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Nip bullying in the bud

Jane Gareth* is an experienced teacher who works with grade R learners. She uses tokens and simple rewards to build self-esteem.
“I use tokens that are simple buttons, which I give to children when they help, get answers right and so forth. If a child misbehaves, I ask him or her to give back a button. The special Silver Button is covered in tinfoil. I hand it out on a Friday. At the end of each day, I give one child a Happy Cloud — a cloud-shaped piece of card with a message such as: ‘Marisa, you are a kind person.’

“I never fob off a child when he or she comes to tell me something. I listen to the story and, if there has been any bullying, I deal with it on the spot. I find the other child and we talk about the problem and I insist on an apology from the culprit. There are lots of tears and I use the Brave Sweetie token. Each child is allowed to take and eat a sweet that makes them brave.”

An approach that involves the whole school is the most effective way to deal with bullying — it sets out to create a caring environment in which good behaviour is valued and behaviour such as bullying is unacceptable. If you change the school’s atmosphere, you can reduce incidences of bullying.

Ensure that corridors, staircases, toilets and playgrounds are monitored effectively. Encourage children to play rather than fight. Balls, cricket bats, skipping ropes and other equipment should be made available at break times.

Create opportunities to talk about the effects of bullying and how best to tackle it. For instance, learners can enter poster-making competitions to get the message across.

Diana Rauner, in her book They Still Pick Me Up When I Fall, argues that the best way to teach care is to model it. Caring schools need to:

  • Respect and protect the learners they serve;
  • Communicate their values and what acceptable behaviour is;
  • Create a spirit of respect and trust;
  • Create a culture in which learners and parents feel that they don’t have to do it alone;
  • Develop positive relationships with parents and learners that open up communication; and
  • Reach out to others in the community to teach children how to care.
  • British author Sally Hewitt provides a number of practical ways to create a caring school.

  • Involve learners, teachers and parents in developing a code of conduct. Keep school rules to a minimum so they are easy to remember and each child knows what will happen if they break them;
  • Make sure that hard work and good behaviour are rewarded and that a lot of praise is given. Celebrate achievements at assemblies;
  • Have a “circle time” in class at least once a week in which children sit in a circle and take part in activities and discussions about themselves;
  • Make sure there is a lot to do on the school playground;
  • Divide the playground into play areas for younger and older learners;
  • Make clear guidelines for behaviour on the playground;
    l Create a system in which older learners become buddies for newcomers; and
  • Teach learners to solve their problems and arguments fairly.

Self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves and how we think others see us. At school, it’s about the value children place on themselves in relation to their peers and teachers. Parents, guardians and teachers can help build self-esteem.
The overall view parents have of their children is particularly important: the expectations parents have for children to achieve, how they encourage and praise or how the parents react to their children.

Children need a safe place to try new ideas, take risks and develop confidence. Belonging and acceptance are important components in developing self-esteem.

Teachers also play a key role. The way in which a teacher reacts and responds to a child sends a message to the child about what the school thinks of him or her. A child’s first teacher, in particular, has a lot of influence in terms of developing the child’s trust and self-confidence. Grandparents and other caregivers can also help to develop children’s self-esteem.

Teachers can help to create a caring atmosphere within the classroom by:

  • Promoting good relationships between learners;
  • Arriving for lessons on time;
  • Receiving the learners in a friendly, welcoming manner;
  • Talking to learners in an informal way before the start of the lesson;
  • Addressing learners by their first names; and
  • Ensuring that learning takes place in a secure, attractive environment.
  • Says Gareth: “I use different strategies to develop self-esteem. For example, I use this poster of a tree on my wall each day. We call it our ‘values tree’. We add leaves with new values daily. We discuss particular values, such as sharing or caring, and then paste them on to
    the tree.

    “I also use The Soul Bird story to help children understand and express their feelings. It’s a story of a bird that lives deep within us. When we feel good, the soul bird grows and grows. When someone hurts our feelings, the soul bird curls up in pain. The metaphor of the soul bird helps children to say what they are feeling and what their ‘soul bird’ is doing. I often hear children saying things like: ‘You’re making my soul bird sad.'”

    Learners with good self-esteem are more likely to do well at school and later in life. They are more confident and able to enter into meaningful relationships. Having a sense of belonging and security also means that they are better able to deal with uncertainty in the future.

    Mark Potterton is the author of Beat Bullying: A Practical Guide for Schools

    * The name of the teacher has been changed

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Mark Potterton
Dr Mark Potterton is primary school principal at Sacred Heart College in Johannesburg

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