulthood.

Reference:

Seymour, S.  (2009).  Sometimes I feel… How to help your child manage difficult feelings. Finch Publishing: Sydney.

School anti-bullying policies are essential in the fight against bullying.  Every school should have one. However, anti-bullying policies need to be written and utilised well in order to do their job.

When School Anti-Bullying Policies Don’t Work

  • When they are written and forgotten.
  • When they are not fully supported by the school community, starting at the school leadership level.
  • When they focus on punishment of the “bully”, not protection and prevention.
  • When they are not written based on an understanding of the relevant laws and policies governing discrimination and harassment.
  • When they are not seen as legal documents.

 

Making School Anti-bullying Policies Work

McGrath (2007) discusses the weight of school policies.  She states:

“Anything written into a school policy has the weight of law.”

For this reason, we need to be aware of the essential elements that are to be included in our anti-bullying policies.  See the following for information about policies and legislation relating to anti-bullying policies:

 

Contents of a good anti-bullying plan

The key components of an anti-bullying plan should address a school code of conduct and prevention mechanisms, procedures for bullying to be reported, and procedures for responding to bullying.

McGrath (2007) discusses this further.  She highlights the following key elements that should be included in an anti-bullying plan.

  1. General policy statement: The idea is that the policy should provide a code of conduct or vision statement for the school community.  As with all other elements of an anti-bullying policy, this must be valued, discussed and regularly reviewed with staff, students and families in the school community.  The aim is that it helps to shape attitudes and prevent bullying.
  2. A definition of bullying: This will help to define for the school community what is perceived as bullying by the school.  This should cover relational, physical and cyber-bullying.
  3. A duty to act: This can help address the issue of being a bystander to bullying.  It is also about helping to provide guidelines to students about how to report bullying in a way that is least likely to set them up for retaliation
  4. Sanctions for bullying: It is important when identifying responses to bullying incidents that the response fits the nature of the incident.  I will discuss different approaches to bullying in future posts.
  5. Retaliation prohibited: While this is not often included in Australian anti-bullying policies, this could be an effective way to shape attitudes to bullying. 
  6. False reporting: Having procedures in place to deal with the issue of false reporting of harassment or discrimination, while again not a required element of Australian anti-bullying policies, can ensure that the reporting process itself does not become a source of bullying itself.

 

Making use of policies

As stated previously, the only way to ensure a well-written school anti-bullying policy is well-used is by constantly reviewing it.  This can be done in classrooms through anti-bullying activities and discussions.  It can be done through notes sent home to families, or discussions in staff meetings.

There are many well-written and creative school anti-bullying policies in existence.  Make sure you ask to see your school’s anti-bullying policy.

 

Reference

McGrath, M.J.  (2007).  School Bullying: Tools for Avoiding Harm and Liability.  Corwin Press: Thousand Oaks.

 

Posted by: l2bb | June 15, 2010

We can’t force them to be friends

buddy: a pal, one’s most constant companion
(The Wordsworth Concise English Dictionary)


We cannot force children to be friends. In the natural scheme of things, personalities will clash and there will be children who simply don’t have anything in common.

However, we can set up situations where children are less likely to be isolated from their peers.  We can help children interact with each other in class to increase the chances that they will interact positively outside the classroom.

Buddies

Buddies can be used to protect children from bullying. They can be used to help model positive social skills or support academic learning. They can also be used to promote connections and possible friendships between same-age peers of varying abilities.

Using buddies on the playground:

The first question we need to ask when using buddies on the playground is whether we are using them to protect a child or to promote friendships. It is important to understand the difference as the purpose of the buddy system will influence how you select and train buddies.

For protection:

If we are focusing on setting up buddy systems to protect children with disabilities from bullying, usually we ask older children, siblings, other relatives or family friends to “keep an eye on” the child. The buddy may meet the child at the school gate, check in with them on the playground, and walk them to the bus lines in the afternoon.

What this type of buddy system will not do is to promote a connection between the child with a disability and their peers. It will help them feel safe, but will not necessarily help them feel a sense of belonging or connectedness with their peer group.

For connecting with peers:

Buddy systems that promote connectedness and empathy between peers are systems that use same-age buddies. In this case buddies can be used both in an academic context and during play.

