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Bullying on the Rise – What Do We Do About It?

bullyingThrough recent months, we’ve seen evidence of a lot more bullying going on, much of it attributed to the angry, polarizing 2016 US election. Recent research out of the University of Wisconsin seems to reinforce that impression.

“If we look at the 2013 data, about 12 percent of students told us that they had been bullied at school because of their race or their color. In 2016, it was 25 percent who said that they were bullied because of that,” said [Professor Justin] Patchin, co-founder of the Cyberbullying Research Center.

But Patchin said without more research it’s impossible to say what’s driving the increase.

And it’s important to remember, too, that bullying is not an exclusively American phenomenon. A UN report released just a few days ago found that, worldwide, about 246 million kids experience bullying in some form every year. Girls experience more cyberbullying; boys, more physical violence. Nearly a third of kids don’t tell anyone about the bullying.

The report found that all children and adolescents are at risk of school violence and bullying, but bullies target vulnerable factors, such as poverty or social status associated with ethnicity, linguistic or cultural differences, migration or displacement. Children who were disabled or looked different, such as being overweight or underweight, were also a prime target for bullying.

While the report offers the usual recommendations – create inclusive schools, collect data, educate students and teachers, and so on – we feel that the number one thing we can do to prevent bullying is to do more to nurture children’s emotional control and empathy.

In this recent post for Teaching Tolerance, Lynea discusses how this works…

Empathy: The Antidote to Bullying

By Lynea Gillen

boy looking determinedAs a long-time school counselor, it’s been clear to me that bullying doesn’t happen because a child happens to be a mean person or just plain “ignorant,” as is often asserted about adults who bully. What are the reasons for the meanness? Has the child had trouble in learning how to connect with others? Do they have a history of trauma that makes them feel unsafe? Do they need to dominate others to feel strong and secure?

If we look into the heart of bullying, what we often find are deficits of emotional control and empathy. Somewhere, somehow, social and emotional skills have gone lacking.

The positive effect of social emotional learning (SEL) interventions in bullying prevention, especially those that combine mindfulness practices, was nicely explained in a 2015 Educational Specialist article:

A group of five fifth graders in Cleveland County Schools were referred by teachers, counselors, and administrators to participate in a small group using a modified version of the MindUP curriculum. After the intervention group, students indicated more awareness of their own behavior, an increase in empathy, and in [sic] increase in emotional control.

In fact, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, the leading U.S. organization advancing the development of research-based SEL, has identified self-awareness—the ability to accurately recognize our emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior—as a key core competency.

Mindfulness is the foundation. It’s not just some trendy, vague buzzword. It’s the practice of non-judgmental awareness of our thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations and surrounding environment—what’s happening right now. Mindfulness has been shown to activate the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps regulate emotions and behaviors and consider the results of future actions. Without this kind of self-awareness, we remain at the mercy of our physical feelings and emotions, the drivers of much of our action.

mindful girlCultivating non-judgmental awareness means being less reactive, especially to “big” and unruly emotions, such as fear and anger. It means being less self-critical. Judging and criticizing oneself are often key attributes of those who bully, since they have often been bullied or abused themselves. (One 2007 study found that 72 percent of children who were physically abused by their parents went on to bully, become victims of bullying, or both.)

As a counselor, I see that, as students become able to self-regulate and “sit” with their feelings and emotions, they grow more aware of their needs and begin to see the connections between their needs and their behavior. They might see, for instance, that they’re meaner on days when they haven’t had enough sleep, are hungry or have been part of a family disagreement. By learning how to observe without reacting to strong emotions and then tend to their needs, they pave the way to becoming more in control of their behavior. This also sets the foundation for learning how to recognize these same emotions and needs in others.

I can’t help but think of the day when one of my most explosive students showed his newly developed ability to empathize by recognizing a classmate’s distress. “Hey, Mrs. Gillen,” he said, “he just needs to do child pose with a blanket over him.” He thought about his classmate’s needs.

Social awareness and skill development then build on the foundation of mindfulness. By understanding what affects their emotions and actions, students can gain insight into others’. By practicing communication, positive leadership, problem solving and other social skills, we, as educators, create an environment where the potential for bullying is reduced.

When I teach Yoga Calm classes in schools or in private practice, mindfulness is where we start. We work on activities that develop the principles of stillness and listening. The children learn how to calm their bodies and then listen to themselves—what their hearts, minds and bodies are “saying.”