Buddies in the classroom may work together, help each other with academic tasks, share equipment and participate together in cooperative group work with other children. Buddies on the playground could participate in games, share equipment and even begin interacting in extra-curricular activities together (like sport and inviting each other to birthday parties).

Selecting buddies to promote connections

Jackson and Campbell (2009) looked at the selection of buddies for children with Autism. One of the things they noted was that children who were not familiar with each other were more likely to interact and actively be “buddies” in academic or classroom learning activities than in recreational or play activities.

This suggests that if we want children to interact on the playground, we first have to give them the opportunity to get to know each other in the classroom. Using peer tutoring, group work and work buddies in the classroom can increase the chances that a same-age buddy system on the playground will work.

Training buddies to promote connections

Copeland et al (2002) reported on a study of a high school peer buddy system where children in the general education classroom buddied children with disabilities. This was mainly in the context of academic tasks, but it had social benefits as well.

When using buddy systems we have to keep in mind the risks, some of which Copeland et al reported on:

  1. The risk of “smothering”: buddies should be adequately trained so that they don’t try and do everything for their buddy. It is important that they see each other as competent human beings, and the relationship is about interdependence (helping each other) rather than dependence (one caring for or looking after another).
  2. Unpreparedness: buddies should be trained in whatever task it is that they are to complete. This training should include both children, not just the child who may be seen as a buddy. This could include social skills training as well as training in a particular academic procedure or task.

Avoiding compassion fatigue

With same-age buddies it is important that you consider the issue of “compassion fatigue”. If you set up the buddy system in a way that promotes dependence rather than interdependence, or if you don’t change buddies regularly, then it is possible that you will have children who start resenting the fact that they “have to” work with one particular child.

It is important for many children with disabilities to have consistency. They may become very reliant or attached to one child. To help avoid this issue, try and set up “buddy groups”. For example, in the classroom start by seating four children together. Promote interaction outside of the classroom by having daily or weekly challenges eg. find out the favourite games of your buddies and play each game at least once together.

With buddy groups, avoid grouping mostly children who know each other together. This may mean that you have incidents where one child becomes the “outsider” and is likely to be excluded or avoided.

Next, rotate and change buddies regularly – maybe four times a year. Or have different buddies for different activities. For a child who needs consistency, use buddy groups and keep at least one familiar child in the buddy group.

Avoiding dependence and a perception of weakness

The other way to avoid compassion fatigue is to ensure that you have not promoted a perception that a particular child is “weaker” than others and thus in need of support. In their discussion of peer tutoring, Fulk and King (2001) state that it is important to use the strengths of children and give all children an opportunity to be the “tutor” rather than always the “tutee“.

Children with disabilities can be put in responsible positions if these are based around their strengths. For example, a child with autism who might be really good at maths or following procedures could support their buddy in maths activities or in activities where they have to follow a set procedure. In turn, their buddy could support them during English or less structured activities.

On the playground, it is important that all children get the opportunity to “shine” – for example, a child with a disability playing their favourite game can be as much of a support to their buddy as their buddy may be in other contexts.

Will my child learn bad habits?

One of the concerns parents and some teachers have expressed is that their child may “learn bad habits” from a child who has difficult behaviour or less developed social skills. There is little evidence that this is the case if we carefully select our buddies.

For example, Hektner, August & Realmuto (2003) looked at the use of buddies for children who displayed aggressive behaviour. They found that if two children with aggressive tendencies were grouped together, especially if they were friends, then the aggression in playground games would increase. However, if the child with aggressive tendencies and a child who did not use aggression were grouped together, there was no increase in aggression.

Benefits for all

Using buddies, peer tutors and other collaborative group work in and out of classrooms can benefit children with and without disabilities. If a child without a disability buddies a child with a disability they are likely to:

  • Interact with children who they may have not interacted with before
  • Develop an awareness and respect for diversity, thus developing socially and emotionally
  • Develop a deeper understanding of the task or activity as they help clarify ideas and rules for their buddy
  • Learn positive skills from their buddy, learn to see things from a different perspective, or learn the value of some things they take for granted

Children who have disabilities can benefit from well-planned, well-implemented buddy systems through:

  • Seeing social and academic skills modelled
  • Hearing things explained in “child” language
  • Getting more one-on-one support than adults can provide in a busy school environment
  • Becoming more independent, connected and confident
(Conway, 2008; Copeland et al., 2002; Jackson & Campbell, 2009)


More than just buddies

Helping children with disabilities make connections with their peers cannot be solved by just using buddies. We also need to teach social skills, create an accepting/inclusive classroom environment, teach coping strategies and build a child’s self esteem through praise, encouragement and giving them responsibilities (Conway, 2008).

References

Conway, R. (2008). Encouraging Positive Interactions. In Forman, P (Ed), Inclusion in Action, p128-244. Thomson: Australia.

Copeland, S.R, McCall, J, Williams, C.R., Guth, C., Carter, E.W., Fowler, S.E., Presley, J.A. and Hughes, C. (2009). High School Peer Buddies: A Win-Win Situation. Teaching Exceptional Children, 35(1), p16.

Fulk, B, and King, K. (2001). Classwide peer tutoring at work. Teaching Exceptional Children, 34(2), p49.

Hektner, J.M., August, G.J. and Realmuto, G.M. (2003). Effects of Pairing Aggressive and Nonaggressive Children in Strategic Peer Affiliation. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 31(4), pg. 399.

Jackson, J.N., and Campbell, J.M. (2009). Teachers’ Peer Buddy Selections for Children with Autism: Social Characteristics and Relationship with Peer Nominations. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39, pp269–277

Copyright Amanda Gray 2010
Posted by: l2bb | June 10, 2010

The importance of friendship

I recently went to a seminar by Dr. Lee Sturgeon, a specialist in the field of Autism Spectrum Disorders.  It was a great day.  But one of the things that affected me most were some statistics he shared based on research by Attwood (2007).

The reason why we should be concerned:

Statistics tell us that children with disabilities experience about twice the level of bullying as children without disabilities.  However, Attwood’s statistics for children with Aspergers Syndrome are even more concerning.

He found that children with Aspergers Syndrome are 71% more likely to be teased than their peers.

Why?

One of the key issues is that Aspergers Syndrome is a “hidden” disability.  That is, there is no wheelchair, no missing limbs, no physical difference.

Here are more of Attwood’s statistics about children with Aspergers that give us more clues:

are 82% more likely to seek solitude

are 18% more likely to have imaginary friends

48% have unusual mannerisms

50% experience motor clumsiness

20% experience blinking or other physical tics

28% have a different accent to their family/peers

73% have difficulties with handwriting

80% experience problems with organisation and time management

Why we should take it seriously

Here are some of Attwood’s statistics about children with Aspergers that tell us how seriously we should take this issue:

Children with Aspergers Syndrome are

34% more likely to experience anxiety

33% more likely to be sad

64% more likely to be angry

What can we do?

I have discussed this in a series of posts at www.learn2bebuddies.blogspot.com

Posted by: l2bb | May 21, 2010

Stop, Think, Do!

Stop, Think, Do! is a program originally designed by Lindy Peterson,  a Child, Clinical and Family Psychologist, in the early 90s.    It has been adopted by an increasing number of schools in the fight against bullying.

What it addresses:

Impulsivity and that lack of thought about how their actions might effect others is one key factor in the occurence of bullying (as discussed in previous posts).  The Stop, Think, Do process helps children visualise and work through the cognitive process that involves:

- Recognising their feelings and controlling their impulses

- Thinking about their choices and the consequences of their actions

- Using appropriate strategies to solve a problem or social conflict.

What Makes it Work?

You can find research on the implementation of this program at www.stopthinkdo.com Some of the key features that make it work for all children, including children with developmental delays or behavioural disorders, are:

  • The visual cue: Having an explicit, colour-coded visual cue that does not rely on language or abstract understanding is an essential tool in helping young children and children with executive functioning issues learn social skills.  The fact that this cue can be hung around a classroom and/or school as a constant reminder is a good way to prompt children to remember and use the skill they have been taught.
  • The simplicity: Simplifying the complex process of social problem-solving into three unique steps again helps children of all abilities and ages in using the skill.
  • Explicit Teaching and Modelling:  The program itself gives teachers (an families) a platform from which they can discuss and model positive problem-solving skills.  This is an essential element of successful social skills programs (as discussed previously).

If you are interested in finding out more …

The Stop Think Do Website

For Parents: Social Savvy: Helping your child fit in

For Schools:  Stop, Think, Do

As discussed in some of my previous posts, one of the reasons why children may bully others is because they have not developed appropriate social skills.  For this reason, teaching social skills is one way to help prevent bullying.