Breathing SphereOften, we start just with breathing techniques, such as having one student lead the class in taking five to 10 breaths together, breathing in synchrony with the opening and closing of a colorful Hoberman Sphere. Afterward, I encourage the class to compliment the student in front on their leadership.

Another activity we do is Heart Thoughts, a simple-yet-powerful process combining the regulating effect of breath retention and slow exhalation with thinking of another’s needs. As each student places their hands together at their heart, the leader asks them to close their eyes and think of someone they care about—even a pet!—who might be having a hard time. Then together, the students breathe in, pause, raise their arms above their heads and exhale, extending their arms outward and then returning their hands to their hearts. Each time they exhale, they send their heart thoughts to whomever they were thinking of.

Once we’ve finished, students often like to talk about who they sent their heart thoughts to. This creates even more opportunities for students to get to know their classmates’ lives and gain insight into the feelings and challenges they face.

Empathy begins here. And it is the antidote to bullying.



Ready to learn more about bringing mindfulness into your work with children? Join us for one of our two newest courses, the 2-day Mindfulness for Educators introduction and the 8-week Mindful Teaching course – or take our established online course Mindfulness and the Brain at your convenience!

Bullying image by Elizabet21, via Wikimedia Commons

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Certification Capstone (OR)

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Love Knowledge & Action: Inspiring Environmental Stewardship

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Grade 3, School Setting, Strength Lesson Plan (Pipkin)

Instructor: Carrie Pipkin

Community: Grade 3, School Setting, 45 minutes

Plan Creation Date: June 11, 2015

Yoga Calm Principle/Lesson Goal: Strength

Lesson Plan:

Calm

  • Belly Breathing – feeling the weight of your body in your chair. Make your legs heavy and strong. Picture a tree trunk and your legs are the roots going into the earth. Imagine how strong that tree it.
  • Pulse Count – find your pulse, then listen to the rhythm of your heart. Picture a big drum with a large stick and each time you hear your heart beat, imagine playing that big deep not on the drum. Play that drum for 20 beats of your heart.

Activate

  • Yoga Calm Mat 20 – Stop in several of the poses and feel the strength of your body. For instance, when in Mountain stop and imagine how strong a mountain must be. Then in Tree, ask yourself what makes a tree so strong? With each pose, ask them to make their body as strong as they can. Practice this two times, allowing students to lead pose flow. Make sure to give alignment reminders.
  • Roots – Stand in a circle – Roots activity – Feel yourself anchored to the ground. With your eyes shut, think of all the people in your world who support you and make you feel strong. Imagine them holding your feet to the ground.
  • Trees in a Circle Activity – to the count of 10 on each foot. Feel how your partner’s support helps you to root your foot into the earth, making you stronger. Give alignment reminders.

Calm

  • Compliment Circle – Give each student an opportunity to be in the center to receive one complement from each person. Ask the student in the center to make eye contact and listen to the person as they give a complement. Make sure to include leaders.
  • Child’s Pose – Have students come into child’s pose before reading the final relaxation exercise.
  • Relaxation – Read the following Mindful Moment Card on Strength: “Hal Borland said ‘if you would (like) to know strength and courage, welcome the company of trees.’ What did he mean?”

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Grade 3, School Setting, Stillness Lesson Plan (Pipkin)

Instructor: Carrie Pipkin

Community: Grade 3, School Setting, 45 minutes

Plan Creation Date: June 12, 2015

Yoga Calm Principle/Lesson Goal: Stillness

Lesson Plan:

Calm

  • Belly Breathing – with Hobermans sphere, feeling the weight of your body in your chair. Make your body still and listen to the stillness for 30 seconds. Allow students to lead breathing with the Hoberman’s sphere. Allow them to choose between 5-10 breaths.

Activate

  • Yoga Calm Top 10 – Stop in several of the poses and be still for seven breaths. Repeat the sequence twice, allowing for students to lead the pose flow. Give alignment reminders throughout the sequence.
  • Tree – Stand in a circle – Tree pose, let the wind blow through your branches, then return to stillness, feeling the contrast between windy and still.
  • Changing Tree – Four beats of windy, four beats of stillness on each leg.