What are social skills

As discussed by Conway (2009) there are a range of different social skills.  They include the following:

  1. Interpersonal behaviours: behaviours that help children make and keep friendships.   This includes the skill of introducing yourself,  finding ways to join in with others in games, being helpful and caring.
  2. Peer-related social skills: These are skills children need in order to interact successfully and develop a sense of belonging with a group of peers.  They include skills such as sharing, taking turns, and the ability to correctly predict and respond to others’ feelings and emotions (theory of mind).
  3. Teacher-pleasing skills: These are skills children need to participate in expected and non-disruptive ways in the classroom.  They include the ability to follow instructions, concentrate and listen.
  4. Self-related behaviours: These are skills essential to the problem-solving process.  This includes the ability to control your impulses, identify and manage your emotions, and use a range of strategies to cope with difficult situations.
  5. Assertiveness skills: For preschoolers this would be described as “using your words!”  It is about expressing and standing up for your beliefs and needs without using violence.
  6. Communication skills: These include expressive (having your say) and receptive (listening to others) skills.  Communication is not just about being able to speak and hear, or understand words.  It is also about pragmatics – or social skills such as waiting your turn to speak and staying on topic in a conversation, showing you are listening to what is being said to you.

How can a lack of social skills lead to bullying?

If you don’t know how to make friends —–> you might try to become popular based on gaining power over others.

If you don’t have the skills to keep friends —-> you may be bossy, controlling and aggressive to get your own way.

If you don’t have problem-solving skills —-> you may use physical, verbal or relational aggression to express your feelings.

If you don’t have assertiveness skills —-> you may use aggression to get what you need.

If you don’t have communication skills —-> you may use physical, verbal or relational aggression to express your feelings, needs and wants.

Teaching social skills

As discussed by Williams and Reisberg (2003) there are several key steps we should use when teaching social skills.

  1. Direct Instruction: Explaining the skill step by step, and the purpose of the skill.
  2. Modelling: Using strategies such as role play or drama so that students can see the skill in action.
  3. Guided Practice: Setting up games, group work or cooperative learning experiences and “coaching” students in using the skill.  This can be through the use of task cards, verbal or visual prompts (such as a “talking stick” when teaching the skill of turn-taking in conversation).
  4. Independent Practice: This step basically involves the adult watching students closely, and providing praise, rewards and consequences where necessary.
  5. Generalisation: This includes watching and encouraging students, where appropriate, to use the skill at home, in the playground, in the community as well as in the classroom.

A final note

One of the greatest mistakes made with trying to change behaviour is jumping straight to independent practice.  If we put in place a reward/consequence system – eg. where children/youth get stars or points for showing a particular skill – without first teaching and coaching the child in the behaviours then we are setting the child/youth (and ourselves) for failure.

A child can’t display a skill if they aren’t first taught that skill.

References:

Conway, R.  (2008).  Encouraging Positive Interactions.  In P.Foreman (Ed), Inclusion in Action, pp198-244.  Thomson Education: Sydney.

Raymond, E.B.  (2004).  Learners with Mild Disabilities: A Characteristics Approach. New York: Pearson Education.

Williams, G.J. & Reisberg, L.  (2003).  Successful Inclusion: Teaching Social Skills Through Curriculum Integration.  Intervention in School and Clinic, 28(4), pp205-210.

Posted by: l2bb | May 14, 2010

Another step in preventing bullying…

Creating an ethos where respect and value for diversity are priorities, and bullying is taken seriously, is another important element of helping to prevent bullying.

At home…

I have just been reading through the booklet by Dr Bill Maier called, Help! My Child is Being Bullied.  It is an easy-read and provides a great deal of very useful and practical information.  However, the thing that stood out most to me as I read was the importance of attitudes towards bullying.

For example, if we model problem-solving behaviour at home that is confrontational, then this is probably going to be reflected in our children’s behaviour as they interact with their peers.

If we don’t take bullying seriously, saying things like “It’s just a phase” or “Kids will be kids”, then it is also likely that our children will not take an appropriately serious perspective on the issue of bullying.  This may not be something we say, but if we ridicule or belittle those who struggle with bullying, or even if we laugh at movies that depict bullying as a humourous event, then we could be perpetuating this perception that bullying is not such a big issue.

The consequence of this could be that children become involved in bullying “just for fun” without recognising the impact their actions may be having on the other child.