Calm

  • Ask Students – “When is it important to be still?” Have students lie completely still for 30 seconds.
  • Relaxation – Read the following Mindful Moment Card on Stillness, “Take the next minute to listen to your breath. See if you can follow your breath as it moves in and out of your body. Imagine your favorite color and picture yourself breathing that color in and out. What does that color mean to you?”

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Grade 3, School Setting, Listening Lesson Plan (Pipkin)

Instructor: Carrie Pipkin

Community: Grade 3, School Setting, 45 minutes

Plan Creation Date: July 6, 2015

Yoga Calm Principle/Lesson Goal: Listening

Lesson Plan:

Calm

  • Listen to the Chime – Ring a chime and ask students to put their thumbs up when they hear the silence at the very end of the sound.
  • Belly Breathing – listen to your breath and the breath of others around you. Breathe together with others in your class and feel the power of doing something together as a community. Allow a few students to lead 5-10 breaths each.

Activate

  • Yoga Calm Top 10 – Allow a few students the chance to lead, encourage them not to talk but to have the class follow their lead. Help students quietly with alignment in poses.
  • Changing and Mirroring Trees – Have students pair up and take turns mirroring one another’s poses as they change positions. Instruct them to listen to the body language of their partner.
  • Yes/No Game – Now we will practice listening with our ears. Have one student go out of the room. Have another student pick an object in the room that can be touched. Explain to the class that when the student returns to the room, you are going to help that person find the object using negative reinforcement. Practice with the class before bringing the child back into the room. Bring the student back into the room and play the game until they find the object. Ask another child to leave the room. Explain to the class that this time we will use positive reinforcement. Practice by placing yourself in the middle of the room. When you go the right way have students say “yes,” and when you go the wrong way they say nothing. Play the game a second time. Discuss with the students the benefits of these two kinds of reinforcement and when they work and when they don’t. Give examples of using positive reinforcement in schools, businesses, at home, and elsewhere.

Calm

  • Compliment Circle – Give each student an opportunity to be in the center to receive one complement from each person. Ask the student in the center to make eye contact and listen to the person as they give a complement. Make sure to include leaders.
  • Twist – Have students sit back in their chairs and use a twist to transition into the final relaxation.
  • Relaxation – Read the following Mindful Moment Card on Listening, “Remember a time when someone said something very kind about you. Can you hear those words right now? Who was that person? Can you remember three good things people have said about you?

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Grade 3, School Setting, Grounding Lesson Plan (Pipkin)

Instructor: Carrie Pipkin

Community: Grade 3, School Setting, 45 minutes

Plan Creation Date: June 6, 2015

Yoga Calm Principle/Lesson Goal: Grounding

Lesson Plan:

Calm

  • Belly Breathing – feeling the weight of your body in your chair. Make your legs heavy, feel the gravity holding you to the earth. Picture a solid rock that goes deep into the earth and imagine how heavy that rock is.
  • Pulse Count – find your pulse, then listen to the rhythm of your heart. Picture a big drum with a large stick and each time you hear your heart beat, imagine playing that big deep not on the drum. Play that drum for 20 beats of your heart.

Activate

  • Yoga Calm Mat 20 – Stop in several of the poses and ground yourself. For instance, when in Mountain stop and imagine what it must feel like to be such a big and sturdy piece of land. Then in Tree, ask yourself what makes a tree so strong? With each pose, ask them to make their body as grounded as possible. Practice this two times, allowing students to lead pose flow.
  • Moving Story – Coyote – Have students start out on all fours. Read the story and complete the poses along the way.
  • Eagle on a Cliff – While in eagle pose, imagine you are an eagle perched on a cliff. While still balancing on one foot, unhook your arms, “open your wings,” unwind your top leg and stretch it back. Imagine yourself flying. And then come back to your perch (Eagle pose) again without touching your foot down.

Calm

  • Compliment Circle – Give each student an opportunity to be in the center to receive one complement from each person. Ask the student in the center to make eye contact and listen to the person as they give a complement. Make sure to include instructors as well.
  • Child’s Pose – Have students come into child’s pose before the final relaxation exercise.
  • Relaxation – Read the following Mindful Moment Card on Grounding: “Think of your favorite tree. Now imagine that you can plant that tree in a special place. Go to that place, dig a hole and plant the tree. Imagine that you can see into the future and watch the tree grow tall.”

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