Children could also be more likely to be inactive by-standers if they have not been taught about the seriousness of the impact of bullying.

The other side of this is that a child who has been bullied would be less likely to tell an adult who they feel won’t take them seriously.  And if a child tells an adult who responds by telling them to “toughen up” or “if you ignore it, it will go way”, they are likely to feel helpless, even more humiliated and alone.  It could almost be said that that adult has become part of the bullying.  And this can lead to the most serious of outcomes, including suicide.

At school…

One of the important things that we must do at school is to have a code of conduct, not just as a whole school, but also within our classes.

As teachers we should never ridicule a child, even if we think we are doing it light-heartedly.  The way we treat our students will feed our relationships with them, and our actions should command respect as well as showing them respect. Even if you have personal feelings that the child doesn’t deserve respect, as a professional and an adult with a duty of care, a respectful attitude is necessary – and will bear fruit.

Focus on the Dos, not the Don'ts

Setting rules:

As discussed by the Alabama Council for Exceptional Children (ACEC), using rules in the classroom is about helping children learn to identify and follow social expectations of our society.  The rules that we have in the classroom should be relevant to the issues and dynamics of that classroom, so no set of rules will fit every class.

However, as ACEC state, there are three main areas that rules should address:

  1. Respect for others
  2. Respect for others’ property
  3. Respect for the procedures and expectations that make a classroom “work”

Other things to think about when setting rules include:

  • Do the students “own” the rules? Rules imposed on students are unlikely to be valued or followed.  They need to be involved in discussing and designing these rules.
  • Are there consequences for not adhering to the rules? Rules will also only be taken seriously if there are consequences for not following them.  While we might need to have some flexibility with rules and respond with circumspection in the context of the seriousness of the event, we do need to be as consistent and persistent as possible.
  • Are you lavish with praise? Praising, thanking or recognising in other ways a student’s positive behaviour will help demonstrate your respect for their efforts.  And when praising, make sure you are specific (eg “Thanks for putting your hand up” instead of “Good boy/girl”)
  • Do you have too many rules? If you have any more than 5 rules, you have too many.  Just focus on the most important rules for your class.
  • Do your rules focus on positives? Rules that start with “Don’t” are a great temptation for students.  They want to push your buttons, so avoid putting the temptation in front of them.  Rules should tell children (especially children with behavioural or developmental disabilities) exactly what you want them to do.  For example:  “Put your hand up and wait before you speak” instead of “Don’t call out in class.”

The Bottom Line

The attitudes you show towards bullying, and the values that you portray in your actions – these are what will set the tone of your children’s or students’ attitudes towards bullying.

References

Alabama Council of Exceptional Children (nd). Tips for Teachers: Managing Students’ Behaviour – Classroom Rule Setting. Retrieved 13th May, 2010 from http://www.afcec.org/tipsforteachers/tips_c1.html

Maier, B.  (2006).  Help! My Child is Being Bullied. Tyndale: Illinois.

One of the first things that we often think to do when welcoming a child into our classroom for the first time is to introduce the child. Without thinking about it, we see the child as vulnerable to social difficulties such as bullying because they are new and alone.

One strategy that is often used, especially when we are introducing children who are different in some way (eg. they have a disability), is to talk to the class about the child and their difficulties or differences. The question is – Does this decrease or increase the chances of the child being bullied?

This is Johnny and he has CP

Imagine if someone was introduced to you in this way.  It could bring up a whole range of perceptions about who that person was.

If you know nothing about CP (cerebral palsy), you might shy away from interacting with Johnny because you are somehow afraid or unsure of how to interact with him.  This would be because you feel you have nothing in common because all you know about him is that he has CP, and you can’t relate to that.

Another reaction may be that you feel sorry for Johnny.  And this may lead to you seeing him as somehow “weaker” than yourself.   If you are a sensitive, people-person you might “be-friend” Johnny – not because you want to play with him, share your interests etc etc, but because you think he may need your help.

If you, for whatever reason, are a little more egocentric, impulsive and have a need to gain power or control over a situation, you might bully Johnny.

Promoting Empathy rather than Sympathy

If we do things that promote sympathy, then we are increasing the chances of a child being bullied.  If we do things to promote empathy, we are more likely to increase the chances that the child will be able to form friendships on the basis of mutual interests and understanding.

An issue that brings about the most debate when I discuss with my trainee teachers the inclusion of a child with ad disability is whether we should talk to the class about that child’s disability.  In this post I want to focus on ways to promote positive social understanding and respect for diversity in a way that won’t increase the chances of a child who is “different” being bullied.

What children want

If you are a follower of the Learning to be Buddies blog, you might have heard some of this before.  But I want to share this with you again.

Chadsey and Gun (2005) interviewed a group of middle school children, asking them to explain the things that help them develop friendships with their peers who have a disability.   Here are some of the key things they said:

  1. Segregation is unfair
  2. Teachers should come into classes to give us more information about students with disabilities
  3. Don’t let students make fun of students with disabilities
  4. Create programs where both students with and without disabilities can hang out with each other
  5. Use volunteer peer partners (eg in buddy systems)
  6. Group students with disabilities into our social networks
  7. Have students with disabilities tell us about their disabilities
  8. Clubs or after school activities should include kids with disabilities and should be of interest to everyone
  9. Let students with disabilities take the same bus as us

Empathy

“the power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person’s feelings” (Collins Concise Dictionary)

Understanding and relating to each other’s experiences is an important part of developing relationships and respect. However, the way we help our students understand others’ experiences will influence how they perceive that person.

Sympathy

synonyms: compassion, pity

A relationship built on pity or compassion is an “unbalanced” relationship, a relationship where there is not an equal balance of power or status.

For example, I want to share with you the story of a little girl with Down Syndrome – lets call her Sally. Before Sally came into the class the teacher talked about Sally’s difficulties. She suggested that Sally would need help doing certain things.

The intention of the teacher was great – to promote understanding and a smooth transition. And when Sally came into class, it seemed like this is what had happened. However, on closer inspection the children were treating Sally differently. They were using baby-language to her, they were shepherding her around the school without really listening to her, they were mothering and smothering her.

What is the alternative?

Avoid talking about the child when they are not in the room.

If you want to share, share together. Rather than talking about one child, get everyone to talk about themselves. This way you are building a sense of similarities, and fellow-feeling, rather than setting one child up to be separate. Using “ice-breaker” or “get-to-know-you” activities at the beginning of the year (or any time during the year if there are indications that students may be at risk of bullying/being bullied) can be really effective. Here are some ideas:

  • * Sit/stand in a circle. Have a bean bag/ball to be passed around. Have a theme eg. I am good at… but am not so good at …. The person who is holding the ball/bean bag has to complete the sentence, then call someone’s name and pass the ball/bean bag on to them.
  • Paint and/or collage a self-portrait using words, pictures, phrases, little biographical stories, photos and so on.
  • Have each child write and share their “bio” – a short story about themselves.

This means that when you are sharing you are focusing less on the label, more on the person. You are also conveying a sense of similarity and belonging to all children, not focusing on what is making one child different to everyone else. Everyone is different – that is the value of diversity.

Talk about diversity, difference and individuality.   Click here for a good article by the Children’s Hospital.org on how to talk to children about recognising and valuing diversity.

We have become very good at incorporating books that reflect diverse cultures, non-traditional gender roles and different families into early childhood, primary and secondary education. We should be increasing the range of books we use that portray people with disabilities. We should be incorporating units of work on disAbilities into our curriculum – from looking at sporting heroes, to musicians, to works of fiction aimed at promoting understanding about Aspergers, Autism, Down Syndrome, ADHD, Hearing impairments and so on.

Empathy exercises can also be used – eg. we don’t have to wait until we have a child with a vision impairment in our classroom before we get children to experience what it might be like by getting them to complete an obstacle course fully or partially blind-folded.

Decide what peers may need to know, and address the issue. Some children with disAbilities will be overwhelmed by emotions at times to the point that they may have a melt-down. We need to ensure that we have processes in place to ensure the safety of the child and their peers.  If you are including a child who is at risk of having a melt-down in the classroom, you don’t have to talk about the child, but you should talk about the behaviour. Have a discussion that is focused on helping children relate to the experience and problem-solving. For example, address:

  • How would you feel if…. (lead children to talk about what makes them frustrated, angry, scared)
  • What would you do if you couldn’t say what you feel?
  • What should we do if… (lead children to design a set of steps to follow if they are afraid someone is going to hurt themselves or others)

You could use a similar process if you need to build awareness of health issues such as epilepsy.

Let the child and parent control the information sharing process, or use rules. In some cases it will be important for the child to share specific things about themselves.

For example, a classroom including a child with low vision will need to keep things in the same place and keep the floor clear of obstacles. In this case, you could have rules to this effect in your classroom. You could talk to the child prior to designing the rules to see if they want to share a little of why they need these measures in place.

Some children may not want to share information with their whole class, but may want to have the opportunity to share it with a smaller supportive group of peers. For young children, it is the family (parents/caregivers) who should decide what, when and how information about the child is shared.

Be prepared. Especially with younger children, and if a child has a disability that makes them visibly different, you might get questions such as “What’s wrong with Johnny?” Brushing off these questions, or treating them as inappropriate behaviour, can make children feel like there is something “bad”, “wrong” or “secret” about the child with a disability. Instead, we should answer them as openly and honestly as possible. Teachers should discuss possible answers with the family and/or child before these questions come up. Families have often had much practice in answering these questions.

In the case of the question, “What’s wrong with Johnny?” you might say, “There is nothing wrong with Johnny. It is just that his legs don’t work the same way as yours so he has to use crutches to help him walk.”

Empathy, not sympathy

The aim should be:

Helping children relate to each others’ experiences. We all have things in common, but we are also all unique.

.

Reference:

Chadsey, J., Gun Han, K. (2005). Friendship-Facilitation Strategies: What Do Students In Middle School Tell Us? Teaching Exceptional Children, 38(2), p52.

Posted by: l2bb | April 9, 2010

Autism Awareness: Sensory Sensitivities

Part of preventing bullying is about teaching value for diversity and awareness of differences.  Because it is Autism Awareness Month, I want to help you understand why some children and adults might act differently.

In Jennifer’s story about her son Korbin she mentioned the struggle she had in dealing with the looks, comments and lack of understanding about her son’s behaviour, particularly when he has a “meltdown.”

What is a meltdown?

A meltdown can look like a tantrum. When a child with Autism is having a meltdown they may:

  • scream or yell
  • cry
  • fall to the ground and roll/kick
  • rock back and forth
  • hit and kick
  • flap their hands
  • freeze/become immobile

It may go on for a long time, and it will probably continue until the child adjusts to what is causing them distress, or until they are removed from the environment or thing that is causing them distress.

What can cause a meltdown?

A meltdown can be caused by a range of things that a child with Autism may struggle to cope with. However, one of the key issues that can lead to a meltdown is sensory sensitivities.

As Autism Spectrum Australia (ASPECT) state, children with Autism can be over or undersensitive to the tastes, sights, touch and sounds that are part of our everyday life. The increase in unfamiliar sounds and sights in a public place can become overwhelming, and the experience so painful for the child, that they can only get relief in the same way any other child would if they were in pain – by screaming, crying, rocking or any other behaviour that helps to comfort them. And this will not stop until the source of the pain is removed.

To further help you understand this, and possible ways to manage sensory sensitivities, please read this great article by RelateToAutism. They have a great picture that helps to explain the sensory challenges a child with Autism may face.

Also, for a fuller explanation, read the information sheet by ASPECT.

Just a note: Not every child with Autism will experience the same difficulties. Every child is an individual.

Is the child just being naughty?

Would you call a child “naughty” if they were screaming in pain? Would you think of a child as “misbehaving” if they were pushing, flapping, kicking due to fear and anxiety?

Try and put yourself in their shoes… here’s a video clip that may help you do this:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJ6MayZoaS8

So remember…

Next time you see a mum or dad struggling with a child who is screaming, flapping, crying… ask yourself, how would you feel?

Don’t judge and stare, ask “What if it were me there?”

Posted by: l2bb | April 6, 2010

Autism Awareness

This blog has been a little quiet… and there is a good reason.  I have been busy with spreading the word about Autism.

Why?

Because April is Autism Awareness Month.  It began with World Autism Day on April 2… and for many it will end with Autism Rainbow Day on April 30th.

In the meantime there is a lot going on.  Here are some ways you can be a part of April Autism Awareness Month.

Read….

… our fact sheet on Autism or the downloads at Autism Rainbow Services.  Be aware of what Autism is and how it effects children and adults.

You might also want to read stories from parents of children with autism.

Share …

The information sheets.  Or if you are a parent of a child who has an autism spectrum disorder, share your story on our blog about inclusion.

Be aware

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